Chelsea change welcomed

Hospice to get inside view of flower show 

When I catch up with Royal Horticultural Society judge Richard Sneesby, he’s feeling a little jaded after two long days at the Chelsea Flower Show but upbeat about what he saw there. The show seems, he declares, to have turned a corner.

“It was nice to see something different. There was a move away from the usual blue and white planting.

Richard Sneesby
Richard Sneesby

“For a long time we’ve had a kind of herbaceous mix of very feminine planting, of quite muted colours and lots of things at the same height.”

Richard is on the Chelsea selection panel and was part of the team, made up of designers, journalists, constructors and nursery experts, who judged this year’s Artisan and Fresh gardens. He will be talking about the process and how Chelsea influences design at a fundraising talk this month for Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

chelsea flower show
Leckhampton Court Hospice

He’s well qualified to spot changes in thinking having taught on design courses in Sheffield, Cheltenham and Falmouth over the past 25 years; he numbers Chris Beardshaw, Hugo Bugg and Sam Ovens, who all exhibited at this year’s Chelsea, among his former students. He is also senior judge for the Society of Garden Designers’ annual awards.

There was, he says, no dramatic shift this year but subtle changes: a rediscovery of shrubs and evergreens and some unusual plants.

“What was so wonderful about Andy Sturgeon’s garden was that I had no idea what probably 60 per cent of the plants were.”

chelsea flower show
Andy Sturgeon’s garden was awarded Best in Show

Yet, novelty alone won’t make a design work.

“It does not need to be whacky. It has got to be magical, it’s got to transport you for a moment to something different,” explains Richard, who now lectures at the Eden Project, alongside his Cornwall-based landscape architecture business.

However, doing something different is far from straightforward.

“It is getting harder and harder to do something new. It’s extremely easy to copy, it’s reasonably easy to adapt, but it’s incredibly difficult to find something genuinely new.”

chelsea flower show
Richard judged the Artisan Gardens

And only those designers who are confident are likely to take the risk of doing something that’s not tried and tested at the world famous show.

“If you get it wrong you have absolutely put your head above the parapet and there are not many people in the world who have got the guts to do that. People who have should be celebrated even if they get it wrong.”

When it comes to the RHS, gardens are marked out of four in nine separate categories, including construction and fulfilling the brief, with a threshold that has to be passed for each medal. Among the pitfalls are what Richard describes as ‘miniaturising’ things, such as making paths that are too small or seating areas that will take only one person, stuffing plants in too close together, or having poor specimens. Generally it is mistakes that make the difference to the medal awarded.

“Anyone who is offered a place at Chelsea has an equal chance of getting a gold medal.”

Richard will be talking at Cotswold Farm one of the area’s Arts and Crafts gardens. It was, he says, a period that saw collaboration between gardeners and architects and the sort of broadening of ideas that could be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show, with many gardens featuring bespoke works of art.

chelsea flower show
Cotswold Farm Gardens are the setting for the fundraising evening

“We’re starting to see gardens that are a collaboration of more than just the designer and a contractor. There are serious crafts people and very skilled artists, all sorts of people involved in these gardens.

“The more interesting ones are the ones that have come from the minds of more than one person.”

Richard Sneesby will be talking about the Chelsea Flower Show at Cotswold Farm Gardens, Duntisbourne Abbots, on Friday June 24 in aid of Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. The event begins at 6pm with a drinks and canape reception and tickets, costing £15, are on sale from Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on 01242 246285, email or visit the Sue Ryder website

• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here

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Leckhampton Court gets garden makeover

Part of the garden at Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice is being revamped with the help of Chelsea gold medal-winning designer Peter Dowle.

Work begins today on planting a centrepiece flower bed in the courtyard at Leckhampton Court, which will mix trees, shrubs and perennials to provide year-round colour.

Peter Dowle
Peter Dowle on the L’Occitane Garden at Chelsea 2015

Funding for the plants has come from a donation by Cleeve Cloud Golf Club 2015 Charity Tournament and Peter, who owns Howle Hill Nursery near Ruardean, has donated his time and expertise.

“Sue Ryder Homes have always been very close to my heart and it was a fabulous opportunity to share some of the inspiration that plants can bring to such a special place,” he said.

“The Sue Ryder foundation looked after my grandmother with so much dignity and it has been a pleasure to give something back. It has been also very humbling seeing the tremendous work that the team of volunteers bring to the outside space.”

The design has 45 different species, including an olive, Scot’s pine, iris, lavender, ferns and grasses. Providing a link to the hospice’s history, will be pieces of stone from the original 13th century manor house, many of them still showing the marks of the stonemasons who crafted them.

Leckhampton Court
The design features 45 different species

John Millington, Head Gardener at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, said: “We wanted to create something for our patients and visitors to look at and enjoy throughout the year, with colour in every season and the use of grasses creating something to hear too.

“It is fitting that we have been able to incorporate some original stone from the manor house into it which will ensure the new garden has a connection to the hospice building and those who built it.”

Leckhampton Court
Original stone will be used in the new bed

Peter has designed a show garden for next month’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival and will be building the L’Occitane Garden, designed by James Basson, at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Leckhampton Court is the only specialist hospice care inpatient unit in Gloucestershire and has to raise £1.6 million every year to fund its work.