Flower Show is a great spectacle, but how can it help
you? Stephen Anderton cast an expert eye over the 2000
show and has some lasting suggestions.
When people think of flower shows, they think Chelsea.
It's the biggest and the best. It's the one with all
the glamour and the glitz. But what, actually, is the
point of it? Have you ever stopped to wonder? What is
it supposed to do for you?
We all think of Chelsea as a national institution. In
reality it's the main summer show of a private membership
organisation - the Royal Horticultural Society - thrown
open to the public. Well okay, the RHS is a charity
these days and works for horticulture in general. What
it gives us is a showcase of plants and garden designs
of truly International quality.
The plants, the raw materials of horticulture, are in
the vast marquee - this year in the form of a new modular
structure tall enough for the exhibitors to drive their
lorries right inside. They love it, and so do I.
As ever there are wonderful sights in the marquee this
year. Massive palm trees from the Fairchild Tropical
Garden in Florida, hundreds of bowls of perfect tulips
from Bloms, saved until now by cold storage, whole Manhattan
skyline's of blue delphiniums from Blackmore and Langdon,
and feasts of specialised perennials from people like
Glebe Cottage Plants and Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants.
If you feel like getting an eyeful or ordering a gardenful,
you won't be disappointed.
Chelsea is the place where new plants are launched too,
like the new trailing hardy geranium 'Rozanne', on the
Outside the marquee things are different. This is where
you can see ideas of how to use all those plants - how
to make gardens. And with a bit of luck you can see
how to make contemporary gardens, gardens which reflect
the way we think and garden right now.
The easy-end of making a modern garden is to go with
the latest fashions. Chelsea certainly had enough to
offer in that line this year. If there is no particular
new must-have darling plant, there are plenty of trends.
Hot colours are suddenly gone. Simplicity and soft blends
of colour are back.
Furniture is going simple and 1960s retro. Most significantly
of all, if your garden is without mirrors, it ain't
a garden just now.
The harder-end of making a modern garden is to look
hard at the way the Chelsea designers have made their
spaces. It's the style of space you make that defines
your garden, more than how you decorate it with plants.
This year Chelsea has a huge range of garden styles
to show. There is wild naturalistic look of ‘countryside
just about under control’ in a garden made by
Leyhill Prison. Help the Aged had a cosy, ordinary,
safe, urban or suburban garden for those who like it
‘nice but not naughty’. Some designers turned
in gardens which would have looked 'modern' in the 1980s.
But the designers
working with big budgets all had a clear message about
gardens today. Classic formality is what they are offering
- clipped trees and hummocky 'cloud' hedges, surrounding
small vistas over clever water features to pieces of
sculpture. Clarity of design is what they are
promoting. Planting was minimal.
The Best in Show Award has gone to a garden made by
English designer Arne Maynard in collaboration with
the Dutch designer and nurseryman Piet Oudolf, who is
a grasses man. But grasses were not prominent. Grasses
are no longer de rigueur. The new look, clearly, is
simple and classic.
But we gardeners need to remember that classic gardens
and mini-vistas can lead us to make gardens which are
just pictures, perfect compositions without spaces in
which to be and stop and turn round and see how the
garden changes as you move through it.
Well, at Chelsea you can't walk through the gardens.
You do see them from one end, or occasionally from two
sides . It is thoroughly unnatural. You have to keep
saying to yourself, yes but what would it be like inside?
What would it be like to live with ?
Thinking that way at Chelsea, you might just find yourself
preferring to live in the most modern of all the gardens,
a water garden, made be designer Christopher Bradley
Hole - so modern some people hated it. Stone, and steel,
and wood and water, with a minimal planting of grasses,
irises, and marginal perennials. That's all. But to
that you must add perfect proportions, fabulously careful
craftsmanship, and what matters most a set of places
to be in and walk through which change and offer new
moments of harmony and interest with every step.
I am enthusing, I know. I loved it. You might hate it
on sight. But there is no avoiding its lessons. It teaches
you to think about what makes the spaces of your garden,
what is essential and what is not. Think about your
garden. Imagine it without the planting and the colour,
strip it down to the bare essentials, and think how
you could improve that before planting it again.
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com