Welcome to our first blog about taking part in the world’s most prestigious gardening Show, the landscape Olympics, otherwise known as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. We have had the privilege of creating six gardens at Chelsea (three of which won the BBC People’s Choice Award), all with strong messages and all using British native wildflowers. So when we were contacted by a major UK charity to design a natural garden to celebrate their 90th anniversary we jumped at the chance. This year’s garden, which once again is in the Artisan category, will be set in the 1930’s and will use specially commissioned sculpture, sensory elements, symbolism and natural planting to illustrate somebody’s journey from the depths of isolation and fear to a place of freedom and joy. We want this garden to really draw you in with an emotive hook and encourage reflection and contemplation of the incredible and vital work the charity does.
As we now know Chelsea will be different this year, certainly challenging, but potentially the most unique event in the Show’s 108 year history. Goodbye May, hello September. Originally, our planned and accepted design was essentially a spring garden with colourful wildflowers that would look their absolute best in May. We had planned on using cow partly, sweet rocket, red campion, oxe-eye daisies, white campion, honesty, foxgloves, ragged robin and buttercups. Not anymore!
We had already started to tentatively propagate a few wildflowers in our own greenhouse at home, things like ground ivy, dead nettles and dandelions and we had recently potted up 80 false brome wild grasses. We may be able to still incorporate the grasses in the new plan but not the ground ivies, they’ll be long finished. Thankfully, up until the postponement announcement on 26th March we hadn’t confirmed our main plant orders with the nurseries And so we’ve had to start on another plant list.
Although, there are some wonderful September wildflowers to choose from such as knapweeds, chicory, hawk bits, birds foot trefoil, field scabious and red and white clovers there isn’t going to be enough flower colour to enable us to do contrasting blocks of vivid colour vital to the message of the garden. Rather than looking their best a lot of wildflowers have already set seed and are starting to die back. As a result, reluctantly, we have had to add some natural looking, informal, cultivated plants to our list and because we need them to be of the era we have had to chose plants and varieties that would have been around in the 1930’s. Things like Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’ as an oxe-eye daisy replacement (origins in the 1850’s), Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ (origins in 1918), Persicaria bistorta, Eupatorium purpureum, Echinachea purpurea and Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ (Bred in the Netherlands in the 1930’s).
With a great sense of relief our wildflower order has now been confirmed and will be expertly grown on to Show standard by a specialist wildflower grower near to us in Norfolk (British Wildflower Plants). As a world authority what they don’t know about growing wildflowers isn’t worth knowing. We’re also working with another nursery to finalise the perennials, ferns and shrubs etc.
When the call came from the RHS to inform us of the Chelsea date change I think we were both quite relieved. With the developing COVID situation we couldn’t see how the Show could take place and so our enthusiasm and planning had began to stall. With the new date in place, an autumn show rather than a spring show, our passion for Chelsea has been re-ignited and we can’t wait to get going. Apart from the plants side of things, the practicalities of creating a garden this year has been a bit challenging. We are working once again with the multi-talented Cormac Conway of Conway Landscapes as our contractor and garden builder. Cormac has built all of our Chelsea (and Hampton Court) show gardens and not only is he a master craftsman he totally gets what’s going on in our heads. Normally, we would meet up at his house for a curry to have our Chelsea meetings. Not anymore. Zoom meetings have become the norm, adequate but not the same (and you don’t get any poppadoms!).
Everything is back on track, our sculptor is happy as he is less pressured with time, we are happy with the new plant list, Cormac is excited to get going and choose the stone materials and once again Adam and I are feeling positive and hopeful with the challenge that awaits us.
More details of the garden to follow.