Chelsea Chat – ‘Paws’ for thought

This years Chelsea runs from 21-26 September 2021 book your tickets at http://www.rhs.org.uk

Here we are at the start of June and deep into our planning for our Artisan Garden to celebrate 90 years of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. We absolutely love creating these sorts of gardens, wild at heart, packed full of plants and packed full of emotion and nostalgia. With a nod to the origins of the charity this years garden is set in the 1930’s and uses sensory elements and sculpture to illustrate the journey a visually impaired person takes from a place of isolation and fear to a place of independence and freedom, liberated and able to live the life they choose with the help of their guide dog.

First four guide dogs and their owners. The first guide dogs were German Shepherds and their owners blinded by injuries in World War One
PHOTO CREDIT: GUIDE DOGS

Originally, we had hoped to include 100% native British wildflowers, trees and shrubs in our design but with the postponement until September we have had to change the planting scheme a bit. In September we just don’t have the range of colourful wildflowers at our disposal so we have had to augment what September flowering plants there are with some cultivated perennials to achieve the vivid flower colour we need. As the garden is based in the 1930’s what we have had to ensure is that the cultivated plants that we do use were around at that time or before. We don’t want any new introductions. There isn’t a particular colour scheme but the plants we are using will be planted in bold blocks of contrasting colours. The reason for this is because most visually impaired people can still make out some of these contrasting colours and therefore still appreciate a beautiful, sensual garden. Plants like Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’, a wonderful pure white flower (our ox-eye daisy substitute) will give a great contrast especially when planted next to Helenium ‘Moreheim Beauty’ with its orange crimson flowers or Aster frikartii ‘Monch” with its sumptuous mauve purple flowers. All of these are old fashioned plants and we want the whole garden to have a peaceful, natural feel.

Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ – a very dog friendly plant
Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’ – Origins in the 1830s

Most of the plants are being professionally grown for us by experts. British Wildflower Plants are contract growing our wildflowers, Form Plants are supplying the colourful perennials, trees and shrubs and Practicality Brown are supplying the native hedge. However, as with all of our Chelsea gardens we are still growing a few plants ourselves in our own garden. I’m particularly proud of our common mallows (Malva sylvestris) that we planted as very small plugs back in March. I’ve potted them on twice and they are romping away. Fantastic purple, September- flowering wildflower. (Photo below)

Home grown grasses – False Brome Brachypodium sylvaticum – great wild grass for shaded damp sites

Where possible we have tried to make our plants ‘dog-friendly’ but we can’t say that everything is 100% harmless to dogs. Things like our heritage apples and pears we wanted to use to add a taste element to our garden. Apple and pear flesh is very safe for dogs and they absolutely love them but the pips can be potentially hazardous if eaten in very large quantities (100’s of apples) so although we have only 2 trees and they were important for the theme of the garden we do need to point out to people if they have dogs at home and lots of trees it might be worth picking up the windfalls if you want to be overly cautious.

Tom Hill www.tomhillsculpture.co.uk is going to be creating our metal sculptures to help illustrate our story. Tom is super-talented with metal and made our horse-sculpture for our 2017 Gold winning garden so we know we are in safe hands.

There is also an old sign post in the garden that points to a better future for our veterans ‘lifted-up’ and supported by their guide dog. Carved by craftsman Martin Cook www.martincookstudio.co.uk it will simply have the message ‘Living the Life I Choose’

As for the construction and garden build we are so pleased to be working with Cormac Conway once again from Conway Landscapes www.conwaylandscapes.com. Cormac has built every one of our RHS Show gardens (and most of our private ones) and has a great eye fo detail. We have already had a few planning meetings but it is great to be finally able to talk face to face now rather than rely on Zoom calls. We are looking forward to going down to Chelsea, under COVID guidelines and control measures, in a few days to physically see out allocated spot and to catch up with Cormac, the RHS team and our sponsor.

Here’s a couple of sketches to give you an idea of how the garden will look.

To find out a bit more about the garden and to watch the film we did for Virtual Chelsea check out the link https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/virtual-chelsea/looking-forward-to-chelsea/guide-dogs-90th-anniversary-garden The wonderful puppy cam footage really makes it, 100% on the cute scale so watch until the very end.

Will give you further updates on the next blog.

See you then.

Jon and Adam

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