Tuesday, 19 May 2015

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, part 2

That in which the devil sits


Being the second part of my blogged coverage of RHS Chelsea 2015. Please click here for the first part

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
Continuing the theme of water and stone which runs through the gardens at Chelsea this year, James Basson has created A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse for sponsors L’Occitane. Modelled around the communal space of a traditional Provencal lavoir, aromatic herbs and flowers  tumble about in the semi-arid soil around a stone edged rill which feeds the main pool. For a Kentish gardener who spends much of his time keeping lavender in its fluffy, juvenile state, it was incredibly refreshing to see the Mediterranean plants given the freedom to grow long and leggy – you could almost imagine them shaking themselves free of the sandy ground and taking a loping stroll about the garden.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
A small, blue-topped cafe table and chairs sit invitingly in the shade of an olive grove, while low mounds of thyme  border the water channel, the stones of which provide a home for foliose lichens. Details, again.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
The weather was pretty filthy while I stood here. But I was imagining it in the summer sun,  the air filled with hum of bees and the complex bouquet of smells from the herbs. A place for midsummer dozes, poetry and...other things. Magic.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
I’ve long been a fan of Chris Beardshaw’s show gardens, particularly impressed by the way he combines beautiful and practical gardens with community spaces. In fact, I think it’s the way that he puts communities of people at the heart of his design that informs the whole process and brings integrity and meaning into the spaces he creates. And if that sounds like waffle, it isn’t – gardens are entirely about people, utterly anthropocentric. Even Dan Pearson’s is a managed space. Chris’s Healthy City Garden for Morgan Stanley has been created for a community project in Poplar, East London, and it will be installed there once Chelsea is over. It’s a modern take on a formal knot garden, referencing the area’s historic ties with the shipping industry.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The low, tightly clipped box edging outlines a modified cross paved with smooth, polished limestone, in the centre of which one of those fountains that bubbles up from the slabs plays happily, threatening to shoot water up your trouser leg (though it’s supposed to stop when you walk over it).

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The standout features for me are the four beautiful field maples (Acer campestre), a fresh, spring green now clothed in their young leaves and dripping with bunches of ‘keys’, but come autumn, this tree provides one of the most stunningly rich yellows in the British countryside – how fantastic to bring it into the heart of the city.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The planting around the base of the trees is a joy – frothy, but with lots of strong vertical accents from lupins and verbascums, with slightly more laid back uprights from the cirsiums.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The rusty orange tones of the weather steel on the walls is a perfect foil to the lush green of the hedging, reflected in the coppery tones of the sculpture of an adult holding a child on its shoulders.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
This is all harmony and delight, though a second full sized sculpture of a human figure – apparently a man eating an octopus with some apparent difficulty – is a bit more of a puzzler, and I’m not entirely convinced it adds anything to the experience.

Man eats octopus? Big bowl of udon noodles? What’s going on here?
My only concern about this garden is that, if anything, it’s rather too beautiful and well manicured for an inner city space, especially compared to the Urban Oasis gardens he produced for Groundwork and the RHS in 2012. It will be interesting to see how this fares in Poplar over the medium to long term.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden from Adam Frost again presents a pleasing palette of oranges and greens – burnt oranges from the weathered corten steel of the main structure and its cladding in strips of red cedar, the main path constructed from the same timber, and the strong greens, deep green from the yew panels set into the concrete wall, with mounds of the same plant dotted throughout the planting. There’s a freshness about the use of the yew here which I really enjoy – it’s been tightly clipped, but the first flush of brighter green spring growth has been allowed to remain, feathering the edges. I’ve christened it #waftyyew, and declared it A Thing.

Another urban community space, in plan the garden is a set of parallel strips running across the site, bisected by a serpentine timber walkway leading from the front of the garden to the building at the back, which sports a green roof of wildflower turf. Two of the strips are formed of long pools fed by vertical water features set into corresponding panels in the wall – a simple but effective geometric conception.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
The remaining panels are either turfed, or planted with wildlife friendly perennials.  Katsura trees (Cercidophyllum japonicum) have been used to provide the height, as well as fabulous autumnal colour, and tree ferns Dicksonia antarctica at the back lend an exotic feel to the communal space.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
I thought the planting here was delightful – well executed, and visually uplifting, a perfect fit for the brief.

Detail from the Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers
Wafty yew was featured again in the neighbouring Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers. The space also featured a moveable shed constructed from oak, glass and steel, with a system of rails and turntables to transport it around the garden. The bumf describes this as the garden’s pi├Ęce de resistance, and who are we to argue?

Detail from the Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Further accomplished planting was in evidence on Matt Keightly’s Sentebale garden, Hope in Vulnerablilty.

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Stone, water, rusty metal again, and a palette of familiar plants, but used here to invoke the atmosphere of the Lesotho landscape in which the Sentebale children’s home sits.

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
Marcus Barnett’s garden for the Daily Telegraph grew on me, if you’ll pardon the non-intentional pun. I’m not a huge fan of modernism or the De Stijl movement from which the key inspiration has been drawn, although I can appreciate the purity of the clean lines.

Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
Such a rigid approach to gardening at the micro level is something I find troubling – too clinical for my tastes and somehow politically worrying. However, I did like the way that the natural materials were already fighting back, the foliage softening lines, the surface of the water rippling in the breeze. That gave me some hope, and I enjoyed the tension. Even I have to admit, the details were very well resolved. And that, as we’ve already established, is what it’s all about.

Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
For part one of this blog on the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, click here. Still more to come...