Tuesday, 28 May 2013

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Best in Show
Another Chelsea Flower Show is behind us. I’m still sorting through photographs to upload and wondering whether or not my overarching sense of disappointment is justified. In spite of its origins as a flower show, and notwithstanding the fantastic displays by top nurseries in the Great Pavilion, it’s frequently the show gardens which receive most attention at Chelsea, certainly with the media. In this centenary year much of the press attention appeared to be focussed on the gnomes, which I managed to avoid entirely, eager as I was to get to the gardens in an attempt to discern this year’s trends and see how tastes have moved on from last year. Strangely I found it particularly hard to identify common themes largely because in contrast to previous years, when the majority of the show gardens seemed to possess a certain coherence – irrespective of whether or not I found them to my particular taste – many of this year’s gardens didn’t quite pull it off. Perhaps the planting might feel rather leaden, or the finish wasn’t quite there, or maybe there was an element (or several) that unbalanced the whole. Admittedly this is only my own personal impression, but it’s no less keenly felt for that. However, in this post I’d like to concentrate on things that I appreciated, rather than those that I didn’t, although I’m always happy to discuss that side of things in person, so do catch me on Twitter if you want the lowdown!

The Daily Telegraph Garden by Christopher Bradley-Hole
Christopher Bradley-Hole narrowly missed out on the Best in Show award with his well executed garden for the Daily Telegraph, the top prize going to the Trailfinders Australian garden. His own garden was loved by many for its stylised depiction of the British landscape; tightly clipped blocks of native species such as yew, box and hornbeam interspersed with drifts of naturalistic grasses and umbellifers, and pools of water intended to signify a meandering river in its lowland course. A cloister around the side from which to view the garden, though the public were denied access to this route, was reminiscent of a Japanese garden, designed to be viewed from without. It was an interesting piece, but as a practical gardener I could not shake thoughts of how impossible it would be to maintain and, while the species chosen should have leant the garden some unity, I found it ultimately a slightly claustrophobic prospect, which is not a feeling I associate with the landscape it purported to invoke.

The Styrax japonica in Roger Platt's garden for M&G
Two gardens I did like very much have both been labelled insufficiently ground-breaking in terms of design. That may or may not be the case, but I thought the planting in both Roger Platt’s ‘Windows through Time’ garden and Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research UK was very accomplished, and the gardens themselves finished to a very high standard.

Even the outer extremities of Chris Beardshaw's garden were beautifully planted

Kazuyuki Ishihara's An Alcove (Tokonoma) garden
As usual, the much smaller Artisan Gardens provided a few delightful vignettes; once again Kazuyuki Ishihara created the most beautiful and atmospheric space, this year with his Japanese tatami room, surrounded by waterfalls, moss encrusted stones and beautifully sculptural acers, pines and ferns – quite magical, and I lingered here a while.

A gallery of more photographs, with some more thoughts on this year’s show, can be seen here.