Tuesday, 20 May 2014

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014, part 2

Isn’t it funny how you spend much of your time photographing show gardens waiting for people to get out of shot? At least I do, or did until recently. I’ve come to appreciate the presence of a body or two within the space, it helps to contextualise the garden if there’s a human contingent with which the green stuff can interact, so I was more than happy to press the shutter while people were busily working away, hoovering or sweeping (really), judging, or schmoozing. Of course, what you really need is a couple of kids wellying a football around it, a labrador galumphing through the beds, and I’m still convinced that one year the RHS should insist that all show gardens must somehow incorporate a trampoline.

Adam Frost takes a slightly different approach to a family garden with ‘A Time to Reflect’, the Homebase garden in association with the Alzheimer’s Society. As it’s name suggests, it’s a reflective space whilst at the same time being one which seeks to engage children and adults in the joys of the outdoors. Natural stone boulders, pools and connecting rills reference the countryside in this wildlife friendly environment, and the naturalistic planting does nothing to distract. There are plenty of places to sit and ponder, and also the option to chose different routes through the garden, some quite active, others a little more sedate. All routes lead to a sociable space for entertaining and eating, in the form of a stone and oak arbour with a green roof of heather, complete with a fabulous hooded copper stove/fireplace combination. I found it a thoroughly engaging, wonder-filled garden, one that I’d be more than content to spend time in with family, dogs and god-children, though the latter, whilst possessing a heartening interest in the natural world, will still be requiring a trampoline.

Vital Earth’s ‘The Night Sky Garden’ by brothers David and Harry Rich was a treat, though one which made me wish I was a bit taller, as although the layout of the sinuous stone walls is intended to represent constellations, but I couldn’t quite see over the planting. I imagine a much better viewpoint of this is available from the star gazing platform on top of the contemporary oak and glass pavilion, which is accessed via an external spiral staircase, rising up from among the planting. From here, the pair of dark reflecting pools would be especially impressive on a starry night. For those sensitive to even this modest height, a grassy bowl offers an ideal space to lie on your back, gazing into the sky for a spot of traditional cloud busting. Random scattered boulders give the impression that the garden has grown up on the site of a meteor strike, so there’s a kind of deep energy that pulses through the whole space. Quite an impressive job.

That, for now, is all the song I’ve got to sing as far as the show gardens are concerned. I’m back on Saturday for another look, to see what I’ve missed of the show gardens, and also take a look at the Fresh gardens which I didn’t get round to on Monday. In particular I’d like to revisit the No Man’s Land garden by Charlotte Rowe, which didn’t grab me when I was standing next to it, although the plans and the photographs I’ve seen from within the garden give quite a different impression. It’s worth remembering, particularly when puzzling over some of the medal decisions, that the judges and the guests who have the opportunity to go into the gardens get a very different impression from those of us who have to be content with looking on.

And so on to the Artisan gardens, several of which had a narrative underlying their concept. Call me a stubborn, but I studiously try to avoid hearing too much about this – at least at first – preferring to see if I engage with the space in its own right, and then adding on this extra layer of understanding once I’ve explored my own responses to what’s around me. Is this the correct way to go about garden appreciation? I’ve no idea, but it works for me to make my own meaning, and then to see how or even if it chimes with that of the gardens creator, where that information is available.

Without, then, extensive reference to their respective back stories, three gardens made a particular impression on me in this area, Marylyn Abbott’s ‘Topiarist Garden’, Ishihara Kazuyuki’s ‘Togenkyo – A Paradise on Earth’, and the DialAFlight ‘Potter’s Garden’ by Nature Redesigned.

The first of these was the front garden of a small single story brick cottage with a clay tile roof, raised a couple of feet from the path in front and accessible by a short flight of steps. The tiny space was filled with a joyful assortment of expertly tended topiary forms, interplanted with cottage garden perennials. There was a wonderful eccentricity in the dualism between the tightly controlled topiary and the somewhat ramshackle nature of the cottage, with its relaxed planting. I liked it very much. Hydrangea anomola subsp. petiolaris graced the front of the cottage; I may have muttered “that’ll be up and over the whole house before you know it”. I may have been told off for taking things too literally.

Just down the road, looking as though in reality it could actually be a neighbouring property, was the DialAflight ‘Potter’s Garden’, one of the gardens explicitly referencing the First World War. This featured an abandoned workshop, including an outdoor bottle kiln, a garden path consisting of broken crocks (not one I’d want to walk on barefoot), and several phrases of remembrance carved into wooden plaques. The terracotta elements blended in seamlessly with the loose, cottage style planting, with ferns and digitalis, as well as the native species as the countryside around attempts to reclaim this working space, including a front wall constructed from sandbags.

Ishihara Kazuyuki’s garden is one I want to return to, as it had Toby Buckland and a film crew on it when I visited. I contented myself with admiring the attention to detail I could see by peering around people – all the characteristic elements of this designers exquisite gardens – acers and pines, water, river-washed rounded pebbles, their shape and size mirrored in the small balls of moss being painstakingly spritzed with water by concerned looking assistants. Whether or not I’ll be able to get a better view on Saturday, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly worth sharpening my elbows for.

I’ll be uploading more photos from Chelsea to the grow Facebook page – including images of the fantastic nurseries in the Royal Pavilion

Click here to read the first part of this account of RHS Chelsea 2014.