I have been reading quite a lot of the coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show and this article by Mark Griffiths in Country Life summed up, for me, what was so special about Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden.
“With the Daily Telegraph Graden, Christopher Bradley-Hole returns to Chelsea after an eight-year absence. It’s a classic case of ‘cometh the hour’. This is not only a great garden, but also, fortuitously, a sublime meditation on our new-found Englishness. In semi-abstract form, it represents the human forces that have shaped our countryside. The forest understorey is embodied by hazels, artfully sculpted with parasol crowns and low-slung branches. Beneath them, a naturalistic tapestry of perennials conveys the flora of the meadow, woodland, heath and water margin.
Not all of these plants are native, but they look it and that’s the point. Mr Bradley-Hole wants to reflect the arrival on our shores of species from overseas, one of the oldest influences on our flora, and by no means always negative. He also points out that nations with a strong home-grown horticultural identity – Japan for example – have no qualms about using non-native plants provided they harmonise with the indigenous: purism of palette is not necessarily the way to achieve purity of vision.
The interplay of light and shadow is one of this garden’s exquisitely judged features. Its wildflower weave is shady, dappled, and sunlit in turns, but always seamless in cohesion and luminous in detail. Punctuating it are small rectangular pools and blocks of box, yew and beech whose contrasting greens re-create the checkering of field patterns. The giants of the forest have been felled; but they endure in the form of a green oak colonnade backed by a charred oak wall.
Set into this wall, a narrow niche acts as a shelf for the series of flints, found objects that have all the enigmatic potency of a Palaeolithic Venus or a Henry Moore maquette. It is here, within the loggia, that you stand and look. One of the many revolutionary features, this is a garden not for entering but for contemplating, a three-dimensional picture framed by its own oaken gallery.
Mr Bradley-Hole’s inspiration for that came from his experience of Ryoan-ji, the Kyoto temple whose 500-year-old garden is a landscape in abstract and microcosm, a panorama to be viewed from a verandah. There’s profundity and beauty in the notion that a garden may be high art capable of setting the mind free when explored with the eyes alone. We should celebrate the fact that it has finally arrived at this centenary Chelsea, and in an English design consecrated to the mysteries of our landscape”.