I went to see Tom Sims yesterday to see how the loggia for the Daily Telegraph garden is coming along. The workshop is in Saffron Walden and the team have been preparing the timber for assembly. Because it is greenoak it is still quite wet but is drying out fast. The loggia will be pre-built in the workshop prior to the Show just to make sure that all the issues have been ironed out in advance.
Last March I could wander round the nursery in shorts and a T-shirt. Today, I was wearing a t-shirt plus a sweater, fleece and a jacket. And even then I was cold. This weather is going to cause everyone a real problem this year at Chelsea. Nothing is growing. One of the photos is of a gillenia, and the buds are only just appearing. We still have some time to go and the forecasters say that the weather is going to break in the middle of April. But for now, it’s nerve-wracking.
The following article appeared in the Saturday Telegraph last weekend, written by Tim Richardson. It was the first large show garden that Christopher Bradley-Hole and I worked on. It seems a long time ago but it won a Gold Medal and the coveted Best in Show award and was viewed as a serious ‘game changer’ for Chelsea.
Modernist garden designer Christopher Bradley-Hole is creating a Chelsea Flower Show garden this year for The Daily Telegraph, and inevitably thoughts of seasoned Chelsea-goers return to the ground-breaking garden he designed for the show in 1997, which won Best in Show for this newspaper. Christopher’s Latin Garden, a minimalist composition inspired by the life of Roman poet Virgil, has gone down in the annals as probably the best Chelsea show garden in recent memory – perhaps the best garden ever seen at Chelsea. It proved something of a turning point for the show and even for garden design in general, marking the moment when Modernist gardens became a viable option for those who commission their gardens on the back of what they see at Chelsea.The Latin Garden was a meditation on the three stages of the life of Virgil, from his childhood in the countryside, to his career and fame in the city, to his retirement to a rural retreat. In retrospect, perhaps the key to the garden’s success was the way the design seemed to exist on another plane. It was not an attempt to create an ordinary domestic space that could be envisaged elsewhere in “the real world”. The design was based on the idea of a straight walk from one end of the garden to the other, subtly divided by low walls and, halfway along, a central pavilion with acid-etched glass walls. One of the garden’s strengths was that it “read” just as clearly from the side as it did from the front, with the Chelsea visitor somehow feeling immersed in the garden despite the fact that visitors cannot enter the exhibits. The light stone and fine decking was complemented by a disarmingly simple planting, with the purples of tall bearded irises and giant alliums gilded with a smattering of grasses (mainly luzula and Sesleria autumnalis) and columnar conifers, the tall trees creating a strong feel of the Roman Campagna of classical times. Christopher worked with the sculptor Belinda Eade to bring Latin phrases from Virgil into the garden, inscribed on four pieces of stone. It was a remarkably atmospheric space, and a garden which people remember extremely clearly (Chelsea show gardens are notoriously transitory).Christopher was always aware the Latin Garden was different. “It did feel risky, and I felt completely alone,” he says. “I just didn’t know how people were going to react. I wanted to do a modern garden that could be taken seriously. I’d been to Chelsea the year before and there were these gardens trying to be modern, with funny little plastic things in them. [In my garden], the proportions and the detail were really important.”
“Charles Moore [then the editor of the Telegraph] was a big influence,” he continues. “He was always there and had a gentle guiding hand on it, almost subliminal. I knew he was interested in the Classics and understood them and that was always there in my mind, right from the start.”The word “understood” is important to Christopher, for he is a designer for whom rigorous exactitude and attention to detail are all-important, whether in his interpretation of Modernist architecture for use in gardens, or his mining of Virgil’s life and work. But one can hardly overstate the difference there was at that time between Christopher’s garden and the Chelsea norm, which was still very much preoccupied by the English Arts and Crafts planting tradition. As Therese Lang, creator of the Westonbirt and Cottesbrooke garden shows, says, “Gardens at Chelsea could be classic and beautiful and perfectly executed – but they were conventional. Christopher broke all the rules.”
In this context, a Modernist design proved to be almost unrecognisable even as a garden. “I remember the day a lot of TV companies came in,” Christopher says. “A big influence on me was [architect] Tadao Ando and Japan, and the Japanese company just walked straight past our garden while it was being constructed. Everyone else was making gardens with tumbledown walls and roses – and this TV crew literally thought my garden was the toilet block,” he says with a laugh.For Charles Moore, who commissioned Christopher, it was an opportunity to create a garden that was “striking, bold and theatrical – I felt it would have been a pity if the Telegraph had played safe with the opportunity. I liked the thought of having something classical and modern at the same time.“I remember Terence Conran coming along to the garden,” he adds. “Tony Blair had won the election a few weeks before [May 1 1997] and Terence Conran said, ‘New Labour, New Garden’. Of course I wasn’t remotely interested in it being New Labour, but I did want it to be different.”Professionals were immediately aware that Christopher had done something rather special. “It did mark a threshold in one respect, which was that Christopher was a practising architect,” recalls Michael Balston, landscape designer and seasoned RHS show-garden judge. “The manipulation of space was very subtle and that hadn’t really been done before. It had this cleanness about it. It was focused, yet there was a whole world there.“It wasn’t a question of the facile ‘garden room’ idea. It was what we used to call filtering – the creation of spaces beyond, which could be seen as through a veil. And it was all integrated: the space, the materials and the plants all locked together.”Tom Stuart-Smith, who vies with Christopher as the most successful Chelsea designer of recent times, says Christopher is one of the two contemporary designers who have influenced him most (the other being Dan Pearson). “That was a pointedly intellectual garden and it was so amazingly refreshing and modern in the context of Chelsea at that time,” he says.“Christopher made it smart to want a new-looking garden. And there was so much going on in it – he has this curious reputation as a minimalist, but there were so many little incidents and details.”
For Mary Keen, it was the way the planting was integrated with the overall design that was most interesting. “He was always thinking of the whole picture rather than the detail; the plants were put in at the end. He was innovative with the planting – it was very spacey.”Indeed, in the context of garden design at that time, when borders could be so pumped up with plants they looked like they were on steroids, Christopher’s “border” in the Latin Garden looked positively sparse. “I remember Simon Hornby [then RHS president] coming along,” he recalls, “and he said, ‘We love the spaces between the plants’. That wasn’t something I really thought about. It seemed quite natural to me.”There was also an element of innovation about the plant choice – the use of a pared-down palette of striking plants, little colour variation and a backdrop of grasses. In 1996, as part of his preparations for Chelsea, Christopher made his first visit to Piet Oudolf’s now-celebrated nursery in the Netherlands. They hit it off and talked plants, and Christopher returned with various specimens including the unknown Thalictrum rochebrunianum he would later use in the garden, causing a minor sensation, a plant which is now firmly in the garden design repertoire.Looking at images of the Latin Garden now, it’s hard to believe that it seemed so radical just 16 years ago. But that’s a reflection of how influential it proved to be. After 1997, modern gardens became a fixture on the Chelsea scene. So far none has surpassed the original and best, but perhaps 2013, Chelsea’s centenary, will be an auspicious year.TELEGRAPH GARDEN 2013The Telegraph garden for Chelsea 2013, designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole, is a contemporary and contemplative design, inspired by the English landscape, by the Japanese approach to garden making and by modern abstract art.
Christopher says: “The garden is a representation of England as a wooded landscape from which openings were cleared to allow settlement, civilisation and cultivation. English native trees and shrubs are used in a graphic way to create an understorey which expresses the way a field pattern has been superimposed on the land.”The garden reflects Bradley-Hole’s personal passion for the English landscape and also his visit last year to Japan, which has long been an inspiration for his design ideas.As well as blocks of box, yew and beech, which form the field landscape, oak is shown as a structure – a colonnade of columns crafted from English green oak.
The Duchess of Cornwall opened the new ‘Floriculture’ Exhibition at the Garden Museum yesterday. The Exhibition is all about the story behind the world of cut flowers, both modern and historical. It’s well worth a visit, especially as there is an incredible installation by Rebecca Louise Law of roses hanging from the ceiling. The event is sponsored by Waitrose and is well worth a visit.
Christopher Bradley-Hole, Peter Clay and I went to Perrystone Estate in Herefordshire at the end of last week to look at the oak trees that will be used to make the timber ‘loggia’ in the Daily Telegraph garden at Chelsea this year. Christopher’s design is a representation of the English countryside and it seemed perfectly fitting that we should be standing in a wonderful oak woodland choosing the trees to be felled. Pete Clay’s tree surgeons Simon and Sam were on hand to choose the trees, as was Will who will be turning the ‘sticks’ into useable timber. Despite the bitter cold, it was a very special day that caught the sense of the garden perfectly.
Christopher Bradley-Hole is extremely well known to all Chelsea Flower Show visitors, but here is some more background information about him.
Christopher Bradley-Hole is one of the world’s foremost landscape designers. His projects have had a far-reaching influence on the way contemporary design has developed.
Practising originally as an architect, his passion for plants and landscape led him to a re-focus on the design of gardens and public landscapes. A series of iconic gardens made at the Chelsea Flower Show have been followed by international commissions for private and public projects and for organisations including the BBC, Arsenal Football Club and recently the landscape for the Stirling Prize Winning Sainsbury Laboratory in the Cambridge Botanic Garden. Currently he is developing an innovative and sensitive design for the award-winning property developer Spink Property for an historic landscape near Henley on Thames.
Christopher is the bestselling author of two books, the minimalist garden and Making the Modern Garden. He has lectured extensively on his work across the USA, Australia, Germany, Sweden and China and has taught landscape design and construction to students on the Diploma Course at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
I know that it’s not go much to do with Chelsea but I spent a couple of fascinating days at the Garden Museum listening to Joshua David, Robert Hammond and Piet Oudolf talking about the High Line. It was incredibly inspirational and makes you realise what a few individuals can do in the face of considerable public and government resistance. The result is amazing and must be on your list of places to visit if you are going to New York. Here is a link to the Garden Museum website but there is lots of stuff on the internet about it.
There was also a really good article in the Telegraph on Saturday about it.
The Landscape Institute has run a competition to find similar ideas for London. The short list of 20 are on display at the Museum.
ps. I am a Trustee of the Garden Museum – so I am a bit biased, but I assure you it was wonderful.
The Daily Telegraph have asked Christopher Bradley-Hole to design their garden for next year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Christopher and I last worked at Chelsea together in 1997 when he created the Latin Garden, again for the Telegraph, which won Best in Show. Many viewed that garden as a ‘game changer’ in the way that Chelsea gardens were designed. Since then Christopher has exhibited at Chelsea several times, winning four Gold Medals. His last garden was in 2005 so we are really lucky to have him back at the Show, especially in such an important year as the Centenary. Christopher and Peter Clay have been going round Europe tagging trees and shrubs for the garden. It may seem a long way off until May next year, but the months tick by quite quickly so it’s important to get the main structural plants organised now. Also, it’s better to see the plants now whilst they still have their leaves on rather than in the depths of winter.
We have had some many calls asking about who was involved in the Royal Barge. We have also heard lots of rumours about people claiming to be involved! So we thought that we would list out the people who really did the work!
The Top Brass!
Rachel de Thame, Kitty Arden (www.kittyarden.com) and Mark Fane
The Team, shown by the number of days they were on the barge
7 Days on site: Sarah Champier, Saskia Marjoram, Kurt Cyriel Beirens, Alice Fane and Anthony Johnson
6 Days on site: Sallie Campbell, Brenda Crump, Pamela Holder, Kerry Power, Virginia Davis, Lucy Felmingham, Lisa Tomkins, Deborah Anscombe, Linda Freely, Amy Lyons, Sinead Oyando, Abigail Pennington, Amber Winship, Michelle Thornley, Jane Edmonds, Davina Hill and Penelope Nunn, Stephen Wooster (Photographer), Charlotte Deacon (Catering), Harriet Combes (Catering) and Wieslaw Ziecina (Driver).
5 Days on site: Gillian Ross and Jane Edmonds
4 Days on site: Olivia Stirling, Lauren Colover and Louise Hampden
3 Days on site: Joanne Knight, Alison Greaves, Ian Pierce, Henrietta Dickinson, Peter Clay and Helen Derrin
2 Days on site: Graham Hoyle, Mark Osborne and Tony Collinson
1 Day on site: Rose Hamson and Andy Hill
We had one of our Open days last Saturday where we sell of all the Chelsea plants as well as the plants of the Royal Barge.
A visitor, Petra Hoyer Millar, wrote this very nice blog about the day. To read the whole article, click on the link http://oxoniangardener.co.uk/crocusopen-7068/
Pointless. The superbly harebrained, naive notion of taking along a list, to what is undoubtedly one of the best plant sales in the country, is best completely disregarded. The sheer mass of colour, plant quality and scale of varieties available at the Crocus Open Day, is simply too tantalising. My list never saw the light of day. One could argue, that this incredible drive to impulse buy is down to superb sales strategy, but Crocus really know their plants. Presumably, its through their annual Chelsea Flower Show participation, that Crocus always seem to be one step ahead in terms of the varieties on offer. Thus, be prepared when attending the Crocus Open Days, to drive home in a visually impairing, garden on wheels so make sure the car is void of all but the driver…
Being solely an online business, Crocus organise four open days every year to sell off show and/or excess stock, PR purposes and opportunity to meet and greet their growing database of customers. Open days are spread across the year, with the June, Chelsea-sell-off not surprisingly the most popular, where attendance numbers seem to rival those of the Harrods Sale. RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens built by Crocus, do not participate in the big Chelsea plant sale finale, which leaves punters keen to take home an Arne Maynard or Sarah Price, no choice but to work the isles and crowds, at the nursery.
Even the most ardent skeptics of the power and influence of the Chelsea Flower Show would be impressed, to see not just the sheer scale of the crowds, but the zeal to purchase ‘that’ plant seen at the show. Just to make it all a tad more cosy, plants from the floral displays on the Royal Barge, designed by Rachel (thank-goodness-my-husband-didn’t-spot-her) de Thame, and (secretly) sourced from Crocus, were included in the sale.