Ann-Marie Powell Gardens Appointed to Design Two New Gardens at RHS Garden Wisley

Royal Horticultural Society Logo

The Royal Horticultural Society has commissioned award-winning designer Ann-Marie Powell to design two new gardens around the planned new Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning on the Hilltop at RHS Garden Wisley. The Wildlife Garden and Kitchen Garden will form a ‘living laboratory’ when they open in spring 2020 and play an important part in the enhanced learning experience by illustrating how plants impact our daily lives.

RHS Director General, Sue Biggs, says: “We are absolutely thrilled to have Ann-Marie on board to help shape the future of RHS Garden Wisley and excited to see her innovative ideas come to life. Since its very first days under the care of RHS, Wisley has been at the forefront of education in horticulture and Ann-Marie’s designs will provide an easily accessible source of inspiration and learning for all who visit”.

Ann-Marie adds: “It’s a real honor to be asked to design these important spaces at RGS Garden Wisley. It was the first garden that flicked my switch and it’s always been a hub for experimentation, so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to put together something completely different and help to share inspiration with everyone who visits, no matter their level of skill. As I work with all the teams at Wisley, I’m learning and gaining insight into their vast knowledge and expertise and that is exactly what I hope these gardens will do for  generations of visitors to come.”

Part of the RHS’s £160 million investment programme in horticulture, for which £20 million of funding still needs to be raised, the new gardens will help to bring visitors closer than ever to world-leading gardening science, by demonstrating beautiful horticulture, best practice and cutting edge research into the future challenges facing the UK’s 27 million gardeners. Working closely with the knowledgeable teams at Wisley, Ann-Marie’s garden designs will be filled with take-home inspiration for encouraging a healthy wildlife ecosystem and nurturing a bountiful vegetable patch.

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AMPG design for the RHS Wisley Wildlife Garden

I am very honored and proud (and slightly late!) in revealing my designs for two new gardens at the new Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning on the Hilltop at RHS Garden Wisley RHS.

Both The Wildlife Garden and World Food Garden will form ‘living laboratories’ when they open in Spring 2020 and play an important part in the enhanced learning experience by illustrating how plants impact our daily lives.

The Wildlife Garden shown here draws inspiration directly from the physical world.

The energy of nature and the way it is delivered and enjoyed by the world’s populations were key to our design process, as was the representation of familiar natural environments of the British Isles (wetland, woodland, meadow, mountain, etc.). The original design layout was inspired by movement, energy, and light, and the structure of a bee wing evolved to include ‘segments’ of the garden, none of them too large, in which a visitor could readily associate their own garden space.

All life is supported by water, and it is arguably the single most useful element in attracting wildlife into the garden. It was important to our design that we embrace water in various forms – from a large body of water at the garden’s main entrance, a smaller double pool at the heart of the garden useful as an educational resource to explore the flora and fauna found beside (and within!) bodies of water, right down to rainwater bowls in our smallest garden zone. Water also reflects, meaning that the sky and all it contains become a borrowed landscape in the nature garden. There is an area of natural stone jetties and a contemporary bird hide from which to gain a different perspective of all the flora and fauna that the garden contains.

The paths, all wheelchair accessible, become rivers of movement within the garden, which encourage exploration to all corners of the space. Sections of steel grid float above low pools of planting where one becomes just like a hovering beneficial insect. The rest of the paths or ‘human-wildlife’ corridors allow one to wander through areas of foraging hedges, and educational, but alluring features to enjoy and inspire.

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Help the Birds this Week

As the temperature plummet this week, our feathered friends need our help to survive in our gardens – us providing food and water can be the difference between life and death in many cases.

Birds come into our gardens to seek protection as insects become harder to find and berries can be locked away by snow and frost.

So what can we do?

  • Make sure to put out feed regularly and add as much high-calorie food as possible.
  • Fill your hanging feeders with unsalted peanuts, sunflower seed, and sunflower hearts and mealworms.
  • Hang up food bars of fat in trees and shrubs.
  • Put up nest boxes for smaller birds for roost sites.
  • Leftovers from our table are welcome – cake, bread, cheese, cereals unsalted bacon, cooked rice, insides of cooked potatoes – it all will make a huge difference in this cold weather.
  • Make sure water is available at all times. DO NOT use antifreeze to keep it from freezing, instead fill it up with tepid water and use larger bowls as it will take longer to freeze. You can also put in small floating items like twigs to help to keep the surface clear from ice.
  • Any fruit or berries which has gone a bit soft in the fruit bowl will be a welcome addition.


If you want to read more about how to help wildlife in our gardens and cities go to RSPB’s website.


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RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2018: Preview

Liz Patterson, Show Manager for the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, will have been glued to the weather forecast for the last fourteen days. Last year’s inaugural show, in the magnificent park surrounding the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, was hampered by spiteful weather and lengthy traffic delays. Press Day was a total washout, with everyone evacuated from the showground in the early afternoon for fear that some of the structures might blowdown and cause injury. The shoes I wore that day went straight in the bin. All seemed lost, but the sun returned for Members’ Day and the show went on to welcome thousands of visitors. Not much gets between the English and a good flower show! Liz can sleep soundly tonight, at least as far as the weather is concerned: light winds and only a 2% chance of rain we can cope with. As for the parking situation, we shall see!

Scanning over the site plan, visitors can expect a new and improved layout, with the show gardens grouped together and an extensive plant village offering some amazing opportunities to purchase. An inflatable replica of the famous Great Conservatory (aka The Great Stove) returns, as do the enormous Devonshire and Cavendish Marquees. These will host over a hundred exhibits from nurserymen, growers and plant collectors from across the land. Lessons have been learned and I am looking forward to a great day assessing trade stands for the RHS again tomorrow.

I am slightly apprehensive about the number of show gardens this year, substantially down on last year and sited very much on the fringe of the show. This is not a surprise, given the event is kicking off only ten days after Chelsea ended. There is only so much sponsorship available, but gardens are one of the main draws for a flower show of this caliber and I’d like to have seen a few more in the program.

Top billing goes to a colossal installation of phalaenopsis orchids being staged in the Great Conservatory. Over 5,000 plants of 100 varieties will be used to adorn chandeliers, decorate a waterfall and form a living wall. Floral Designer Jonathan Moseley is the man with a plan to transform this space into a phalaenopsis fantasia.

The Chatsworth estate is vast and impressive, lending itself to bold and ambitious projects. Amassed planting of 12,000 Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Razzamatazz’ will be planted in a river formation beneath the facade of Chatsworth House. If you’ve ever wanted to capture yourself having a Timotei moment, this could be the place to do it.

A scarcity of show gardens will be partially counterbalanced by a new competition which invites designers to create ‘iconic’ borders with the theme of movement. The initial Long Border competition was open to students, garden designers, community groups and talented individuals. The top eight borders have been realized in full at Chatsworth and will be presented to the public this week. I think this is a great idea, providing visitors with ideas that should be incredibly easy to replicate or adapt at home. I also like that the RHS has invited entries into an affordable category from a diverse variety of entrants, including complete newcomers. Below is a long border entitled ‘Summer Breeze’ by designer Kristian Reay, which heralds the approach of a long, hot summer. Here’s hoping.

Finally, a new Living Laboratory will explore the vital role plants play in an urban environment. Plants and technology will be displayed to highlight how different varieties can help address a number of challenges we have in our towns and cities, including pollution, flooding and lack of plants for pollinators.

The Chatsworth Flower Show, in partnership with Wedgwood, runs from Wednesday, June 6th to Sunday, June 10th, 2018 and tickets are still available. Keep an eye on my Facebook Page, Instagram and YouTube Channel for updates.

Chelsea Flower Show 2018: O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA – The Hospitality Garden ホスピタリティガーデン

garden at flow show Three cheers for Kazuyuki Ishihara: another Chelsea gold medal to his name and ‘Best in Show’ for his Artisan Garden entitled O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA. Although the charismatic Japanese landscape artist is now as much a part of the Chelsea Flower Show as Pimms, the Queen or improbably large delphiniums, we know relatively little about him. Mr. Ishihara speaks limited English and comes across as shy, except when he learns of the judge’s final decision. Such is his passion for his craft, and for Chelsea, that he goes wild with excitement, and quite right too. He has a track record that very few designers can match. He has now been awarded a gold medal for seven years consecutively and best Artisan Garden on five of those occasions. Mr. Ishihara was the first Japanese designer ever to win the President’s Award at Chelsea, back in 2016 for his Senri-Sentei – Garage Garden. I did a very poor job of photographing that garden so didn’t feature it at the time, but have included an image at the end of this post so that you may compare this more contemporary design with this year’s traditional garden. With the assistance of Google, I have taken the opportunity to include a Japanese translation of these words. Apologies for any errors, but I hope you get the gist!

石原一之の3つの喝采:彼の名を冠したチェルシーの金メダルとアルティザン・ガーデンの「ベスト・イン・ショー」、O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA。カリスマ的な日本の芸術家は、今やチェルシー・フラワー・ショーの一部として、ピムス、クイーンズ、おそらくは大型のデルフィニウムのようなものですが、彼についてはほとんど知りません。石原氏は、限られた英語を話し、裁判官の最終判決を知る以外は、恥ずかしがりのように見える。そのような彼の工芸品への彼の情熱、そしてチェルシーのために、彼は興奮して野生になり、かなり正しい。彼は、ほとんどのデザイナーが一致することができる実績を持っています。彼は現在7年間連続して金メダルを獲得しており、そのうち5つで最高のArtisan Gardenが授与されています。石原氏はチェルシーで大統領賞を受賞した最初の日本人デザイナーで、2016年にはセンリ・センテイ・ガレージ・ガーデンのために誕生しました。私はその庭を撮影するのは非常に貧弱な仕事をしていましたが、当時の特徴はありませんでしたが、今年の伝統的な庭とこのより現代的なデザインを比較できるようにこのポストの終わりにいくつかの画像が含まれています。 Googleの助けを借りて、これらの言葉の日本語翻訳を含める機会を得ました。何か間違いをお詫びしますが、要点を得ることを願っています!

tree design at flower show It has been said by myself and others that Kazuyuki Ishihara is a one-trick pony. Looking back to 2004 when he first staged a Chelsea garden, one learns that this is far from the truth. His style has evolved considerably over the last 14 years, making me even more excited to see what he chooses to do next. Even if he chose not to move on, what a thrill it always is to see this style of the garden made so impeccably. I could gaze at his show gardens all day long and never tire of them. I was delighted that he took a moment to have his photograph taken with me, something I rarely ask anyone I don’t know to do. To find out more about the man, have a look at the short film below. Persevere with it, as his story is a good one.

石原一之はトリックポニーの一人だと言われています。 2004年にChelseaの庭を初めて上演したとき、彼はこれが真実から遠いことを学びました。 彼のスタイルは過去14年間でかなり進化しており、私は彼が次に何をするかを見てさらに興奮しています。 彼が移動しないことを選択したとしても、いつもこのスタイルの庭園を見ることが、どんなにスリルであっても、まったく完璧になりました。 私は一日中、彼のショーガーデンを注視することができ、決して疲れない。 私は自分の写真を私と一緒に撮ってもらうために瞬間を取ったことを嬉しく思っています。 その男についてもっと知るには、下のショートフィルムを見てください。 彼の物語は良いものなので、それを忍耐してください。

To Western eyes at least, this year’s garden, inspired by the treasured Japanese culture of omotenashi, appears to be the embodiment of Japanese garden design. It has water, rocks, acers, irises, moss, bonsai, lanterns and an octagonal pavilion, all the ingredients we expect to see in such a garden. Omotenashi, is the concept of wholehearted and sincere hospitality, and they wish to invoke this feeling in guests to the garden. The planting is based on Ikenobo, a style of Japanese flower arranging dating from the 15th century.  This is where Mr. Ishihara began, studying this, the purest form of Ikebana, from the age of 22. The placement of plants and the distribution of color in this garden are carefully considered in relation to space.

西洋の目には少なくとも、オオテナシの貴重な日本の文化に触発された今年の庭は、日本の庭のデザインの一形態と思われる。 それは、水、岩、エイサー、虹彩、苔、盆栽、灯篭、八角形のパビリオンを持っています。 心のこもったホスピタリティのコンセプトであり、お客様の庭にこの気持ちを呼び起こしたいという思いがあります。 植栽は、15世紀の日本の花の様式である池坊をベースにしています。 これは、石原氏が始まった場所で、22歳から純粋な形の生け花を研究しています。この庭の植物の配置と色の分布は、空間との関係で慎重に検討されます。

Mr Ishihara’s latest composition is enhanced by a fabulous, shaded location in a woodland glade between Eastern Avenue and the other Artisan Gardens. The backdrop of birch, beech, and Atlantic blue cedar is perfect, creating a seamless transition between temporary garden and permanent surroundings. It is almost impossible to find fault with his gardens, which are executed and maintained throughout the show to such a high standard. Dust and debris are removed from the water and pincushion moss daily, by hand.

石原氏の最新作は、イースタン・アベニューと他のアルティザン・ガーデンの間の森林の隙間にあるすばらしい、影のある場所によって強化されています。 バーチ、ブナ、大西洋の青白い杉の背景は、一時的な庭園と恒久的な環境の間でシームレスな移行を作り、完璧です。 彼の庭園で不具合を見つけることはほとんど不可能であり、その庭園はショーの間に実行され維持されています。 毎日水とピンカスの苔からほこりや土石を手で取り除きます。

The focal point in this year’s garden is an octagonal Azumaya, or garden house, with a gently sloping roof fashioned from copper. A central pool of grey stone, studded by irises, is fed by three crystal-clear cascades. The pool is surrounded by Japanese maples interspersed with pines, viburnums and a handsome enkianthus. The natural sound of water falling onto rock is intended to encourage the forgetting of time and the feeling of eternity. Every detail of the garden is considered, including the front boundary of pincushion moss, Pachysandra terminalis, and Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’. Flanking the entrance to the Azumaya, the two twisted larches are actually bonsai that have been trained with wires to look especially ancient. Like everything else in the garden, they are quite marvelous.

今年の庭園の焦点は、八角形のAzumaya(ガーデンハウス)で、銅製のやさしい屋根があります。 虹彩に囲まれた灰色の石の中央プールは、3つのクリスタルクリアカスケードによって供給されます。 プールには、松、芝生、ハンサムなエンカンサスが散在している日本の庭園に囲まれています。 岩の上に落ちる自然な音は、時間と永遠の感覚を忘れることを奨励することを意図しています。 ピンカス苔、Pachysandra terminalisおよびHouttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’の前境界を含めて、庭のすべての詳細が考慮されます。 Azumayaへの入り口に面した2本の撚り糸は実際には昔から見えるワイヤーで訓練された盆栽です。 庭の他のすべてと同様に、彼らは非常に素晴らしいです。

Mr. Ishihara calls himself a landscape artist because that is what he is. He creates a picture of natural perfection by deftly balancing all the elements. We suggest that he does the same thing every year because we can’t find fault elsewhere, and because our memories are short. That is our failure and not his. We are extremely fortunate to have him come to Chelsea every year to remind us of the beauty, precision, and meaning of Japanese gardens. And what would Chelsea be without his priceless reactions to good news? Definitely not the same. TFG.

石原氏は、それが彼のものなので、庭師と呼んでいます。 彼はすべての要素を巧みにバランスさせることによって、自然の完璧な姿を描きます。 私たちは毎年同じことをすることをお勧めします。なぜなら、私たちはどこかで不具合を見つけることができず、私たちの記憶が不足しているからです。 それは私たちの失敗であり、彼の失敗ではありません。 日本の庭園の美しさ、精密さ、そして意味を思い起こさせるため、彼は毎年チェルシーに来られることは非常に幸運です。 そして、チェルシーは、良い知らせをすることなく、何ができるでしょうか? 確かに同じではありません。 TFG。

Chelsea Flower Show 2018: The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate

Same sponsor, different continent …. after a five-year hiatus Trailfinders are back and this time they’ve transported us to South Africa. For eight consecutive years, Trailfinders brought us Australian themed gardens, bidding a temporary farewell in 2013 with an epic garden designed by the brilliant Phillip Johnson, one of my garden design heroes. That garden won a gold medal and the coveted Best in Show award. In the intervening years, Trailfinders and their partners Fleming’s Nurseries were missed, not only for their gardens but their antipodean informality and sense of humor. The partnership always brought something fresh to Chelsea, occasionally getting up the noses of established British designers, which is never a bad thing.

Having taken a break, Trailfinders have backed both a new continent and a new designer, Jonathan Snow. His design presents us with a careful and beautifully articulated study of a South African wine estate. So much can go wrong with this style of a show garden. There’s the risk of cramming far too much in or ending up with a garden that looks like it belongs at Legoland. Buildings, in particular, are tricky as they generally have to be scaled down and occupy a lot of space. Trying to recreate any foreign landscape on British soil is a challenge, let alone three different ones. Whilst I wanted this garden to be great, I had my doubts. It turns out that I should have had more faith.

Everything about the delivery of this garden is quite brilliant. The proportions are superb, allowing the facade of the Cape Dutch homestead to look perfectly at home in its setting. A white verandah, paved with terracotta tiles, is swathed in pale pink roses, R. ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ to be precise. Of course, there had to be agapanthus, one of the signature flowers of South Africa, but then comes a small, formal garden edged with box and billowing with cottage garden plants. Mixed in are cultivated forms of Fynbos* plants such as Aristea majorDierama pulcherrimum, Tulbaghia violacea and Libertia grandiflora. Such gardens are typical of South African wine estates, providing a soothing contrast to the harsh Fynbos landscapes beyond.

A gate in a whitewashed wall leads into a small vineyard. If anything, this section might have been made slightly larger as it quickly gives way to Fynbos. In common with wine-growing areas the world over, roses are planted at the end of each row of vines. This allows early detection of diseases that might harm the vines since roses tend to succumb to problems first. In between the vines, wildflowers have been sown to attract insects. These would ultimately be plowed back into the soil as green manure. This kind of sustainability is essential in a finely balanced habitat which is already threatened by alien species and over-fertilization. Most fynbos plants are adapted to nutrient-poor soils and are particularly susceptible to the presence of a high level of phosphates, which leads to chlorosis (yellowing) and then necrosis (blackening).

As we enter the show garden’s Fynbos the plot has been banked up sharply to the right, representing an area that would be considered too steep to be cultivated. Here we find a rich mix of plants, representing the world’s smallest but most botanically diverse floristic kingdom. There are leucadendrons, proteas, kniphofias, serrurias and leucospermums, a whole gamut of plants we recognized from florists and exhibits in the Great Pavilion. Most are not hardy here apart from in the mildest parts of the UK, and not entirely happy outside except in Western Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Plants for the garden were sourced from Cornwall, Tuscany, and Southern Spain. 10,000 seeds purchased from Kirstenbosch were germinated and grown on into plants of show garden standard by experts at Kellways, a prominent name in British Horticulture since 1851.

Some visitors to Chelsea may be puzzled by the charred remains of shrubs at the front left-hand corner of the garden. These represent fire, which is an essential part of the Fynbos life-cycle. Fire clears old growth, returns precious nutrients to the soil, and enables certain seeds to germinate, though the effects of heat and smoke. The ground here is peppered with flowering bulbs such as ixia and Ornithogalum, taking advantage of the space and light to do their thing before larger shrubs regenerate from the base or from seed. It’s a cycle that has similarities to heathland here in the UK, or to coppice woodland, only without the element of fire. Where there’s an opportunity to grow, there’s always a plant to take it.

I know that I am not alone in enjoying this garden. It brings to a Chelsea the relatable and the exotic, formality and wild nature. It’s an exciting a heady mix, presented by a deft hand. Jonathan Snow’s design makes the plot appear considerably larger than it is, and views from the front of the plot to the homestead at the back are carefully contrived. No criticisms readily come to mind, so I shall not search for them – I even liked the simple post-and-wire fencing that surrounded the plot, which I thought was charmingly understated.

Trailfinders, Jonathan Snow and contractor Mark Richardson of Stewart Landscape Construction should be well pleased with their silver-gilt medal. What prevented the judges from awarding gold is anyone’s guess, but for what it’s worth I was charmed by the whole composition. Well done chaps – please don’t leave it another five years before you come back and transport us to sunnier climes again. TFG.

Continue scrolling down for an extensive plant list and more photographs.

*Fynbos is a small belt of natural shrubland or heathland vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa.

Plant List

In the Homestead Garden

  • Agapanthus praecox
  • Allium ‘Gladiator’
  • Allium ‘Mount Everest’
  • Ammi visnaga ‘Green Mist’
  • Anethum graveolens
  • Aristea major
  • Artimesia absinthium ‘Lambrook Silver’
  • Astrantia major ‘Buckland’
  • Diascia personata
  • Dierama pulcherrimum
  • Dietes grandiflora
  • Eugenia myrtifolia ‘New Port’
  • Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’
  • Geranium pratense ‘Mrs Kendall Clark’
  • Gladiolus colvillei ‘The Bride’
  • Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus
  • Knautia macedonica ‘Melton Pastels’
  • Kniphofia ‘Primrose Upward’
  • Libertia grandiflora
  • Myrsine africana
  • Ornithogalum thyrsoides
  • Pelargonium capitatum
  • Pelargonium odoratissiumum
  • Pelargonium peltatum
  • Pelargonium tomentosum
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’
  • Rosa ‘St Ethelburga’
  • Salvia x sylvestris ‘Dear Anja’
  • Sisyrinchium striatum
  • Scabiosa drakensbergensis
  • Tulbaghia violacea
  • Varbascum chaixii ‘Album’
  • Verbena hastata ‘Pink Spires’

In the Vineyard

  • Vitis vinifera
  • Rosa alba ‘Celeste’
  • Lupinus angustifolius
  • Vicia sativa
  • Trifolium incarnatum
  • Sinapis arvensis

In the Fynbos

  • Agapanthus africans ‘Navy Blue’
  • Aristea major
  • Ballota africana
  • Berzelia albiflora
  • Berzelia lanyginosa
  • Bulbine frutescens
  • Coleonema pulchellum
  • Diosma ericoides ‘Pink Fountain’
  • Elegia capensis
  • Elegia tectorum
  • Erica canaliculata
  • Erica oatesii ‘Winter Fire’
  • Freesia laxa
  • Hymenolepsis parviflora
  • Ixia ‘Hogarth’
  • Ixia polystacha
  • Ixia ‘Venus’
  • Kniphofia uvaria
  • Kniphofia northiae
  • Leonotis ocymifolia var. cymifolia
  • Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’
  • Leucandendron ‘Sixteen Candles’
  • Leucospermum cordifolium
  • Leucospermum ‘Soleil’
  • Leucospermum ‘Yellow Carnival’
  • Mimetes cucullatus
  • Ornithogalum dubium
  • Ornithogalum thryrsoides
  • Pelargonium cordifolium rubrotinctum
  • Pelargonium exstipulatum
  • Pelargonium fragrans
  • Pelargonium sidoides
  • Pelargonium strigifolium
  • Pelargonium triste
  • Polygala myrtifolia
  • Protea eximia
  • Protea cynaroides ‘Madiba’
  • Protea scolymocephala
  • Rhodocoma capensis
  • Salvia africana lutea ‘Kirstenbosch’
  • Scabiosa incisa ‘Kudo Blue’
  • Scabiosa incisa ‘Kudo White’
  • Serruria aemula ‘Galaxy’
  • Serruria aemula ‘Lemon Honey’
  • Serruria phylicoides
  • Thamnochortus insignis


Dentists and Indulgences: The Return from Chelsea

There is nothing quite like a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show to galvanize one into action vis-à-vis one’s own garden. I returned home on Tuesday night brimming with ideas but with an ominous stuffed-up feeling. I assumed this was related to the notorious Chelsea cough, only to find that by Wednesday morning I had developed a full-blown cold. Two days of self-enforced quarantine gave me time to knock out five Chelsea posts and one for the NGS, and by this morning I had regained sufficient vim and vigor to get back outside where I belong.

Before I could put all my Chelsea-inspired plans into action I had to visit the dentist and hygienist. Try as I may, I never get my ‘daily routine’ quite right. This time I’m guilty of brushing too hard and eating too many processed foods, which is apparently what causes the ulcers I’ve been prone to since I was a child. I listened to the advice, smiled, took it with a pinch of salt and went to Boots where I purchased some interdental thingies (which I’ll probably never use) before proceeding straight to my local garden center.

I already have a grand plan for the Gin & Tonic Garden but it will be a few years before this can be realized. In the meantime, I am trying to create a happy, flower-filled space with a vaguely yellow and purple theme. My palette has already been polluted by a deep red rose, which is the only planet in the garden that the previous owner had planted. Since he’s no longer with us, I feel it’s my duty to keep it going in his memory. It’s a healthy, vigorous, nameless rose, but the flowers have no scent, which is criminal. Truth be told I have a few other red-flowered plants, including Cestrum fasiculatum ‘Newellii’ and a rogue tree peony which was labeled as being yellow and flouncy but has annoyingly turned out to be burgundy and ordinary.

At the garden center, I succumbed to yet more plants when what I should have been doing is dealing with the ones I already have. I purchased armfuls of an osteospermum that has canary-yellow flowers with a plummy eye. It is optimistically called ‘Blue-Eyed Beauty’ (see above for evidence of lack of blue). Then my eyes alighted on Magnolia ‘Daphne’, which I have been coveting for some time. It is a small tree with properly yellow flowers that appear at the same time as new foliage – lemon and lime all at once. Dear Reader, I bought it (roll eyes, throw hands in the air). I know this was probably wrong of me, but it’s a small magnolia, the flowers are the correct color for my garden, and it was there … begging to be given a good home. Who was I to refuse? I immediately planted it in the largest terracotta pot I had to hand and eventually, I will plant it in the ground where it belongs.

My carpenter paid a visit to midday and frowned a great deal when I explained my plans for replacing the fencing around the Gin & Tonic Garden. I took this to mean a) it was going to be a lot of work and b) I probably couldn’t afford it, so this project may have to wait until next year. Since my standards tend to be elevated to unrealistic levels following Chelsea, there is no harm in him managing them down gently. As with the dentist, I smiled and nodded politely whilst I took the frowns on board. In the meantime, he’s starting the restoration of the outdoor kitchen and garage doors next week, both of which are jobs I’ve put off for too long and which need completing before I open the garden in August.

The joy of having the Gin & Tonic Garden as well as my original garden is that I can grow sun-worshippers again. The little south-facing corner created where the library meets the garden room is a sheltered sun trap, perfect for growing some of my tender plants. I change the grouping regularly so that it’s always looking fresh. Currently, I have Echium candicans (behind me as I write and still covered with bees), Polygala myrtifoliaTulbaghia ‘Purple Eye’ and Prostanthera ‘Poorlinda Ballerina’. All are going great guns and helping me through that odd period between the tulips fading and the summer flowers gathering steam. Geranium palmatum, which I was so pleased to see shown on the Todd’s Botanics exhibit at Chelsea, is also starting to bloom, sending long stems of pink flowers out over the gravel patch.

Somehow everything seems to be turning a corner this week after the harsh winter and spring. Even those plants that were cut to the ground, including Fuchsia arborescens, Hedychium ‘Tara’, Melianthus major and Agapanthus africanus, are showing the first signs of recovery. Warm, muggy weather over the Bank Holiday will see them progress even further. In the greenhouse, the tomato plants I put in only a fortnight ago are producing their first trusses of flowers and looking very healthy indeed.

Although I remain without lupins, rammed-earth walls, a swanky new greenhouse or a showpiece sculpture, Chelsea compels me to try new things and set my standards higher. Whilst I will never be able to exercise the restraint of a show garden designer, I can still garden better. At the end that’s what Chelsea is all about; encouraging gardeners, nurserymen, and designers to up their game and reach for the stars. TFG.



Chelsea Flower Show 2018: The Supershoes – Laced With Hope Garden

I usually draw my Chelsea coverage to a close at the same time the show ends, partly through fatigue, and partly because there are other subjects about which to write at this busy time of the year. The downside is that this deprives many gardens I enjoyed of description and praise. They do, of course, receive plenty of recognition by other means, but when I look back at my blog I am frequently disappointed with myself for not reflecting more thoroughly on gardens that did not reach the very top of my list. Just for this week, and before I become embroiled in Chatsworth, I am going to share a few more Chelsea gardens that captured my imagination in 2018.

Laura Anstiss, the proud designer of the garden entitled Laced With Hope, was not going to let me walk past without telling me the story that inspired her. I am so pleased she did. Her vibrant garden is designed to illustrate the path followed by a child who has been diagnosed with cancer. The design describes the emotional rollercoaster experienced by both child and family through the medium of sculpture, art, hard landscaping and planting. It does so vividly, sensitively and without melancholy, every element working together to give meaning. Laura’s verbal interpretation helped me to piece all the component parts together, linked visually by a golden shoelace running playfully through a vibrant planting of alliums, roses, lupins, and irises. At one point the giant lace takes the form of the familiar ribbon loop that’s used to create awareness of different forms of cancer.

The garden is a collaboration with a charity called Supershoes, an organization that puts children back in touch with what gives them hope and happiness by commissioning a team of volunteer ‘Super Artists’ to design a pair of customized shoes exclusively for them. The shoes, which might be adorned with images of favorite pets, friends or activities, help to remind the child of their identity and things that bring them joy, whilst they cope with the harsh realities of fighting this pernicious group of diseases.

Other protagonists in the creation of this heart-warming garden include Frosts Garden Centres, who provided plants and sponsorship, sculptor Alison Bell and artists Karen Huwen, Alison Bessant and Amanda Sissons.

Gardens describing charitable missions, humanitarian disasters, and environmental issues are frequently staged at RHS shows. Many succeed in making their point, but few do so without sacrificing something of what’s required to make a genuinely beautiful and appealing garden. In truth, I often avoid writing about them so as not to offend when the intent is so positive but the result is confused or unattractive. For me to engage, a garden needs to be visually appealing first and meaningful second. I appreciate others will feel differently on that score, but I’m old-fashioned in that way.

Whilst there was an awful lot going on in Laura’s garden, perhaps too much for some onlookers, once I had heard the story and appreciated the role of the art and sculpture, it all fell into place. I found myself passing by again and again purely to enjoy the color and energy that flowed out from the space. If I had any criticism it would be that there were one or two elements of storytelling too many, for example, a set of words describing the family’s emotional journey cast into paving, which I felt were overkill. It is possible to weigh your garden down with too much meaning, especially when it’s this overt.

That minor gripe aside, this was definitely not a garden that sacrificed beauty at the expense of a serious message. Anyone would enjoy sitting here and feel their spirits lifted. The bright color palette used throughout became deliciously saturated in the cool shade of the Serpentine Walk and when the sunlight filtered through the tree canopy the whole garden came alive. The judges awarded Laced with Hope a silver medal in the Artisan Gardens category. My suspicion is that marks were lost over the planting. Perhaps there was not considered to be enough of it, had the other elements been stripped out, or there was a lack of structure within it. I certainly felt that plants played a supporting role in a garden already rich with alternative narrative elements.

I will not be the only Chelsea visitor to be both enlightened and moved by this garden’s unambiguous, focused message. A tiny pair of intricately painted canvas shoes isolated on a curved bench brought home just how small and alone children must feel when diagnosed with cancer. Supershoes help children to re-engage with the things they love, giving them the motivation to see beyond all the tests, scans and treatments they must endure to fight their cancer. In turn, this garden helps the viewer to put themselves in their shoes and their own problems in perspective. TFG.

Chelsea Flower Show 2018: The Silent Pool Gin Garden

I love a G&T, so much so that I have an entire garden named after my favorite drink. Naturally, I was very happy to discover another garden inspired by the juniper-infused spirit at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

The Silent Pool Gin Garden was part of a line up in the new Space to Grow category. If I’m honest I didn’t really grasp the distinction, except that each of the gardens had a smallish scale and a contemporary twist. Space to Grow included gardens highlighting the threat to our underwater ecosystems, the experience of young people with HIV, skincare and awareness of Myeloma, alongside gardens promoting gin and a non-alcoholic ‘spirit’ called Seedlip, featuring plants exclusively from the pea family. Let’s just say it was a broad church. The best thing about Space to Grow was that the RHS had pushed these gardens back against the show’s inner perimeter, providing them with the backdrop of Christopher Wren’s magnificent Royal Hospital, a nugget of borrowed landscape that money could not buy. There’s no comparison with the Great Pavilion on the other side of Royal Hospital Way, a functional building with about as much charm as a Zanussi washing machine.

Designed by David Neale, the Silent Pool Gin Garden effectively addressed two briefs – to create a relaxing, urban haven in which a professional couple might unwind, and to incorporate references to distilling and the Silent Pool brand in particular. This ‘professional urban couple’ is particularly well served by garden designers at RHS shows, although I have yet to meet anyone resembling them: these lucky people have a lot more money than any professionals I know. Nevertheless, this was a garden that professional people, twinned or otherwise, might aspire to, provided they could afford a skilled gardener to maintain it whilst they go about their busy lives.

Where the designer’s skill lay was in interpreting the sponsor’s exquisitely romanticized brand. Back in 2014, Silent Pool gin was in the vanguard of a new wave of British gins, which has lately built into something of a tsunami. Silent Pool is distilled and bottled in Surrey, using water drawn from an ancient spring that rises from a natural chalk aquifer. The gin’s name is taken from the ancient freshwater pool which the spring feeds. The pool, considered by some to be sacred, is noted for an eerie and unexplained calmness. The water exhibits n intense, blue opalescence, caused by the chalk content. The bottle mirrors exactly the color of the pool’s water at its deepest point: it’s a pale, translucent, teal-blue vessel, adorned with a filigree pattern depicting the 24 botanicals that form the gin’s unique recipe. The silhouettes of rose, iris (orris root), lavender, chamomile, angelica, and nineteen other botanicals are picked out in copper, echoing the bespoke stills in which distillation takes place. Look closely and you will find illustrations of the evil Prince John and Emma, a woodcutter’s daughter, whom the prince is said to have drowned in the pool. How we adore a product with a good story attached to it!

So here we have the garden’s essential ingredients – still water, overhanging trees, decorative botanicals, filigree panels, cool blues, and coppery oranges. (Alas no trembling maidens or wicked knights, but perhaps they are being held in reserve for next year’s show?) These are attractive elements to work with, at once restful and also sufficiently diverse to create tension and interest. David Neale chose UK-sourced Purbeck walling, warm Portland stone, rugged Corten steel, and weathered English oak as his hard landscaping materials, using them to create a series of walls, raised beds, pathways and planters framing a sequence of pools and planted areas.

A restricted palette, with only multi-stemmed hornbeam used as structural planting, made for a calm and clean garden. Drama was delivered in the form of a twisted ‘citrus peel’ sculpture, formed of hammered copper, and a gorgeous planting scheme. Here we got to enjoy Chelsea stalwarts Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’ and Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ combined with Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, Corydalis flexuosa ‘China Blue’, Aquilegia ‘Henson Harebell’ and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’. Somewhere in the undergrowth were the blue poppy, meconopsis, with flowers of the most perfect Silent Pool blue.

In the water grew Iris fulva, the American copper iris. Presented in perfect condition, David explained that the flowers had been encouraged into bloom in a child’s paddling pool in his parents’ conservatory. Chelsea designers will go to any lengths to achieve perfection and this garden came so close to landing a fashionable silver-gilt medal and, perhaps more importantly, the People’s Choice award in the Space to Grow category.

There was nothing challenging, quirky or especially original about this garden – we have seen the like before – but thank goodness it was in the Chelsea mix. Most of the gardens at this year’s show were great to look at, but not to live with. My earlier gentle sarcasm aside, this garden would have satisfied the aspirations of professional clients dreaming of a garden in which to unwind on a summer’s evening. Here they might readily enjoy a gin and tonic, gaze into the water and quietly slip into a fantasy world where princes really do drown maidens in silent pools. TFG.

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Chatsworth Flower Show 2018: The Show Gardens

Picture of a flower display at the spring flower show. Tuesday in Derbyshire dawned grey and dank. I had only packed my Man from Del Monte outfit, so I arrived at Chatsworth looking a trifle too tropical for the tepid conditions. I was not about to carry a Fedora around all day, so on my head, it stayed. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but I am sure people are more deferential when they meet a man in a smart hat – I must wear one more often. Whether that’s true or not, it kept the drizzle off my glasses whilst I crouched uncomfortably on the metal walkway to take photographs of the show gardens. Totally un-tropical and not a pineapple in sight.

As expected, the number of gardens at RHS Chatsworth had dwindled significantly compared to last year: in fact, there were only five. My suspicion is that sponsors were wooed and cajoled into staging gardens at the inaugural show, but decided not to return a second time, either for reasons of cost or disappointment with the return on their investment. Wedgwood, official partners of the RHS at Chatsworth, went from producing a full-on show garden to a section of limestone wall bisected by a gigantic sliver of glass. This was, apparently, inspired by Joseph Paxton’s Great Conservatory, though quite how is anyone’s guess.

I’ll say it because I’m in a provocative mood, but the introduction of a category dubbed ‘Installations’ smacked of filling the void left by ‘proper’ gardens with something cheaper and less engaging. The problem is that I’m not sure installations are what visitors come to RHS shows to see. I certainly don’t. With the exception of Brewin Dolphin’s homage to a village that stood in the shadow of Chatsworth House before Capability Brown swept it away (pictured above), the installations were at best amusing and at worse dull. Crowds did not gather around them, only cursory photos and selfies were taken. I found the Long Border competition slightly more titillating, but the siting of these was not brilliant and the quality sadly lacking in some instances. As for the ‘river’ of cosmos, something had gone awry there.

Moan over, otherwise, I’ll never be allowed back.

On a brighter note, the show gardens that were presented at Chatsworth were good, with a couple heading towards greatness. The close adjacency to Chelsea in the calendar means that few designers are able to create gardens at both shows, with the notable exception of Paul Hervey-Brooke’s who delivered at both and was still smiling at the end of it. His garden for Brewin Dolphin was categorized as an installation and was therefore ineligible for a medal, despite looking for all the world like a garden. Confused? So was I.

Anyway, of the five-show gardens I felt four were worthy of comment and here they are, fully illustrated and in no particular order:

CCLA: A Family Garden, designed by Amanda Waring and Laura Arison (Silver-Gilt Medal)

This garden had three distinct sections – a dining area beneath a modern, grey pavilion; a child’s play area comprising a flowery meadow surrounding an onion-shaped willow ‘den’; and an informal seating area with luxuriant planting around a bench and water feature. I felt the three spaces could have linked better visually, but overall the garden was very nicely done. The downside for me, as it was for other Chatsworth gardens, is that the backdrop consisted of a row of garden sheds and a couple of ghostly white marquees. Why the RHS don’t think this through I do not know. I hope the designers challenge them to position the plots more sympathetically in the future. Had the copper beech hedge at the back of this garden been continuous and higher, at least the ugly sheds might have been blocked out. Apart from that, I felt the garden fulfilled its brief to create an attractive, safe space for a family of diverse ages. It looked its best in the early evening with the sun filtering through pale ox-eye daisies and illuminating the inviting seating areas.

Hay Time in the Dales, designed by Chris Myers (Silver Medal)

After the success of Mark Gregory’s Welcome to Yorkshire Garden at Chelsea, I felt sure that Hay Time in the Dales would follow suit with a gold medal. Although staged on a smaller plot, the romance and atmosphere captured by this garden were magical given it had only been in situ for a matter of days. On a cool, drizzly morning in early June, it took no imagination at all to place this scene in the Yorkshire Dales. I loved all the little details such as the woolly socks on a rotary washing line and a sign on the gate reading ‘Winter food for stock. Please keep in single file’. Plants emerged from and enveloped a tiny converted barn, its roof, and walls encrusted with ferns, mosses, and grasses. I wonder if the judges found the meadow area too loose and unstructured? I really could find no fault with Hay Time in the Dales, despite this not being remotely my personal style of gardening. Chris – you got my Best in Show if that’s any consolation at all. The Man from Del Monte – he says yes!


The Great Outdoors designed by Phil Hirst (Gold Medal and Best in Show)

This was a solid show garden and deserved a gold medal. For me, it felt ever so slightly dated, perhaps because of the color scheme used, or the purple floor cushions which I could have done without. Something about the arrangement of green, purple, magenta, yellow and orange in geometric blocks reminded me of an 80’s shell suit. Once imagined, this is a hard image to shake! However, some of the plantings were divine, especially towards the back of the plot where luminous Anemone ‘White Swan’ romped about with hostas, ferns and black-leaved elder in the shade of a young oak tree. There were heaps of interest in structures, seating, and surfaces, including a section paved with handsome wooden blocks, laid end-on. One for that infamous professional couple we last met at Chelsea I don’t doubt, but a little too jumpy and jagged for my taste.

The John Deere Garden, Designed by Elspeth Stockwell and Jo Fairfax (Silver Gilt Medal)

Who would have thought a garden celebrating 100 years of tractors could be attractive to anyone other than a 6-year-old boy or a farmer? Well, designers Elspeth Stockwell and Jo Fairfax succeeded and landed a silver-gilt medal for their efforts. This garden was all about the agricultural, featuring a convoy of miniature golden tractors floating above a sea of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Luzula Nivea (snow-white wood-rush). The garden was surrounded by a bold sweep of charred oak posts which did a sterling job of hiding everything behind. The blackened wood set off a fine selection of flowers, including one of my favorite spring beauties, Chaerophyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum’, an umbel that resembles pinky-lilac cow parsley. This garden was all about strong vertical lines, reinforced by plants such as foxgloves, Lysimachia, persicaria, and camassia. Blousy thalictrums and floaty aquilegia stopped the composition from appearing too upright and spiky. A pleasing design that struck me as better suited to public space than a private one.

By lunchtime, the clouds had started to disperse. By 4.30 pm, when my judging duties were over, the sky was clear-blue crisscrossed by fuzzy white vapor trails. All of a sudden my hat started to make me feel hot and I wanted to take it off. A fellow judge and I snuck up to Chatsworth’s walled gardens to seek out Becky Crowley, cut-flower grower extraordinaire, for a chat. I can heartily recommend her Instagram feed if you are easily excited by beautiful flower photography. I found it hard to imagine that there could be a more beautiful place to work than here, looking out over rows of iris and peony to the Brownian landscape beyond.

At 6.30 pm, as the showground closed down for the day, golden light flooded across the River Derwent causing Chatsworth’s gilded windows to gleam with all the richness and magnificence they were intended to convey. The Man from Del Monte, having spotted only one, very small pineapple all day, returned home to Kent satisfied but empty-handed. TFG.