Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Legacy of Chelsea: It IS Rocket Science!



I was pleased to see science had a strong showing at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, with 2 amazing gold-winning show gardens in the Fresh category which took the subject outside of the Great Pavilion for a change.

However, it was an exhibit inside which I really liked as it chimed with the experimental side of my gardening. The picture shows part of the Rocket Science exhibit which told the story of how man will have to find ways of growing food in space if our exploration is to go to Mars and beyond.

I've left the cast on my photograph as it illustrates the special LED lighting needed to maximise plant growth. There's also a special hydroponic system set up to squeeze as many plants as possible in a small space and to ensure they have all the nutrients and water they need within the closed growing system.

What made this exhibit most exciting for me is it's tied in with an inspirational experiment schools are invited to join. 2 kilos of rocket seed are set to be sent to the International Space Station for six months, where they will whizz above the earth at 17,000 kilometres per hour.

They will then be brought back to earth by British astronaut Tim Peake and distributed to participating schools. They will grow their seeds alongside a batch which stayed earth-bound for the duration, to see if there are any differences between the two.

As someone whose first attempt at growing involved radishes and insecticides, I'm envious of the half a million or so schoolchildren who will be taking part. The project starts in earnest at the start of the next school year in September, but you can register now on the Rocket Science page on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website.

My thanks to Jonathan Ward, who was involved in designing and staging the exhibit and was my guide at the show. He also tells me that had it been eligible for judging (RHS sponsored exhibits are excluded), it would have garnered a well-deserved gold.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Separated at Birth? Surreal Pillars of Mexico


Just like last year's Unexpected Items in the Bagging Area, time spent in the Great Pavilion on the last day of this year's build provided a neat insight into how Chelsea happens. Here we have the original design drawings and the execution of the National Dahlia Collection's Surreal Pillars of Mexico exhibit.

This gives a nod to the south American origins of the late-summer blooms I love. I always marvel how so many bright show-grade flowers can be produced so early in the season. This was one of the largest exhibits in the Great Pavilion and deservedly won Gold.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Resonance

Dan Pearson's award winning Chatsworth show garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2015
The overall view - based on Joseph Paxton's trout stream and rock garden

When I heard Dan Pearson was returning to Chelsea after an absence of 11 years, I got very excited. Then when I learned his design would be based on the famous rock garden at Chatsworth, I was both excited and afraid.

Why the fear? Well, I've usually been disappointed when designers talk about using a particular garden as their inspiration. I either fail to see the connection between reality and the show, or to my untrained eye it's a pastiche.

In this case I needn't have worried. Dan Pearson's show garden is a triumph and even more remarkable because it's on the show's notoriously difficult Triangle plot. It deservedly won Best in Show and was the buzz of the gardening press on Monday. His sense of place and attention to detail made it seem like it had been there forever. It promises to be one of the gardens talked about for many years to come.

Why the excitement? There's a deep resonance with this garden, both for me and the RHS. Chatsworth is owned by the Duke of Devonshire, whose Chiswick home in the 1800s was next door to the RHS's then headquarters. The Duke spotted promise in one of the RHS's young gardeners - Joseph Paxton - and eventually lured him away to gardening greatness at Chatsworth.

Planting detail on Dan Pearson's Chatsworth show garden for Chelsea Flower Show 2015
No crevice left unfilled. Exquisitely detailed planting with a Robinsonian-style mix of wild and cultivated plants

Furthermore, rock gardens were a popular feature at Chelsea in the 20th century and were a forerunner to the show gardens we see today. Their former position in the grounds is immortalised in today's Rock Garden Bank. Dan Pearson's garden is right opposite that area.

For me, the resonance lies in my visit to Chatsworth with NAH when we holidayed in Derbyshire 10 years ago. We always indulge in some keen negotiation when deciding our holiday activities; one trip to a heritage railway equals a day spent at a garden.

The view from the topp of Chatsworth's rock garden in 2005
The view from the top of Chatsworth's rock garden in 2005

Chatsworth turned out to be a breakthrough visit. We'd spent a happy day there and particularly enjoyed the climb to the top of the rock garden to admire the view. NAH turned to me and said. "You know, I don't mind coming on garden visits, when they're like this".

He of course denies all knowledge of making this surprising statement, but you and I dear reader know differently don't we?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Singing in the Rain

Previously I've experienced plenty of gales, strident heat and shivering coolness at Chelsea Flower Show, so I suppose a trot around in the rain was long overdue. Luckily Monday's weather turned out to be a good thing...

Raindrops fall on the World Vision Fresh garden at Chelsea Flower Show

Raindrops add an extra dimension, especially if you're using your client's signature black water like John Warland did for World Vision's Fresh garden. Dark shadows add intrigue too - for once I wasn't annoyed by someone getting into the shot either. The zingy lime greens and yellows, plus the attractive 'windows' into the world below provided contrast. I revisited this garden a number of times.

It illustrates World Vision's vital work in Cambodia. I'm pleased to see they also have a key project in Nepal at the moment - something close to my heart now I have a Nepalese allotment neighbour. You might also like to note they're having a Floral Friday on July 10th to highlight children living in fear - something for us to join in with online perhaps?

Chris Beardshaw's Healthy Cities Garden in the rain at Chelsea Flower Show

Gardens look good in sunshine, but it takes skill to make them sing in the rain. Chris Beardshaw chose a predominantly sultry palette for his Healthy Cities Garden, so it's the hardscaping which lifts this view on a rainy day. I particularly liked how the rain added some shadowy details to the paving, even it it did result in my most embarrassing conversation of the day:

Me: Has Chris's garden been judged yet?
Jane Southcott (Chris's PR person): No, it's not until 11.30
Me: Is Chris going to remove that piece of string on the paving? (that wiggly line you can see just in front of the first set of fountains)
Jane: That's a map of the Thames...

...Thank goodness I didn't have that conversation with the man himself.

Elsewhere it was notable how the use of wood in both Matthew Wilson's and Adam Frost's designs added warmth and a glow on a rainy day, something Victoria also spotted in her fine review of the show.

The Telegraph show garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2015

If the hardscaping doesn't do it, then a careful choice of plants is needed for a rainy day. Here the white, yellow and silver make the planting sing on The Telegraph's garden. For me, the Eremurus was the star plant of the show as it was used to good effect on several gardens, even if Matthew Wilson had to apply some emergency bamboo staking to his

Elsewhere, orange was another striking plant colour of the day, particularly on the Sentebale garden as noted by Alison and a number of other bloggers at the show. Perhaps we should make better use of this oft-derided colour in our own gardens.

We sit in our gardens in sunshine, yet often view them in the rain. My trip to this year's Chelsea Flower Show gave me lots of design pointers and food for thought as I re-work through the design of my own garden.


Finally, it's always good to bump into blogging buddies, who make it much easier to shrug off the weather. Here's Naomi in action, one of the many friends I teamed up with for a while on the day. It was interesting to see what her eyes spotted in the Fresh gardens we visited and it was fun to play the role of her 'assistant' so we both got the benefit of that red umbrella.
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