This year at Chelsea, I found myself being more critical than usual. Probably not a bad thing, maturing into an ‘Occasionally Crotchety Gardener’ perhaps, and perhaps also it was watching ‘The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge’ and realising, durr, that judging is about delivering the brief- and that can be all it is about. So, I was interested to see at Chelsea two gardens that used a vast amount of white as a backdrop, and wanted to compare how that worked.
This garden was really an artwork in disguise. In this garden for the Pure Land Foundation, Fernando Gonzalez used this extraordinary, light, glistening Jesmonite in generous wave forms which embraced the planting. It also had the magical effect of heightening the detail, providing beautiful silhouettes of the plant forms against the white. I have always been a sucker for a multi-stemmed tree, and these Koelreuteria paniculata were especially elegant. The planting was fresh and vibrant with blues, oranges, apricots, yellows and it managed to be both light and airy. It was also, by comparison with other gardens, planted quite sparely, but with real finesse in the way he used the nooks and crannies of the waveforms. I thought it was fabulous and far classier than it’s silver-gilt award.
The other garden that used white on a grand scale was the ‘Beauty of Islam’ garden by Kamelia Bin Zaal on Main Avenue. I thought she had made a good choice to work on the diagonal, and to make the most of her arches and opportunities for views into the garden from many angles. But for me, the white was toothpaste-white, and too reminiscent of an airport departure lounge, while the arches were just too small, making the garden feel as if a big hand had squashed it, with the exception of a tall palm in the top left hand corner. And the planting was dull. The design choice to stick with herbs, palms, and one or two roses that were too cold to flower, poor things, was not a brave one. Compare what Bin Zaal achieved with the power and vibrancy of the Gonzales planting above- no contest in my view. Next year, the Arab Institute in Paris is planning a major exhibition on Islamic gardens- so I will be there then. Perhaps September? Dates not yet announced.
And here are some of the little details that I loved at Chelsea this year…First example is an entire garden, ‘The Evaders Garden’ by John Everiss for Chorley Council– here an escaping airman crouches by a ruined church, waiting for help from the people whose names are engraved on the church walls. A moving garden with details recalling the real bravery of those experiences.
The following photograph doesn’t quite capture the glow of this planting. I loved the square shapes of the Telegraph Garden by Marcus Barnett, and particularly liked the short and tall yellow combination.
In between the incredible rocks and the immaculate detail of the planting, Dan Pearson still found space for some shaped green, see left in the photograph. His garden had it all, scale, detail, colour and a design that really made the most of the triangular plot. I also really liked the wooden landings which projected into the garden as below.
And these lovely little nasturtiums in the Main Avenue garden of Sean Murray, the winner of the TV ‘The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge’- there was much to be admired in his debut. Just could have done without the tin can doughnut sculpture….