The power of light and shade at Chelsea 2015

Chelsea had it’s usual off-and-on weather this year, and whilst this must make for plant substitution nightmares and non-flowering irises and paeonies, it also gives the show different qualities at different times of the day. I remember very well at my first visit in 2006-ish visiting the Artisan Gardens, though they were called something else then I think, and seeing them through what was almost early morning mist. They were magical and quite different later in the sunshine. So, with the light and shade theme, here is what I noticed this year…

Kazuyuki Ishihara, Chelsea 2015
Kazuyuki Ishihara, Chelsea 2015

Ishihara is the King of Moss. His gardens are stunning each year, and this year, recreating the Edo period, was no exception.  The Artisan Gardens are in the right part of the showground for him, semi-shaded and smaller, with more intimate spaces.  This pale yellow acer makes the view into the round window and is contrasted beautifully with the mounded velvet moss.  The moss was also clumped around tree roots, making the trees look as if they had grown from the moss.

Kazuyuki Ishihara, Chelsea 2015
Kazuyuki Ishihara, Chelsea 2015

The Marcus Barnett garden, breaking naturalistic conventions, followed blocks and squares instead.  This made for some stunning one-colour planting combinations, including this unusual combination of grasses interplanted through startlingly red tulips. The matte red forms the darkness here with the flowerheads of the grasses bringing the light.

Marcus Barnett, Chelsea 2015
Marcus Barnett, Chelsea 2015

I was a bit under-whelmed by the Rich Brothers this year after their naturalistic tour de force last year on Main Avenue, but I did really like this detail.  The strict white of the oblong block is given dimension by the darker planting clump positioned to offset the blunt end of the block. Nice.

Rich brothers, Chelsea 2015
Rich brothers, Chelsea 2015

And in Matthew Keightley’s Sentebale garden, which disappointingly didn’t get a Gold, I really loved this shady planting at the end of the plot, mainly because I am a sucker for Dryopteris erythrosora, which is the lovely rust coloured emerging fern in the photograph below. Thanks to the Frustrated Gardener, a great blog to follow though he is far too hard on himself ( Ihope he won’t mind me saying), I am hoping that the variety Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Briliance’ will find its way to France sometime soon.

Matthew Keightley, Chelsea 2015
Matthew Keightley, Chelsea 2015

And lastly, back in the Mondrian-inspired Telegraph Garden, Marcus Barnett showed how a combination of water and semi-shade can make hard landscaping magical and mysterious…

Marcus Barnett, Chelsea 2015
Marcus Barnett, Chelsea 2015

Some Chelsea memories that last. Luciano Giubbilei, Adam Frost and Chris Beardshaw for different reasons…

It’s Chelsea Flower Show time soon. It is a big treat to go, and I love the whole thing, beginning with scurrying along the road from Sloane Square tube with ladies in floral cardigans and umbrellas and ‘off-duty’ husbands daring Panama hats in often quite chilly mornings. I always look a bit like a cross between a sharply dressed bag-lady and a rambler, firmly believing as I do that soft, firm shoes and layers are required as anything can happen weather-wise. Practicality is my by-word, and a rucksack for all the bits that you accumulate. Makes me sound quite Marple-esque. Not quite! I hope.

As it’s only a month away, I spent some time looking through my photos of past Chelseas just to see what still rang bells for me. I admit it’s almost always the planting that gets me, but there are other great features to remember as well.

Luciano Giubbilei's garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009
Luciano Giubbilei’s garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009

I loved this planting by Luciano Giubbilei. It’s so fresh and sumptuous at the same time. The crisp green of the box, the relaxed wavy grass and then the knockout peonies in a brilliant ruby colour, mixed in with bronze fennel, a plant I love, and just a few wisps of blue salvia in the mix. Gorgeous.

Luciano Giubbelei won ‘best in show’ last year, and what a different approach he used this time.

Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

Cool, subtle, restrained and thoughtful, this lovely mix of creamy-yellow and greens, with tall lupins, foxgloves, just a little blue, this felt calming and meditative. It was a big risk to have an immense pool in the garden, but what an elegant pool it was. I loved the bevelled, stepped edges going down deep into the still water, with the substantial, oblong feeder rill leading to the pool.

The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

And sometimes, it is a small element of a design that remains with you, and you recognise why you took the photograph. For example, this bench was a small part of the overall design, but it is an object of beauty in its own right. Adam Frost’s Homebase garden, created a harmonious and enjoyable space which begged to be used.  It is always a shame, somehow, that you can’t step into some of the gardens, right there and then.

Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014
Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014

And a sculpture that was profoundly moving was included in Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research UK in 2013. Beardshaw, from his own experience as a rheumatoid arthritic, created a deeply engaging garden of surprising planting and superb sculptures by Anna Gillespie and Michelle Castles. This bronze crouching figure, covered with acorns, is doubled up with pain and fear at the beginning of the diagnostic journey. It took my breath away.

The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013
The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013

mmm….it’s only 4 weeks away.