Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Society of Garden Designers Review

After all the hard work of Chelsea is beginning to ebb into distant memory, I must admit to being extremely pleased to read this in the Society of Garden Designer's July Journal.
So there we are - click on the jpgs to read them.
Now I promise not to talk about Chelsea any more. (Well at least for a while..........!)

Road to Chelsea 3

Road to Chelsea 2

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

On the up

When there's barely a moment to pause for breath and questions and decisions need to be answered or made at every turn, its reassuring to know that one element of the chelsea garden is finalised, complete and out of my hands; the green wall boundary.

The RHS Chelsea show garden that I've designed for the British Heart Foundation (in association with Brewin Dolphin) comprises some really strong architecture. The arching red structures that sweep through the space need a gentle backdrop that allows them to be enjoyed without distraction. A green wall seemed the perfect foil.

I like the idea that the green textural planting of the garden floor doesn't end with the horizontal plane; instead the energy and effusive nature of the plants themselves have forced themselves out and up towards the sky. I want the boundaries to be another planting opportunity, as if the garden's borders can't be contained, and are spilling from the space, taking hold wherever they're given half a chance; wilfuly wild if you will. Comprised of ferns, ivy and the lesser known crevice filler Selaginella kraussiana, Richard Sabin of Biotecture has had the wall planted up for about a month now, and it's looking good. He's happy that the plants are settling in nicely, but wants a few days of consecutive sunshine for them to bolt away, knit together and form the shaggy, touchy feely verdancy that I'm striving for. I shall visit for a furtle myself some time next week.

But until then, no rain dances please.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The British Heart Foundation Garden Chelsea 2011

After its debut at the RHS's London Plant and Design Show this week, I thought it time to dust down the artist's impression of our garden (more details of the brilliant Richard Lee's work can be found hereand pin it up on my blog for the world to see. And so here it is. Be gentle with me, this is nerve racking.

The garden has been inspired by many things, but has been designed to embrace and reflect the energetic work of the fabulous British Heart Foundation in their 50th year. I hope the garden catches peoples attention and does as much as it can to raise the profile of their life-changing anniversary campaign 'Mending Broken Hearts'

In the BHF's own words "At the moment, there's no cure for a broken heart. Once your heart muscle is damaged by a heart attack, it can never fully recover. But there is hope. We need to spend £50 million to fund groundbreaking research that could begin to literally 'mend broken hearts' in as little as ten years time." You'll find more information on the wonderful appeal, and ways you can support it here.

The garden, particularly its arches have been inspired by the bold, colourful work of a piece created for the Mending Broken Hearts campaign by one of its patrons, legendary artist Sir Peter Blake, an image of the structure of heart muscle created by BHF researcher Dr Patrick Hales, and last but not least the power and strength of the human heart itself. These bold arching structures will imitate the movement of veins and arteries, and though I originally envisioned these arches in powder coated steel, an email this week has set me off course. I have a meeting with a supplier tomorrow which may result in an even more eye-catching alternative - of course, you'll be the first to know.

Sir Peter Blake's Image         Dr Patrick Hale's Image

Translucent, internally lit red cell stepping stones float through the garden at ground level, traversing a pond (without water there would be no life), under the vibrant red arches which provide upward thrust to the space and frame views before ultimately leading to a 'floating' terrace at the heart of the space. Here the strands of the garden’s arches become freeform overhead, creating a sheltering structure, a break in the overhead frame providing a space to look back over the garden to contemplate, and assess one’s journey through the garden and so through life.

The garden, which is sponsored by Brewin Dolphin,  will encompass the healing properties of plants   and includes plants used in cardiology treatment, several natives, some marginals, and even some weeds, all creating a jostling foliage jamboree, with very little bloom. Almost entirely green, the textural planting is pushed into the boundaries with a vertical planted green wall system, leading the eye up to the heart shaped leaves of the mature Limes surrounding the 10m x 10m space above. All of this, I hope, will result in the red elements appearing even more rich, positive and bold as they career up, out, over and  through the plentiful, green planting. 

Essentially I hope to create a garden that celebrates life in all its forms...

In the briefest of detail, that's the overview. There's still so much to tell, several bridges to cross, and plenty of decisions to be made, but more on that later... for now, thanks for reading. Hope you like it....

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Chelsea Plants

As far as plants are concerned, the Chelsea Flower Show is a little chicken and egg - by the time you have hurdled the commissioning rounds, it is mid November, and just as you're revving up to place plant orders, every plant countrywide has collapsed below ground for a well earned rest.

But, if you want the plants you've specified in tip-top condition, you need to place orders with growers before Christmas, detailing preferred pot sizes, height and girth of the final plants, and specifying the ridiculous quantities you'd like to order,  to ensure you have enough plants in peak condition, before another Chelsea hungry designer beats you to it.

Without the luxury of choosing plants earlier in the year before you know whether you're in or out,  choosing plants is a little like stabbing in the dark - the scheme may be planted in your head, but you don't have the luxury of visiting nurseries in the hope of making new finds, those ethereal lovelies previously unknown to your acquaintance. Leafing through old notebooks, photographs and nursery catalogues becomes a chaotic addiction in the quest for the must have plant which will bedazzle and beguile your clients (the British Heart Foundation, and Brewin Dolphin), the general public, and the judges. 

And choosing plants out of season, its sensible to have some back up plants, and then back up plants for your back up plants. Keeping all within budget is a logistical nightmare, as not only do you have to ensure you'll have enough plants at full tilt for that certain one week at the end of May, all of these plants have to be decided upon and decided within a budget. 

However, with their sudden elevation to super model status, those plants lucky enough to be selected suddenly have to be housed in the nursery equivalent of a serviced five star apartment on Mayfair. And believe you me, this kind of horticultural haute couture comes at a (perfectly justified) price. Plants will be pampered, fed, watered, primed, primped, given sun or shade, and even read a bedtime story if the grower feels it may just be beneficial to the prima donna demands of the plant. It's a tough job, and those that take on the challenge are real heroes, whose hours of devotion are still not truly reflected in the costs charged to the Chelsea designer.

However, after much wrangling with plant varieties, costs and seasonality, I think I'm almost there - trees have been tagged, perennials, grasses and ferns have been ordered, and whilst the marginals for our pond are still not quite finalised, we are well on our way. And I think there's a tiny sprinkling of cash available for some last minute buys.

And though you'd think this would bring relief, in reality the end of one concern makes room for another. Now sleepless nights and empty moments are spent worrying about whether I've ordered enough of a particular variety, if I should have chosen another Hosta, or whether my Angelica will be tall enough. It seems that the time spent between selection and delivering the garden on show week, is mostly spent biting one's nails; by the time Chelsea arrives, mine will be down to the quick.

As for the hard landscaping - well, that's still slightly in flux, but we'll get there.... meanwhile, has anyone got any finger nails they can lend to me?!

Monday, 17 January 2011

The British Heart Foundation Garden Chelsea 2011

On a Friday afternoon in the middle of November, the long awaited email from Alex Denman (Chelsea Show Manager) regarding our submission for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 finally arrived with ominous aplomb.

Having initially met with the wonderful Mike Napton of the British Heart Foundation in August, this email would be the end, or the beginning of several weeks of meetings, sleepless nights, nibbling of pencils and general head scratching in designing a show garden meant for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011.

Now, for those who have never been through the proceedings, let me assure you that the show garden application process is by no means a walk in the park. After a nerve racking lunch with Mike of the British Heart Foundation, the masterful Sir Peter Blake (a world famous iconic artist who is a patron of the British Heart Foundation), and members of their teams, my concept was drawn up then nervously delivered to be agreed by Sir Peter, the British Heart Foundation, and the financial sponsor Brewin Dolphin.  Gulp.

Thankfully they loved the sinuous curves of the bold design, with its vibrant colours and naturalistic planting. Phew.

So a more detailed plan was drawn up with a brief, a plant list and various other documents, and all were emailed (and posted!) for the deliberation and scrutiny of the faceless Chelsea Show Garden Panel, all to be decided in competition with the world's leading garden designers. More gulping.

After the first round, no yay or nay was received, simply a polite request for several more construction drawings alongside probing questions, and requests to simplify certain aspects of the design. Several sleepless nights later, I was again relived to have met the tight re-submission deadline, and the waiting game began once more.

And finally, after being asked if "I knew yet?" by so many people after so many weeks,  it all came down to this;  a pulsing email on a computer screen daring me to open the attached letter from the Show garden panel to let me know whether we were in, or out.

It took me a palm sweating, sickening, petrifying half an hour spent pacing around the office before I plucked up the courage to press the open attachment key on Alex's extremely polite mail.

And the answer was.........yes.

To say I was floored would be an understatement, and to describe my emotions is impossible. Is it enough to say that my screams of delight mixed with floods of tears and general quivering, make me relieved that I was alone in the office? (Though James Alexander-Sinclair swears he could hear me in Northamptonshire).

So at the start of 2011 I find myself in full swing with our Chelsea preparations. The process has so far been comparable to riding some kind of professional see-saw; in turns I'm thrown up in the air or down to the ground without warning, to be filled with joy, or fear at any time of the day or night.

And yet, I am loving every moment, and am thrilled to be working with, and for the benefit, of such an amazing, important charity. I only hope I can do them credit....