Yesterday, at its grand unveiling of Chelsea
Flower Show 2015, the RHS
confirmed that there will be 15 show gardens. Also, that historic
anniversaries will be conspicuous by their absence after the year of
remembrance that was 2014, and the Great Pavilion will be a celebration of
plants… in other words, business as usual.
Fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, a devoted Chelsea fan, appeared at the
invitation of RHS Director Sue Biggs to explain how the show inspires his
work. He shared his phone snaps of Chelsea cottage gardens and juxtaposed
them with runway shots of his trademark bright suits – but included the
cautionary tip that, no matter how much we may love colour, it’s always the
classic navy blue suit that sells the most. Garden designers present were
left to draw their own conclusions.
The conference, at the city HQ of show sponsors M&G Investments, did
nothing to alter the top billing for Chelsea 2015: Prince Harry is a shoo-in
for his second Sentebale garden. There is a good chance his father will be
checking on progress during the build-up – the Prince of Wales’s Foundation
for Building Community advised on the design and building of the Mamohato
Children’s Centre in Lesotho, South Africa, which is celebrated in Matt
Keightley’s design – and no doubt the visitation of royal relatives on press
day will be the photo opportunity of the year.
Highlights and themes
One of only two women among the show garden designers, Jo Thompson’s garden
retreat for sponsor M&G Investments features a natural swimming pond
(cue threat of swimming trunks from RHS council member James Alexander
Sinclair). However, she also promises a radical “no cow parsley”
policy and maybe even clashing accents of apricot and pink.
Royal watchers aside, design pundits will be paying close attention to the
work of leading garden designer Dan Pearson, who returns to Chelsea after a
10-year absence for Laurent-Perrier and Chatsworth. His highly naturalistic
garden is inspired by the trout stream and rockery at Chatsworth, where he
has worked for several years.
Jostling behind Dan Pearson is a field of accomplished designers who have yet
to attain quite the same degree of Chelsea kudos. The absence of other big
hitters this year, such as Cleve West, Tom Stuart-Smith, Andy Sturgeon,
could be their big chance.
The Telegraph is on Main Avenue with a modern garden by Marcus Barnett, who
has won five Chelsea medals since 2005. Inspired by the Dutch De Stijl
movement in art and architecture, the design will be modern and planted with
saturated colour – a deliberate contrast to the longstanding Chelsea
tendency towards romantic and airy schemes.
It will be interesting to see the work of James Basson again, who is designing
for L’Occitane. A British designer based in France, Basson is an expert in
Mediterranean planting. His first garden at Chelsea 2013, inspired by a
forest fire, put him on the map instantly. Expect aromatic planting
evocative of Provence but, let’s hope, with a modern twist.
Banking and investment sponsors have picked a lineup of highly reliable and
popular designers, including TV gardener Chris Beardshaw for Morgan Stanley;
Matthew Wilson for Royal Bank of Canada (with a garden on his client’s
favourite theme of water conservation), and Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilson
for Darwin Property Investments. This last celebrates the 200th anniversay
of the Battle of Waterloo and the 1st Duke of Wellington’s legacy of
All across the show, newcomers seem to hail mostly from abroad – Singapore,
Australia, Spain and Japan – although home-grown Alan Gardner, who has won
gold at Tatton Park, is trying his hand at Chelsea for the first time with a
garden for Viking Cruises. The Rich brothers, Harry and David from Brecon,
are back with their second Chelsea garden, this time for winery Cloudy Bay
with Vital Earth.
Art is always to be found in show gardens. This year, Darren Hawkes for Brewin
Dolphin is inspired by the work of sculptors James Tyrell and Barbara
Hepworth. Arabian calligraphy appears in The Beauty of Islam garden, by
newcomer Kamelia Bin Zaal (at last, a woman to keep Jo Thompson company),
who is sponsored by her family’s property business in Dubai. Adam Frost, for
Homebase, cites modernist architect Marcel Breuer as a starting point for
his design for an inner city community.
Smaller show gardens will be slotted into either the Fresh or Artisan
categories, with Fresh gardens taking up the theme of well-being (top of the
agenda for the RHS) and all kinds of ideas popping up among the Artisan
gardens, including the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and a trugmaker’s