I had to stop and pinch myself more than once. I was actually here – at the one and only Chelsea Flower Show, with a coveted Press Pass no less, enabling me to photograph all the gardens with fewer crowds (although dodging the BBC cameras mounted on enormous booms was a challenge at times!)
Although I did have some magazine commissions to fulfill, for the most part I was free to photograph whatever caught my eye and let the stories unfold. It was quickly obvious that I am a designer at heart. Yes, the floral displays inside the marquee were amazing – but it was the gardens that captivated me as I analyzed the use of line and form, texture and rhythm, materials, color, and plant palettes. It was so refreshing to see something different from "Pacific Northwest", yet there were so many ideas that could easily translate here – and elsewhere in the world.
I know the obvious thing to do would be to start by telling you about the large show gardens – and I may in a future post, but it was actually the smaller Sanctuary Gardens that truly spoke to me. There were three in particular that really stood out so I thought I'd share my photographs and thoughts on these designs over the next few weeks as it would be an injustice to the designers to try and encapsulate all they offered in just a paragraph or two.
The Space Within Garden
Designed by Michelle Brown, sponsored by Kingston Maurward, this garden won a silver-gilt medal. This was Michelle's fourth year of designing a Chelsea Show garden, and her theme this year was focused on celebrating the horticulture of Dorset where she is based.
Tucked away from the main gardens, to my eye this was one of the best designs of a small space at the entire show using unexpected angles and materials to create a masterpiece. I stood contemplating the contemporary octagonal arbor entrance for some time, admiring the clean lines, beautiful workmanship and wondering why I'd never thought of this before! Draped romantically with fragrant white wisteria it framed the view beyond while making a statement and offering an invitation to enter.
The use of line and form is key to design and one thing that immediately stood out was how Michelle had used geometry in an unexpected way. With such a strong rectilinear entrance one might expect the interior spaces to follow suit, yet upon entering you were confronted with an arced path and an asymmetrical layout leading you to one of two sitting areas. To the right was a second octagonal arbor acting as a backdrop to a custom seating bench on a circular deck. As Michelle and I sat here chatting she admitted that this arbor was nothing short of a nightmare to build! The front and back octagons are not parallel in order to better accommodate the site. She ended up having a model built and the builders went off that rather than trying to draw detailed construction drawings (I felt her pain!). The result is stunning.
To the left is a second, more intimate area from which to enjoy the garden. It is partially hidden from view thanks to some clever plantings that create a gauzy scrim effect.
I loved the way these two spaces were connected using a straight path composed of a linear metal grate that cut behind the curved planting bed and ended at a modern circular planter (with horizontal banding for added interest and texture), before turning at 90' to the smaller patio. So clever and such great attention to detail.
By placing these two sitting areas in opposite corners of the garden it draws the eye along the diagonal axis – a favorite design trick of mine to make a small space feel larger. Likewise by using small changes in elevation the garden seemed much grander somehow. All easy ideas anyone can use in their own space.
The plant palette was delightful and some might say was the heart of the design and included several subtropical species of the French Riviera as well as more familiar favorites including Japanese maples, jasmine, and boxwood.
Although many of the plants were in shades of green, the pops of white, yellow, and lavender added interest while the coral lupins added that "wow" factor. Gorgeous.
Congratulations Michelle – can't wait to see what you do next year.