Chelsea Flower Show 2014 – People’s Choice Award: Hope on the Horizon

No doubt spurred on by TV talent shows, where the audience as well as expert judges get a vote, the RHS introduced People’s Choice awards at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2010. These awards reflect entirely the opinions of the public and are awarded in the Show, Fresh and Artisan categories.

Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014

Triumphant in the show garden category this year is ‘Hope on the Horizon’, designed by Matthew Keightley in support of charity Help for Heroes. The garden’s design represents the path towards recovery taken by wounded, injured and sick military personnel, veterans and their families. Matthew, who has never designed a show garden before, works for landscaping firm Farr & Roberts and describes himself as more of a hands-on, practical designer. However with a brother currently serving in Afghanistan, he is well qualified to understand the sensitivities of the subject he’s been charged with representing.

When the show ends to day, rather than being broken up or sold off, the garden will be carefully dismantled and transported to Chavasse, a Help for Heroes facility near Colchester, Essex. Here it will form part of a larger landscape for recovering servicemen and women to enjoy.

Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014

Matthew’s garden, sponsored by the David Brownlow charitable foundation, is arranged along two axes, forming the shape of the military cross. At one end a sculpture by the Scottish artist Mary Bourne depicts the horizon. The piece is formed of five slate-grey panels set against a shaded, tightly-clipped yew hedge. An artist whose work explores mankind’s emotional, intellectual and physical relationships with the world we live in, Mary’s work is a great choice for this project.Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014Visitors to the show will no doubt have been struck by the garden’s signature features, blocks of cool granite surrounded by clipped box and colourful, optimistic planting. The finish of the stone monoliths, which represent soldiers’ physical being, becomes more refined as one moves through the garden, describing a journey towards physical recovery. They end up dark, smooth and perfectly sawn, surrounded by crowds of soothing ferns and foxgloves. It’s a nice analogy, but practical too as the blocks might double as seating or pedestals for other sculptural pieces.

Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014

Meanwhile, Matthew’s choice of planting is intended to represent psychological well-being. It becomes more structured and controlled as one progresses through the plot but is always colourful, uplifting and ultimately crowd-pleasing. There are tactile grasses such as Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Stipa tenuissima (above, with Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) and Briza media, intermingled with herbs which will release their scent when soldiers brush past. I could have done without the lupins which, although pretty, contribute to a plant list which is perhaps overly long for a space just 10m x 15m. Not being someone who abides by the principal of ‘less is more’ I can hardly criticise, but I have a feeling the RHS judges may have had this in mind when they decided to award the garden a silver gilt medal rather than gold.

Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014

My favourite part of Matthew’s design, the shorter cross axis, is terminated by a simple slab bench inlaid with the inscription ‘It’s about the blokes, they are just blokes, but they are our blokes‘. (I hope servicewomen everywhere will forgive their omission from this dedication.) Underplanted with hostas, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, ferns, polygonatum and Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’, this would be a tranquil spot in which to rest and contemplate the symbolism of this poignant yet hopeful garden which captured the hearts of the British public this week.

Hope on the Horizon garden by Matthew Keightly, Chelsea 2014

Medal: Silver Gilt

Plant list

  • Agapanthus ‘Peter Pan’
  • Agapanthus africanus
  • Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata
  • Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Angustifolia’
  • Asplenium trichomanes
  • Astrantia major ‘Large White’
  • Astrantia ‘Roma’
  • Briza media
  • Brunnera macrophylla
  • Brunnera macr. ‘Jack Frost’
  • Buxus sempervirens
  • Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  • Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’
  • Convallaria majalis
  • Delphinium ‘Black Knight Group’
  • Dicksonia antarctica
  • Digitalis purpurea
  • Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Group
  • Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata the King’
  • Dryopteris lepidopoda
  • Dryopteris wallichiana
  • Delphinium ‘King Arthur’
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’
  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
  • Euphorbia mellifera
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’
  • Thymus citriodorus ‘Aureus’
  • Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’
  • Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’
  • Geranium ‘Bright Red’
  • Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’
  • Hosta ‘Big Daddy’
  • Hosta tardiana ‘Halcyon’
  • Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’
  • Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’
  • Lupinus ‘Gallery Blue’
  • Lupinus ‘Red Rum’
  • Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’
  • Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’
  • Papaver orientale ‘Royal Wedding’
  • Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’
  • Polystichum setiferum ‘Dahlem’
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’
  • Stipa arundinacea
  • Stipa gigantea
  • Stipa tenuissima
  • Taxus baccata
  • Tellima grandiflora
  • Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus’
  • Tradescantia ‘Zwanenburg Blue’
  • Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’