In just 11 days the Chelsea Flower Show will fling open its gates to an expectant crowd of RHS members and their guests. Until now my Chelsea 2016 coverage has been rather lacking, so over the next few days I aim to put that right with a series of posts describing some of the most interesting gardens and exhibits planned for the greatest flower show on earth.
The cost of staging a show garden at Chelsea is so eye-wateringly expensive that sponsors have, until recently, tended to commission big name garden designers with numerous medals under their belts. The prestige and notoriety that an RHS gold medal bestows is what many companies seek in return for an investment of up to £500,000. Then, in 2013, along came brothers Harry Rich (then 25), and David Rich (then 22), who with their smaller Artisan Garden, ‘Un Garreg’, won a gold medal. They quickly graduated to the show’s Main Avenue, this time securing the top award for sponsors Cloudy Bay in 2015. Just pipping the handsome twosome to the post, designer Hugo Bugg (then 27) became the youngest garden designer ever to achieve a show garden gold for his water-conscious design for the Royal Bank of Canada in 2014. Hugo will be returning with another outstanding scheme for the same sponsor in 2016. This time I’m certain he’ll be hoping for Best in Show.
Now that young designers have proved they have the Midas touch, there are other sponsors willing to take a chance on new talent. In 26 year-old Sam Ovens, Cloudy Bay, the pioneering New Zealand winery, hope they have found their golden boy. Growing up on a working farm in Cornwall, Sam quickly developed a love for the natural world, leading him to study for a BA in Garden Design at Falmouth University. He is the perfect fit for the brand sponsor, a company that prides itself in using nature as the inspiration for wine making.
Designing the Cloudy Bay Garden has been all about creating a tranquil space in which one might be transported from the maelstrom of everyday life. Conveying a sense of peace and quiet reflection, Sam’s is a tough challenge given the show is attended by over 150,000 people. And the site, known as “The Triangle”, comes with its own peculiarity in that the garden can be viewed from the majority of its perimeter. Sam has masterminded a naturalistic garden without borders, incorporating a large, reflective pool and a covered pontoon fashioned from western red cedar. Unlike other show garden plots The Triangle is completely open. Shade will be cast by specimen mountain pines arranged around the fringes of the water. Having visited the New Forest recently, the garden Sam hopes to create feels very much akin to the wild heaths and open forests of Hampshire, with a touch of Studland Bay in Dorset.
The plant list for The Cloudy Bay garden suggests an emphasis on UK natives and garden cultivars of familiar wild flowers. There will be a high proportion of nectar-rich heathers and native grasses creating an ideal habitat for pollinators. The inclusion of orchids, particularly Ophrys apifera (bee orchid) is an audacious move and a choice detail. The naturalistic approach is suggestive of Dan Pearson’s exceptional homage to the woodland garden at Chatsworth, which won a gold medal and Best in Show last year. The inclusion of Agapanthus africanus from the Southern Hemisphere sounds incongruous, so much so that I wondered if this might have been added in error (other species of agapanthus are considered invasive aliens in New Zealand). That said, a show garden is a show garden rather than a conservation project, and agapanthus are always crowd pleasers.
It is exciting to think that in Sam Ovens, Cloudy Bay have discovered another fine talent who will carry the torch for garden designers, encouraging others to explore the rewards of a career in horticulture or design. With a gold, or at the very least a silver-gilt medal to his name, Sam Ovens’ glittering career should be assured.
The Cloudy Bay Garden will be on show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show from 24 – 28 May 2016, occupying The Triangle plot.
- Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine)
- Pinus mugo (dwarf mountain pine)
- Agapanthus africanus (lily of the Nile)
- Calluna vulgaris (ling)
- Campanula rotundifolia (harebell)
- Succisa pratensis (devil’s-bit scabious)
- Cytisus × boskoopii ‘Boskoop Ruby‘ (broom)
- Cirsium rivulare ‘Trevor’s Blue Wonder’ (brook thistle)
- Potentilla x tonguei (staghorn cinquefoil)
- Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree)
- Salvia pratensis (meadow clary)
- Blechnum spicant (hard fern)
- Erica cinerea (bell heather)
- Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hair grass)
- Dryopteris filix-mas (male fern)
- Dactylorhiza purpurella (northern marsh orchid)
- Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry)
- Lonicera periclymenum (common honeysuckle)
- Lychnis flos-cuculi (ragged robin)
- Sesleria caerulea (blue moor-grass)
- Geranium sanguineum ‘Glenluce’ (bloody cranesbill)
- Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff)
- Potentilla fruticosa ‘Primrose Beauty’ (shrubby cinquefoil)
- Molinia caerulea (purple moor-grass)
- Thymus polytrichus (mother of thyme)
- Polystichum setiferum (soft shield-fern)
- Platanthera chlorantha (greater butterfly-orchid)
- Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’ (purple moor-grass)
- Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Tsetseguun’ (great burnet)
- Ophrys apifera (bee orchid)