Chelsea Flower Show 2016: The Vestra Wealth Garden of Mindful Living

Despite the unpredictability of the British weather, the idea of outdoor living has always appealed to me. In another life I’m convinced I lived somewhere tropical; the Caribbean or South East Asia perhaps. When Country Life International drops onto the doormat I ogle at the mega-bucks houses in Sydney, Barbados, Marbella and Thailand, their sumptuous living spaces merging into wide verandahs, sunlit terraces or lush tropical vegetation. I want to be there, living the dream, gliding effortlessly between my luxury living spaces.

Back in the real world I’d still rather be outdoors than in, but if I must be indoors I prefer to be as close to nature and the elements as possible. No surprise then that the garden that came close to being my number one at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show was created by a designer who I’ve long admired for gardens that bridge the gap between indoors and out.

Vestra Wealth's Garden of Mindful Living designed by Paul Martin: Gold
Vestra Wealth’s Garden of Mindful Living designed by Paul Martin
The garden as viewed from Main Avenue
The garden as viewed from Main Avenue

 

I first became aware of Irish garden designer Paul Martin at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2014 where I so admired his garden for sponsor Vestra Wealth entitled “Vista”. Paul’s stylish, gold medal winning garden oozed contemporary class, incorporating a generous entertaining area centered around a huge cantilevered dining table. Enveloped by a cool blizzard of agapanthus, nepeta, tulbaghia and Hydrangea arborescens, the garden fizzed and sparkled with summertime chic. Slick, glamorous international style combined with meticulous attention to detail are Paul’s trademarks, marrying perfectly with the type of clientele his sponsors work with day-in, day-out.

Paul Martin's design sketch for the Garden of Mindful Living
Paul Martin’s design sketch for the Vestra Wealth Garden of Mindful Living

 

Paul’s latest Chelsea garden, based on the idea of mindful living, ticked all my boxes. As well as being superbly crafted it was also subtly masculine and beautifully controlled. The hard landscaping was dominated by smoothly polished and precisely cut limestone, here and there channeling cool water down the left hand side of garden. Where the rivulet plashed gently into a final pool, the limestone was cut out just sufficiently to hold a couple of bottles of fizz. Perfection. And then there were great chunks of Corten steel, as bold and manly as an old leather sofa. The use of this rudimentary material, once omnipresent in Chelsea gardens, was criticised by some commentators as out of date, but I could not disagree more in this context. The character of the rust-coloured surface complemented brilliantly the tender greens and flaming oranges of the planting and provided a fabulous contrast to the virginal limestone.

The sublime simplicty of crisply-cut limestone, Corten steel and Hosta "Devon Green"
The sublime simplicity of crisply cut limestone, Corten steel and Hosta “Devon Green”
The ultimate Champagne cooler
The ultimate Champagne cooler

 

Paul’s planting was a treat. Resisting the urge to throw everything at it, the designer worked with a tight palette of well-chosen plants, leaving bare earth (again controversial) where the design called for it. Between the masculine, sculptural forms of Dicksonia antarctica, Blechnum tabulare and Rogersia “Irish Bronze” crept little jewels such as Sagina subulata “Senior” (above, to the right of the ferns) and Melica altissima “Alba”. There was a nice mix of quieter moments, for example the woodland planting beneath the multi-stemmed trees, and riots of bright colour. Here again the lovely bearded iris I. “Kent Pride” featured, rising above a cool sea of swaying green foliage studded with the luminous blooms of Trollius chinensis “Golden Queen”, Geum coccineum “Cooky” and baptistas in shades of creamy yellow and dirty plum.

Baptista, name unknown
Baptista, name unknown
Iris "Kent Pride"
Iris “Kent Pride”

 

I can give or take the idea that mindfulness, a concept very much in vogue at the moment, influenced this garden as much as the blurb suggested. Paul’s design was intended to appeal to a busy urban client with a love of Far East travel, yoga and a need for a relaxing space. That may well be the case, but for me this was a garden would suit an International city slicker, probably a single man, that wanted to display his wealth and exceptional taste. An illuminated image of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge behind sliding shutters, the feature I liked least in the garden, positioned Vestra Wealth’s garden firmly in London where, let’s face it, we’d all like to relax more, if only we were not working hard to afford such priceless views.

The perfection of Paul's planting earnt him a gold medal
The cool perfection of Paul’s planting earnt him a gold medal

 

Paul, as charming an Irishman as you’d expect him to be, was kind enough to let me and Him Indoors stroll around his garden on Wednesday evening for which I’d like to extend my thanks. As I have two gardens, if there were a second I could have taken home it would have been this one. Now, where’s that yoga mat?

Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata "White Barlow"
Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata “White Barlow”

Plant List

  • Ajuga “Catlins Giant”
  • Alchemilla mollis “Thriller”
  • Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata “White Barlow”
  • Arum italicum
  • Aruncus dioicus “Zweiweltenkind”
  • Asarum europaeum
  • Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Blechnum tabulare
  • Cenolophium denudatum
  • Crocosmia “Solfaterre”
  • Deschampsia cespitosa
  • Dicksonia antartica
  • Digitalis “Dalmation White”
  • Digitalis “Suttons Apricot”
  • Dryopteris erythrosora
  • Euphorbia wulfenii
  • Epimedium grandiflorum “Lilafee”
  • Geum “Cooky”

 

Geum coccineum "Cooky"
Geum coccineum “Cooky” and Sagina subulata “Senior” (in the foreground)

 

  • Hakanochloa macra
  • Hosta “Devon Green”
  • Iris pseudoacorus
  • Luzula sylvatica “Tauernpass”
  • Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Melica altissima “Alba”
  • Osmanthus armatus
  • Rogersia “Irish Bronze”
  • Sagina subulata “Senior”
  • Saxifraga urbium
  • Tellima grandiflora “Rubra”
  • Trollius chinensis “Golden Queen”

 

Trollius chinensis "Golden Queen" with Melica altissima "Alba"
Trollius chinensis “Golden Queen” with Melica altissima “Alba” (in the background)

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12 thoughts on “Chelsea Flower Show 2016: The Vestra Wealth Garden of Mindful Living

  1. Thank you for these excellent, lively and enjoyable Chelsea posts. It has been the first year I have watched all of the BBC coverage (with quite a lot of fast forwarding…) which has, mostly, been deadly. Your shared experience has been much more rewarding and best of all it tells us everything about the plants. Seeing one of the Beeb’s horticultural experts raving about the merits of hawthorn whilst pointing to field maple didn’t inspire confidence.

    ….then Alex Polizzi, what of her suggestion that the show had outgrown the site, was too crowded and too full of low grade tatt for sale, a fair point do you think?!

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    1. Hi Andrew. A fair point, yes. My solution would be to oust the retail and focus on the flower show but not change the site. I can’t imagine the Chelsea Flower being held anywhere else, but I could well do without most of the stuff that’s offered for sale.

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  2. I’m glad you liked this garden so much too. After the show it has grabbed me more than others and your post explains why I probably think that! 🙂

    It’s funny, that illuminated picture is definitely the worst bit but it was essential for setting the tone. Illuminated pictures eh, can’t live with em, can’t live without em.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Jack. I was trying to think what I’d have had there instead. Best I could come up with is a living wall which would have been a cliche. This is why I am not a garden designer! Perhaps a beautiful, large bonsai podocarpus would have accentuated the Eastern influence.

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  3. Thanks for your Chelsea posts – I never get there any more. Lovely garden this – was particularly struck by that great hosta, ‘Devon Green’, both against the hard landscaping and with the grasses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kate. It’s a real struggle to get hold of accurate plant lists for Chelsea. Often the ones handed out at the event are printed before the garden is built so don’t reflect later changes. It always seems to be the star plant that’s ommited, damn them!

      Liked by 1 person

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