Chelsea Flower Show 2016: The M&G Garden

 

And now for something completely different, a garden that should appeal to those of you with more freestyle sensibilities.

There are always one or two show gardens that linger in the mind from one year to the next and they are frequently conceived by Cleve West. His 2016 design for Chelsea Flower Show sponsors M&G Investments will surely be remembered as one of the most effortlessly beautiful creations in the event’s recent history. Best in Show was always going to be a close run thing, a two-horse race between this exquisite evocation of an Exmoor landscape and Andy Sturgeon’s homage to the Jurassic period. The latter won the coveted prize but was so different in tone and concept that it could not overshadow the brilliance of Cleve West’s romantic, naturalistic scheme.

Early morning light through oak leaves
Early morning light through oak leaves

Despite giving the impression of being a bit wild and wooly, the M&G Garden had fine structure, great planting and plenty of interest. What clinched it for me was how the designer had transported the damp, cow dung, cut grass and cow parsley scented essence of Somerset to the heart of London. Water settled in shallow depressions hewn from cool grey stone, rough-barked oaks cast dappled deep shade on the ground, and a dense carpet of “wild” flowers jostled to secure the brightest positions before the canopy closed over for summer.

 

Ranunculus aconitifolius 'Flore Pleno' and blue aquilegia in a light haze of Melica altissima "Alba"
Ranunculus aconitifolius ‘Flore Pleno’, blue aquilegia and Ligusticum scoticum in a light haze of Melica altissima “Alba”
 

Cleve West spent his teenage years living on Exmoor when his family moved to the pretty village of Porlock to run a hotel. It was the memory of this happy time and the ancient oak woodlands surrounding the village that inspired his garden. The stone and gravel path leading from the front of the garden to the sunken terrace and pool at the back was a metaphor for his own journey into garden design, which was not one he had planned. Unsure at first, the path is surfaced with gravel and pebbles, transitioning into smooth, sawn stone at the far end. There can be no question that Cleve has attained incredible maturity during his unexpected career as a garden designer and he’s relaxed about the hype surrounding the judging and medal allocation: “I’ve done it enough times not to get too involved in all that speculative stuff” he says.

 

At the back of the M&G garden a generous terrace of smooth-cut sandstone was left refreshingly free of furniture
At the back of the M&G garden a generous terrace of smooth-cut sandstone was left refreshingly free of furniture

As I stood admiring his garden at 7am on the first day of the show, shafts of bright sunlight filtering through tender oak leaves, illuminating the sharp green foliage and bright flowers beneath, I could imagine myself in any one of hundreds of peaceful, sheltered woods in the West Country on a mild spring morning. Droplets of water, dispensed about 10 minutes previously by a ruggedly handsome landscape contactor, hung on the tip of every leaf, making the whole garden sparkle. An incredible sense of permanence and lightness prevailed, solid rocks swamped by a glittering flood of fresh new growth.

 

Aquilegia, Valeriana pyrenaica and Ranunculus aconitifolius "Flore Pleno"
Aquilegia, Valeriana pyrenaica and Silene dioica “Alba” (white campion)

There was nothing not to like about the M&G Garden although, had this been a real garden, the following season would have been a symphony of green rather than a carnival of colour: exactly what you’d expect of a West Country woodland in summer. As a show garden, views through the plot were also shrouded by a veil of translucent oak leaves, which was lovely and frustrating at the same time.

 

The M&G Garden viewed the the twisted branches of a young tree
The M&G Garden viewed the the twisted branches of a young tree

Having won five RHS gold medals at previous Chelsea Flower Shows I am sure the Best in Show award would have been a welcome addition to Cleve West’s trophy cabinet. Happily for us punters I think we can guarantee that the designer will be back to have another go next year or the year after, which means that by the time the memory of this heavenly garden starts to fade there will be another sent to replace it.

Hear more about the partnership between M&G and Cleve West in this short video:

 

Plant List

trees, shrubs and climbers

  • Quercus pubescens (downy oak)
  • Hedera helix “Arborea”
  • Lonicera periclymenum
  • Rosa pimpinellifolia
  • Vaccinium corymbosum
  • Vaccinium myrtillus

Perennials

  • Acanthus mollis “Rue Ledan”
  • Ajuga reptans
  • Alchemilla erythropoda
  • Amsonia hubrichtii
  • Anemone leveillei
  • Angelica dahurica
  • Aquilegia alpina
  • Aquilegia chrysantha
  • Athamantha turbith
  • Asarum europaeum
  • Bunium bulbocastanum
  • Bupleurum perfoliatum “Bronze Form”
  • Campanula persicifolia “Alba”
  • Cardamine pratensis
  • Centranthus ruber “Albiflorus”
  • Cirsium atropurpureum “Trevor’s Blue Wonder”
  • Digitalis grandiflora
  • Digitalis lutea
  • Disporopsis pernyi
  • Epimedium “Amanagowa”
  • Epimedium “Flowers of Sulphur”
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides “Purpurea”
  • Euphorbia “Whistleberry Garnet”
  • Euphorbia wallichii
  • Fragaria vespa
  • Geranium pyrenaicum “Bill Wallis”
  • Geranium robertianum
  • Geranium sylvaticum
  • Geum “Savannah Sunset”
  • Gillenia trifoliata
  • Gillenia stipulata
  • Helleborus foetidus “Wester Flisk”
  • Hosta “Devon Green”
  • Iris foetidissima
  • Iris sibirica “Tropic Night”
  • Lamium maculatum
  • Lamium galeobdolon
  • Libertia grandiflora
  • Ligusticum lucidum
  • Ligusticum scoticum
  • Lunaria annua “Chedglow”
  • Lunaria rediviva
  • Meconopsis cambrica
  • Molopopspermum peloponnesiacum
  • Mukdenia rossii
  • Omphalodes cappadocica
  • Phlox divaricata “Clouds of Perfume”
  • Ranunculus acris “Flore Pleno”
  • Saxifraga urbium
  • Silene fimbriata
  • Soleirolia soleirolii
  • Symphytum x uplandicum “Moorland Heather”
  • Thalictrum “Black Stockings”
  • Trollius x cultorum “Cheddar”
  • Valeriana officinalis
  • Valeriana pyrenacia
  • Zizia aurea

 

Light, lithe perennials carpet the ground beneath the multi-stemmed oak trees
Light, lithe perennials carpet the ground beneath the multi-stemmed oak trees

Ferns

  • Asplenium scolpendrium
  • Asplenium trichomanes
  • Blechnum spicant
  • Dryopteris felix-mas
  • Polypodium vulgare
  • Polystichum setiferum

Grasses

  • Briza media “Golden Bee”
  • Deschampsia flexuosa
  • Luzula sylvatica
  • Melica altissima “Alba”
  • Melica nutans

Bulbs

  • Allium cowannii
  • Camassia leichtlinii “Semiplena”
  • Muscari armeniacum
  • Nectaroscordum siculum

Annuals

  • Taenidia integerrima

 

Flag irises emerge from the base of a sandstone monolith
Flag irises, underplanted with Mukdenia rossii and Blechnum spicant, peer around the base of a sandstone monolith