Chatsworth Flower Show 2017: The IQ Quarry Garden

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What is it about the appeal of quarry-inspired gardens this year? Is because as a nation we seem determined to dig ourselves into the deepest hole possible? Is it because we feel stuck between a rock and hard place? Or have we suddenly discovered our inner Stone Age selves? Whatever it is, a second quarry garden has won Best in Show at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, cementing stone as the landscaping material of the moment.

To celebrate the centenary of the Institute of Quarrying, garden designer Paul Hervey-Brookes was commissioned to design one of the largest show gardens ever presented at an RHS show. Measuring a generous 4500 square feet, the garden is inspired by the requirements of a professional couple who have built a modern house, and who are inspired by brutalist form. All I can say is that it must have been a very impressive house and that the clients’ brutalist brief was fulfilled in spades.



Although the IQ Quarry Garden was not without its prettier side, beautifully realised with jagged rocks and foaming flowers, the attraction ended for me where the plants petered out. A deep, sunken pool at the centre of the garden was filled with reeds and intended to look ‘stark, yet beautifully serene’. The effect for me was a little bleak and the reeds reminded me of hair sprouting from somewhere that it ought not to. Then came vast expanses of Derbyshire gritstone and Corten steel, fashioned into an austerely sculptural piece measuring 8ft x 30ft. At this point, all I could imagine was the set for a Bond villain’s lair, with the distinct possibility that the reed bed might also double as a piranha pond for the purpose of returning secret agents to nature.



As an advertisement for the pivotal role of mineral extraction in construction the garden was exemplary, but I found it too large and too hard to have much empathy with the overall design. I could accept this, but not the choice of garden furniture, which was very pedestrian for such a stylish garden. If one’s going to ‘do’ brutalist, one needs to go the whole hog. Even if it had existed at the time, I don’t imagine Le Corbusier would have plumped for faux rattan.



I am being unkind, I know, but this garden won gold and therefore should have been perfection. Had the wind and rain not thrashed the planting at the front of the plot, the soft landscaping certainly would have been as good as it gets. A palette of pale pinks, mauves, blues and soft yellows associated well with hefty shards of mottled slate and huge slabs of grey concrete that segmented the garden. There were also lovely textures, varying from tight clumps of sedge and epimedium to billowing clouds of birch and oak leaves. The prevailing weather on press day, fulfilling the stereotype that ‘it’s grim up north’, did a grand job of providing more movement and drama than money could buy. I pitied the poor female model, painted head to toe in copper body paint, who had been hired to cower against the Corten steel and dip her toes tentatively into the concrete piranha pond. I was willing someone to offer her their coat.



Make no mistake, this was an impressive garden, skillfully realised. For me, the enormous scale took away from what could have been an attractive idea for an urban garden. There was simply too much ‘hard’ and not enough ‘soft’, with insufficient blending of the two and not enough consideration for how such a space might practically be used. I have a feeling that the fictional professional couple might find themselves hankering after a soft patch of lawn and something decent to sit on before too long. The balance was struck much more deftly in Sam Ovens’ A Classic Re-imagined garden for Wedgwood, which would have been my personal choice for Best in Show. Both gardens celebrated the beauty and honesty of quarried materials, but I preferred it when plants were given the upper hand.



For those of you who can’t take another quarry garden, I am pleased to report there are none planned for Hampton Court in a month’s time. However, water and water conservation will continue to be a big theme at this show and expect to see more monolithic protrusions, such as those in the Brownfield – Metamorphosis Garden designed by Martyn Wilson. TFG.


The Brownfield – Metamorphosis Garden is inspired by the Landschaftpark in Duisburg-Nord, Germany, and the High Line Park in New York




Categories: Flower Shows, Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Perennials, Photography, Planting Design, Plants, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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16 comments On "Chatsworth Flower Show 2017: The IQ Quarry Garden"

  1. Noooooooo… I can’t believe it! What is it with this quarry theme!

    Great post Dan. Your coverage of the show has been so interesting. I so wish I was with you,except for the rain and wind…..and what a shame about the weather for the first show at this venue. I felt so sorry for those dancers in a post you wrote a couple of days ago. They must’ve been frozen to the bone! Bring on Hampton Court and flowers flowers flowers 🌺 ….

    1. You would not have enjoyed the weather conditions Helen. It was so wet that the water was rising up through the ground. I doubt you’d travel with any suitable footwear and I can’t imagine you in wellies! It’s just the luck of the draw. This week the weather is simply beautiful.

  2. Yes, I agree. When we saw it on Thursday the quarry garden planting was recovering from Tuesday’s battering and looked lovely. But the brutalist landscaping was just that – brutal, cold and unattractive. Sam Ovens’ garden was our favourite. I hope people will realise how unusual the weather was last week, not at all typical for June, even ‘up North’ and come back again next year.

    1. I am sure people won’t be put off by the weather Allys, although I understand the traffic queues were quite daunting later in the week. Sam Ovens’ garden is next on my list to write about. I liked it very much.

  3. Yes, I agree. From what I saw of the Quarry Garden on GW it looked a really uninviting space – and as for the garden furniture… Struck me as much more of a low maintenance communal space squeezed in amongst new build blocks of flats than a private oasis for two. But there were plenty of other gardens which looked much more welcoming in my opinion. Ceri

  4. Maybe there’s something going on with stone merchants and steel manufacturers?! I really like the planting and the rusty steel glimpsed through the plants in your first two photos but the actual hard landscaping, seen in its entirety is, as you say, too much.

    1. Well, it was sponsored by the Institute of Quarrying and they had a message to get across, which is fair enough. The representatives at the show were very pleasant and clearly delighted with the garden … as they should have been. It drew a lot of attention and provoked comment, which is what show gardens are designed to do.

  5. It’s weird, seeing the pictures it sometimes looks like two different gardens, which was not the idea of the designer I think. So glad to have bumped into your blog, very interesting and good writing and pictures.

    1. Thank you Stefan. Good writing and good pictures are my two top objectives, so good to know I am succeeding. It was certainly a garden of two halves …. or more accurately a garden of two-thirds hard and one third soft. For me the hard was too dominant and too divorced from the soft, but the soft was beautiful. I could have sliced that part off and taken it home!

  6. I love your intro paragraph! Having lived in England I don’t think I would go for more bleak. I love stone and metal in a garden as a contrast but I want a garden where I feel at peace this garden is not peaceful.

    1. You are just like Helen of Oz! She also seeks peace and tranquility in a garden. I like drama and colour. This fictional couple clearly want to impress … and wear shoes in their garden. For me a garden to look at, rather than be in.

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