Chatsworth Flower Show 2017: The Wedgwood Garden – A Classic Re-imagined

 

I can scarcely believe it’s over a week since that fateful press day at Chatsworth Flower Show where we all got drenched and muddy in the name of flora. I was able to hand back the coat I borrowed, but still haven’t tackled my boots, which may never be the same again: the Derbyshire mud seems to have penetrated every crease and welt. Despite the weather the show was a success and should become an essential part of the horticultural season. Taking photographs was a serious challenge for an amateur like me, with most of my shots depicting gloomy scenes of horticultural Armageddon. Having waited patiently for the wind to drop I have found a handful that are passable enough to share, but only after a reasonable amount of brightening and lightening. Not my finest work, but you’ll get the gist.

 

 

Located in a low-lying spot that was historically a duck pond, it is a wonder that Sam Ovens’ garden for show partner Wedgwood, A Classic Re-imagined, did not float away. No amount of freshly laid turf or metal pontoon could disguise the fact that water was rising up through the ground, threatening to engulf the garden. In places I could see plants sitting in puddles: ‘it’s the first show garden I’ve created that I haven’t had to water’ remarked Sam stoically, as he shielded his eyes from the slanting rain.

 

 

Most gardens look half presentable in fine weather, but it takes a good garden to look impressive in monsoon conditions. Sam’s garden, loosely inspired by Wedgwood’s transformation from quintessentially British ceramic company to a global super brand, stood up to everything that was thrown at it. For me, it was the one garden that was missing from Chelsea this year; more contemporary, adventurous and harmonious than Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden and easier on the eye. Quarried stone was celebrated, but in a more approachable way than Paul Hervey-Brookes and James Basson managed it. Anyway, quarry gardens are so last week.

A central ‘cocoon’, constructed from beautifully laid Purbeck stone, was conceived by Sam as a place to escape and relax outdoors. Aeoniums and artichokes hinted that this might be a place to soak up the sun …. on another day perhaps. The garden around the cocoon was arranged so as to take visitors on a journey, with hedges, walls and pools encouraging exploration rather than revealing all the garden’s secrets at once.

 

 

The front of the garden was more ornamental, with swathes of brightly coloured perennials such as Aquilegia chrysantha, Geum ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’ and Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’. The planting was punctuated by two superb specimens of Cornus kousa, the Korean dogwood, which would have been in their prime had they not been buffeted by the wind. At the back of a garden was a sight we have not seen in polite gardening circles for a while –  a copper beech hedge. This aberration might be snorted at in 21st Century suburbia, where the fashion seems to be for paving, more paving and dirty-looking low-maintenance planting, but here it felt terribly modern and eye-catching. I love a beech hedge, be it green or copper, although not the two mixed together. The back of the garden, enveloped by the dark hedge, was planted in a more naturalistic way with a matrix of grasses, ferns and softly billowing flowering plants.

 

 

The brochure accompanying the garden attempted to explain, in tedious detail, how every aspect of the design somehow related to an aspect of Wedgwood’s past, present or future. Having been to a lot of RHS shows over the five years since starting this blog, I really question the value of sponsors setting their designers briefs for gardens to embody their heritage, product or mission. The worst responses achieve the desire too literally and become nothing more than living adverts riddled with over-obvious design references. The best deliver the brief using the most tenuous of threads to link a perfectly good design to a corporate or environmental message that nobody is particularly interested in. Sam Ovens’ garden fell into this category. As a wealthy sponsor, why not commission your designer to create the most beautiful garden possible and be satisfied that your brand will bask in the glory of their talent? This is what sponsors such as The Telegraph and Laurent Perrier have done over the years, and their gardens have, in general, been excellent.

 

 

Whilst understanding the background to the Wedgwood Garden did very little to enhance my enjoyment of it, enjoy it I did. This was a bright, breezy garden with good structure and interesting planting. The design was not gimmicky and was executed with panache. On Wednesday morning the sun finally graced us with its presence and we were all able to enjoy the intended reflection of angels’ fishing rods, Dierama pulcherrimum, in the inky-black water. A Classic Re-imagined won a well-deserved gold medal but missed out Best in Show. Based on this masterclass on how to create a garden for all weathers, let’s hope we see Sam back at Chelsea in 2018.

Plant List

  • Acanthus hungaricus
  • Agapanthus africanus
  • Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Amelanchier lamarkii
  • Anemone ‘Wild Swan’
  • Angelica archangelica
  • Aquilegia chrysantha
  • Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Astrantia major ‘Shaggy’
  • Baptisia australis 
  • Briza media
  • Calamagrostis brachytricha
  • Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’
  • Cornus kousa
  • Cynara cardunculus 
  • Daucus carota
  • Deschampsia cespitosa
  • Dierama pulcherrimum
  • Erigeron karvinskianus
  • Euphorbia pasteurii
  • Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea
  • Gaura lindheimeri
  • Geranium ‘Patricia’
  • Geranium pratense 
  • Geum ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’
  • Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus
  • Hesperis matronalis
  • Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’
  • Iris sibirica
  • Lilium martagon
  • Lilium pardalinum
  • Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’
  • Paeonia ‘Jan van Leeuwen’
  • Penstemon ‘Raven’
  • Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’
  • Phlomis russeliana
  • Polystichum polyblepharum
  • Rodgersia aesculifolia
  • Salvia pratensis
  • Sanguisorba officinalis
  • Stipa gigantea
  • Valeriana officinalis
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Verbena hastata 


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