I am becoming predictable. Just as at Chelsea, it was a contemporary garden featuring a blast of vibrant yellow and a generous entertaining space that captured my imagination at Hampton Court. In spite of the tongue-twisting name (henceforth I shall refer to it simply as the Santa Rita Garden), this was one of the show’s stand-out gardens and one that I could easily have lifted and shifted into a place of my own. The Mediterranean style and drought-tolerant planting felt entirely ‘of the moment’, basking as it did beneath a flawless blue English sky.
Designed by Alan Rudden, the Santa Rita Garden enjoyed its first outing earlier this year at Dublin’s Bloom garden show where it went by the name ‘Life is Rosé‘. It won a gold medal in Éire and repeated that success on British soil last week, also picking up ‘Best World Garden‘ in the process. I am not sure how I feel about gardens being repeated at more than one show and hope this isn’t the start of a trend. I can certainly appreciate how reprising a design offers a sponsor more bang for their buck, whilst making good use of expensive plants and bespoke materials. If a garden is worthy of a gold medal I suppose it deserves the widest audience, but if taking a garden on tour were to become a routine exercise, I’d be disappointed.
For the Santa Rita Garden the sponsor’s brief was to create an outdoor living space in which to enjoy the brand’s wines in the company of friends. Santa Rita is based in Chile, which is a country possessed of a staggering range of climatic and geographic conditions. The estate producing the brand’s flagship wine, Casa Real, enjoys an arid, Mediterranean climate. Alan Rudden thoughtfully combined plants from around the dry temperate world to create a modern garden, although I didn’t pick up much of a South American vibe. Let’s be fashionable and call it fusion, appealing to anyone from California to Cape Town.
In a nod to Mexican architect Luis Barragán, four bold steel monoliths coated with yellow oxide were balanced in the body of the garden by seven pollarded strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo). These might have been considered ugly ducklings had they not possessed so much character, suggesting that the garden might have been made around them. This was clever touch, lending a sense of permanence to the plot. Gabions filled with a warm, pale stone offered some degree of compartmentalisation and the illusion of a level change. I like the idea of gabions but always wonder how they’d look after a few years in our damp, humid climate. Water featured in the form of an elongated yellow tank feeding a narrow rill, but this was quite understated and I’d like to have seen a larger expanse of water somewhere in the garden.
The planting stole the show for me, a complex tapestry of species chosen for their tolerance of dry conditions, if not their hardiness in the UK. Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ (Japanese mock orange) is a superb shrub for a well-drained spot, producing neat mounds of glistening emerald-green foliage and white flowers when planted in the sun. It’s a great foil for blue flowers and silver foliage. Other favourite plants of mine included Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic), Senecio ‘Angel Wings’, Astelia chathamica (Maori flax) and Agapanthus africanus (African lily, both white and blue versions). A bevy of spikey plants were used to furnish a section of the garden resembling a dry river bed, including Yucca rostrata ‘Blue Swan’ (beaked yucca), Puya harmsii (a terrestrial Bromeliad from the Argentinian Andes), Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’ and Echinocactus grusonii (golden barrel cactus). The inclusion of several aromatic plants lent the whole garden a characteristically Mediterranean fragrance.
I would like there to have been more changes of level in this garden, as overall it felt too flat: perhaps a raised bed or a more generous water tank would have satisfied me. Although it would have been challenging to achieve on a level site, I think there could also have been more exaggerated mounding of the ground to create a pronounced stream bed with banks on either side. I do like to see an agave on a slope.
I am finding fault with a garden that was overall very good and that I liked a great deal, so I will search no further for improvements. There’s no doubt that the appearance and atmosphere of this garden was greatly enhanced by a blue sky and warm sunshine, making each element feel ‘just right’. Who would not have wanted to settle down and enjoy a bottle of perfectly chilled wine in this invigorating garden? As for the spikey plants, perhaps these were protection against anyone having one too many and trampling on the plants. Echinocactus grusonii is, after all, occasionally known as mother-in-law’s cushion. TFG.
- Agapanthus africanus ‘White’
- Agapanthus africanus ‘Blue Storm’
- Agave americana
- Agave elodie
- Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’
- Agave parryi var. huachucensis
- Agave filifera ssp. schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’
- Agave ovalifolia
- Agave sisalana
- Aloe spinosissima
- Arbutus unedo
- Armeria maritima ‘White Select’
- Butia armata
- Butia capitata
- Chamaerops humilis
- Echinocactus grusonii
- Elysium ‘Golden Jubilee’
- Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’
- Festuca glauca
- Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
- Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfreisland’
- Salvia officinalis
- Santolina chamaecyparissus
- Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
- Senecio ‘Angel Wings’
- Stachys byzantina
- Thymus vulgaris
- Tulbaghia violacea