Chelsea Throwbacks – City Living 2017

When Kate set about designing her 2017 entry for the Chelsea Flower Show she was very keen to include light transmitting materials into the hard landscaping. After considering the quotes received for light transmitting concrete for the large wall that Kate had envisaged the team realised, they were going to have to get creative. The wall was going to be an integral part of the garden they had to find a way.

In 2017 Kate and her team built her garden ‘City Living’ an imagined urban apartment block where Kate demonstrated how it was possible to green various overlooked spaces which are very often seen as transient and not important. Urban greening is a passion of Kate’s as now more than ever all our green spaces contribute to the health of the planet as well as the residents of urban areas.

The garden was a triumph and Kate won gold and best in show for her Fresh Garden category. Possibly one of the greatest challenges undertaken by the team ever with only 2.5 weeks to build a three storey garden that could be seen from just about anywhere on the showground! A beautiful monster! Kate talks about her experience designing and building this garden, and the amazing team that pulled together to make it happen.

“We could make it ourselves.” Five words uttered by a Yorkshireman. Those of you that know (& you know who you are), will know what that means. Five little words resulting in conservatively well over 300 hours of work, fingerprints ruined, cuticles ripped, fingers bleeding and that was well before the start on site.

Let’s backtrack almost a year. ‘I’ve had an idea’, I said. When I say things like ‘I’ve had an idea’ it usually means I’ve drawn it up, created a 3D model and pretty much worked out what to do and how. I say I’m methodical, others say I’m a control freak. This was no exception. My only issue here was convincing the brilliant bunch of can-do people I work with that they wanted to do this as much as I did. ‘No’ said Keith, the aforesaid Yorkshireman. He then followed it up a few days later with ‘well, it is possible, but absolutely not in the timeframe given’. Three days after that and there were fairly solid murmurings of ‘I’ve been thinking about how we could make this work’ and that was that. City Living was born. Little did we know then that my right hand woman Lauren Harper would lose the use of her phone thumbprint access, and Ben Murray would coordinate his socks with a lamp, our ever positive project manager Keith Chapman would be a convert to CT1, I’d be making home made play doh and we’d all be engaged in a cottage industry (with the help of friends, friends of friends and neighbours) cutting 3.5 miles of fibre optic cable into 75mm lengths (for those of you that like a fun fact, that’s give or take 75,000 individual pieces) some of which still turn up occasionally from under the rug in the office, which were then stabbed into polystyrene in metal trays.

50m3 of soil to dig out on day 1. Steel superstructure up days 2 and 3. Those were the easy bits. The guys from The Team Landscapers took on the excruciatingly slow process of cladding both in timber from Loknan and metal around & over works by @scottpag1984, jmadden395 & corythomas96. @m.a.d.landscapes paved the lower floor whilst ‘Sams Dad’ and Sam created (in their words) ‘brick porn’ with glazed white Ibstock sawtooths and the most expensive sand I have ever bought. Glass taxed everyone’s brains and the staircase arrived wrong. The days slipped by and the weather was horrid. The only plus side was that the huge green walls we had created and planted ourselves were looking fabulous (recently reimagined by @stonedarragh as a fetching hat for @alzsocirl which I take as a monumental compliment).

The days were long. I don’t even think we went to the pub once and there was a moment when morale dropped beyond low but the literal flick of a switch changed that instantly. The cottage industry in the weeks before build up had been creating a light transmitting terrazzo. We didn’t know if it would work but it did and just seeing it twinkling away gave us all the boost we needed to get the garden finished. It was close though. Very close. We called in the help of the big guns  Gabbi, Andrew, Jeremy, Tish and of course Colin came to tweak, polish and preen and the enigmatic Michael Speller lent us a beautiful piece that was wrapped so thoroughly I apparently conducted a four letter tirade at it for several minutes just before judging. Although I have absolutely no memory of this at all.

You can’t build a garden together if you don’t like each other. You can’t ask people to give all that they’ve got and then some more if you aren’t there by their side (even if it’s only to make the tea and feed them cake). Teamwork built this garden (a ridiculously skilled, gifted, sarcastic, problem solving, practical joke playing team) and in turn the garden built friendships to last a lifetime (plus my unrequited love for Sam’s dad) We won’t build another one like this – a truly beautiful beast of a garden with a strong message about greening and valuing even the smallest of outdoor spaces. Somehow that message runs truer today in the light of Covid19 than it did in 2017. Some say that Chelsea is elitist and fake. I say it’s there for ideas and forward thinking and making the world a better and greener place. We all need a bit of the magic of Chelsea in our lives, even if at the moment it is only virtually.