14 May Chelsea Throwbacks – From The Moors To The Sea 2014
This week’s ode to the Chelsea Flower Show comes in shape of Kate thinking back on her 2014 garden with Alan Titchmarsh. Kate chats about the build, every Chelsea garden build is as memorable as the finished article, they each seem to have their own personality largely depending on the weather and who was helping to build on site. Kate also shares some of the lessons that this garden taught her and some take away tips for gardeners at home.
This year’s garden was a little different to those of previous years. I was delighted to be asked by the RHS to work with Alan Titchmarsh to design a garden specifically for the celebration of 50 years of Britain in Bloom and Alan’s own 50 years in horticulture and as an RHS exhibit would not be up for judging, which was quite a relief since we had a very limited time to put the garden together from concept to completion.
Alan titled the garden ‘The Moors to the Sea‘ to embody his Yorkshire roots and his love of sailing and it would contain an upper section of moorland with wild turf and flowers, native hedging, Pine and Birch trees linked by a gently meandering stream to a lower coastal section where nature has been tamed to create a private haven and if the plot had allowed a sailing boat would have been moored up next to Alan’s writing hut, a nod to another one of his hats as a successful author. Palms and large shrubs provided privacy and shelter for an understorey palette of tender plants that would thrive in the mild coastal setting.
From concept to day one on site was a timescale of about nine weeks, so the pressure was on. Most of the gardens we had a that time created for Chelsea were a year in the planning, so this was no small feat to achieve in the timeframe. Teamwork was vital and Alan was great to work with. He knew exactly what he wanted and communicated it well and we tried to make it happen, but we needed help, so it was time to call in favours from suppliers and bring out the big guns. Mark Gregory of Landform Consultants was the first phone call made. If anyone could make this happen, he and his brilliant team could. Cranes lifted rocks into place (significantly heavy rocks), dry stone wallers created structures that looked like they had always been there and large trees were planted for scale. A cohort of show garden addicts made their way from Australia to London to help too, friends were made, new words learned (most not even vaguely printable) and hangovers were cured with coffee and cake.
Hard landscaping can be equated to the bones of the garden and it is pretty nude without the planting. Any garden but especially a Chelsea garden without plants is an odd thing to look at and often hard and uncompromising. It doesn’t take much though, to start to bring the scheme to life. A few plants grouped here and there help focus the planting mind and within hours the garden is looking far better dressed. By the time all was planted you can see the plants breathing life into the bones and what appears before you is a picture that takes you far away from the plot it sits on in Central London, in this case to the Yorkshire Moors and on to the coast of the Isle of Wight via a little break in a drystone wall (OK – so you have to dispel reality for a while and just embrace the concept!).
Chelsea offers tiny snapshots of what might be possible in your own outdoor space. Whether that is cool and wet, like the ‘Moors’ and or warm and dry like the ‘Sea’ there are always planting combinations to take away and try at home. If you are more ‘Moors’ than ‘Sea’ and you have the luxury of space then native hedging, Pine and Birch make a pleasing combination all year but really come to light in May when the hedgerows of Viburnum opulus and Crataegus flower against the new bright green leaves of Fagus and Carpinus and meadow turf at their feet begins to bloom. The ‘Sea’ is a more niche palette, but a hot dry, sheltered garden could take the tender selection used in the garden where Agapanthus, Isoplexis, Echium and Aeonium will all grow frost free but they do require a well-drained soil and perhaps some TLC when temperatures dip or weather is particularly gloomy.
Nine weeks in the making and one life in full bloom, the garden was taken apart in a very short space of time; the walling stored and re-used, the trees the same and the plants returned to the nurseries where they were re-potted to live another day and perhaps even grace another show garden in years to come.