Chelsea Flower Show reflections – a kind of beauty in imperfection

So, what did you think?!  It’s two weeks since Chelsea Flower Show came to an end for another year, and I have been reflecting on what I saw over the 3 days that I spent there.  Every year I like to identify what really ‘stood out’ for me, what I will remember about the show by this time next year and – most importantly – what will most influence me when designing gardens for clients from now on.

Overall, I thought that the show was as impressive as ever. The detail on the best gardens was exquisite.  It is always hard to choose a favourite and I could only narrow it down to three …

Steps and secret path in James Basson's L'Occitane Garden
Steps and secret path in James Basson’s L’Occitane Garden

The garden that I would most like to spend time in was James Basson’s Provencal landscape for L’Occitane, because it felt real and uncontrived (OK, I realise that as it was a temporary installation, that is an oxymoron!).  At face value, some might have felt it was a recreation of a scene rather than a garden – however, in my view, it still had a strong underlying geometry and the plantsmanship was superb.

Andy Sturgeon's Telegraph Garden
Andy Sturgeon’s Telegraph Garden

Andy Sturgeon’s Telegraph garden was, in my opinion, fairly awarded the Best in Show (with James Basson and Cleve West also worthy recipients had it gone to either of them). It had a lovely crisp geometry, restrained use of planting and great atmosphere created by the monolithic bronze structures. The presence of the structures was beautifully balanced by the floating detail of the bridges which gave the overall scheme a lightness of touch. I don’t agree with those saying it was a very masculine garden. Of my three favourites this one had the most innovation. It was the garden that most pushed the boundaries of design and that may well have tipped the Judges’ opinion in its favour, especially after Dan Pearson received the top award for a very naturalistic garden last year.

Lovely path detail and planting in Cleve West's M&G Garden
Lovely path detail and planting in Cleve West’s M&G Garden

Cleve West’s M&G garden in many ways sat between James Basson’s and Andy Sturgeon’s. The planting was more lush. It had a natural feel but not taken to the extremes of James Basson’s. I loved the path which featured large natural stone slabs set into patches of much smaller stones which in turn contrasted quite dramatically with the sawn stone of the steps and terrace. Cleeve used some large rocks which provided substance to the design, the tops of which were carved out to provide bird baths to the delight of the local blackbirds!

I always look for something groundbreaking at Chelsea – what will have the biggest influence on garden design and gardening after the show is over? I believe James Basson’s use of plants will be very influential. They were not perfect!  Some were a little misshapen, others had dead and broken branches left on.  In years gone by, anything but perfection in plants would have resulted in criticism from judges and no Gold medal.  James created a beautiful space that felt great to be in (I can testify to this as I shared some champagne in the garden with James and Helen Basson on Press Day). In contrast, for me it made some of the planting in other gardens feel overblown and forced.

So –  I am sensing a move towards ‘real’ planting. I feel in tune with an approach which doesn’t rely heavily on irrigation and fertiliser to give results. Instead, beautiful, inspiring gardens are created by setting the right plants in the right place and associating them naturally with their neighbours. Rather like people, James has shown that beauty also lies in the imperfections. I like the way that the novelist Alice Walker summarised the relationship between imperfection, perfection and beauty: “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” Or as Conrad Hall (cinematographer) observed: “there is a kind of beauty in imperfection”.

To be successful, my own designs have to fit into their environment as well as being aesthetically pleasing and of course fulfilling the client’s brief.  I rely on a strong underlying geometry to create beautiful gardens serving many different purposes. For examples of our work throughout North London and the South-East, please see our Design projects.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top