If Chelsea is the horticultural equivalent of a fashion show, then many of the ideas recycled each year could be likened to the classic, ever-so-wearable LBD (little black dress). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, in fact I think its great. Above all it proves that some ideas are just too good to omit; the key elements of design that have been proven over time. You might want to consider including some of these in your own outdoor space……..
Structural planting is always very evident, as designers are well aware of the year-round contribution it gives. This year however, the Telegraph Garden, designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole, went one step further and showed a garden that was almost unusable, due to the Mondrian-like evergreen blocks that completely filled the floor. This would obviously be totally inappropriate in a family garden, but would work brilliantly as a space to look out/down on from an office building. I thought it was fabulous.
In your own garden you might want to consider using blocks of evergreen clipped shrubs amongst looser, herbaceous planting. This provides winter structure and generally ‘beefs’ up what can otherwise be a rather ‘frilly’ affair.
Try and use at least one unusual hard-landscaping material in your garden, it really will lift the rest. The Wasteland by Kate Gould had some fabulous ideas for re-using waste items, including metal dividing walls made from mattress springs or the sides of supermarket trolleys.
Possibly too much for most of us to consider, these never-the-less show that anything is possible if done with conviction. One thing is for sure, square trellis from a garden centre really did seem dull in comparison.
Chelsea gardens prove that boundaries are vital to the overall look. If you can successfully deal with the hedges, fences and walls that surround your outdoor space, you are halfway there. And that’s the key to getting it right: variety. If you study the gardens at Chelsea, you will see that they very rarely use a single, unbroken material as a boundary. Instead they tend to use a combination of plants and stone, timber or metal (even brick, making a rare appearance behind the abundant planting of the M&G garden by Roger Platts).
Yes, the Laurent-Perrier Garden by Ulf Nordfjell had a solid Cypress Oak (Quercus fastigiata ‘Koster’) hedge on two sides , but even this was broken by the same plant in the form of towering spires and a fabulously bold pergola.
It’s almost always best to break the boundary at some point in the scheme, both in terms of material, and height. Typical designer tricks include repetition, using odd numbers of a single tree species, or timber/metal posts as uprights in a row in front of a simple boundary; or the statement piece, with either a vertical water feature or pergola type structure, usually positioned to divide the boundary into a third and two thirds.
Robert Myers’ Brewin Dolphin Garden showed how successfully this idea can be used to pull together a small space. Large, natural stone pebble-shaped seats by Ben Barrell set the theme, and are perhaps the most obvious objects, but look closely and it’s easy to see more: A pond sculpture by the same artist features two arm-like uprights, clasping a smaller ‘pebble’; and the marine plywood boundary is carved with a complimentary pattern. Finally, ‘hummocks’ of clipped box, are liberally scattered throughout the space.
One word of caution, this is one idea when I would suggest you act with restraint. Repetition is good, but don’t overdo it. And make sure you choose different materials, scales and planes, that’s when it works best.
Of all the ideas, this is perhaps one of the easiest to see, and if you can apply it throughout your garden it will pay dividends.
Containers: Most Chelsea gardens will have at least one pot, and so do our own, ‘real’ gardens. The difference is in size. Learn from the pros, and make your pots as big as you can afford, bigger even. It may seem expensive when you buy it, but one large pot often costs no more than a collection of small ones, and it will be look more impressive (and require less frequent watering!)
Features: At the centre of the Laurent-Perrier Garden (Ulf Nordfjell) was a magnificent pergola/arbour, the simplicity and boldness of which was almost breathtaking. It was one of my stand-out features of the show. Four chunky pieces of dark oak are backed by copper sheets, the colour almost matching, the texture subtly different. If you can afford to, it usually pays to use fewer, bigger components and create a really bold feature.
Planting: Now, this is one to be careful with. In principal I agree totally. Be brave. Buy three, five or even more (odd numbers for naturalistic groups) of the same variety when you go to the garden centre. Plant them together, or at least near enough so that the eye can see them all at once. But, be careful with really bold gestures. A swathe of Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’ arum lily around a pool, as in the East Village Garden designed by Balston Agius Ltd, looks fabulous when at it’s peak, but won’t have much to offer for the rest of the year.
If you have a small space make sure your plants work hard year-round. When it comes to really bold planting it might be better to use varieties that have a long season such as structural evergreens, foliage plants such as grasses, or trees.
All images copyright Sophie Dixon 21013