T’was the Night Before Chelsea

Every year Chelsea delivers on spectacle. Between grand and ambitious designs, masterfully cultivated plants and an optimal time of year to get just the right amount of Spring and Summer showing through it’s pretty hard not to find the end result impressive. Spectacle it may have but what about originality? Chelsea has seen some truly innovative designs and concepts over the year and this year is no exception, so we’ve taken a quick peek at some of the more intriguing gardens opening tomorrow to get everyone in the Chelsea mood.

 The House of Fraser Garden

Category: Fresh

Is it a garden? Is it a living room? Is it page 27 of the catalogue? We honestly don’t know, but The House of Fraser Garden designed by Chris Deakin and Jason Lock might well be the first to be all of the above. Taking the idea of an outdoor room to its absolute limit these brash young designers have literally turned the concept inside out by building a classic living room setting into their garden. Using outdoor fabrics and materials to construct easy chairs and furnishings, the centrepiece is a cosy setting of a couple of wingback chairs in front of a roaring fireplace, flanked on both sides with naturalistic planting. Feathery grasses add a sense of encroaching nature, while the neat but irregularly spaced mini box hedges blur the line between the constructed and the natural. Outdoor Parquet style flooring completes the illusion of walking inside and out. This garden is a lot of fun, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

Sophie Walker’s Cave Pavilion and John Warland’s World Vision Garden

Category: Fresh

Granted the more conceptual Fresh category was introduced for the very purpose of encouraging designers to think outside the box in terms of what they can do with a garden; so really these two designers have held the brief by putting their outside the box gardens inside boxes. Sophie Walker’s somewhat surreal garden places a miniature jungle inside a Perspex cube. Artificial lighting is used to really bring out the shapes, colours and textures of the leaves within which make up the main focus of the garden. The garden is set apart by the fact it is entirely traceable, each individual plant having its own seed collection number provided largely by the suppliers of the plants, famous plant hunters Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones.

Falling under the same parachute is John Warland’s World Vision Garden, which has also been dropped into the Fresh category (it’s fun to pun). To clarify, this garden is a depiction of an airdrop, a brightly coloured parachute tangled in a tree connected to a big wooden supply crate. All fairly straightforward you might think for a garden sponsored by a charity that delivers supply drops to relief efforts but this airdrop seems to have gone awry somewhere. Contained within the box of goodies is a tropical garden, but it seems to have landed the wrong way up because the plants dangle upside down from the roof of the box. A quirky little garden it might seem like a bit of a cheap gag, but the effort it must have taken to design and construct a tropical garden, which is well designed and as lush and vibrant as you would expect, all upside down deserves quite a bit of credit all on its own.

Harry and David Rich’s Stargazer Garden

Category: Show Garden

When you think of a garden’s design there are certain ideas it invokes. Nature, growth, life cycles of the Earth, the rich tapestry of Gaia’s endless complexity and so on and so forth. But have you ever looked at a garden and thought “Outer Space”? Probably not, but now you can! Yes David and Harry Rich have designed their garden to reflect the night sky and teach children all about the stars and constellations. A star shaped pathway connects the various points of the garden, around which are spaced curved walls in the shape of constellations. Two black holes appear in the form of a pair of metal rimmed reflecting pools, while a steel boundary wall decorated with brass discs shows off a smattering of stars and constellations across the gleaming sky. Swirling, natural planting creates the illusion of the great spinning arms of the galaxy while a focal pavilion made from wood and glass provides various places to look up at the stars.

Altogether there are some great new ideas from new designers this year at Chelsea and I can’t wait to visit and see them for myself.