‘You have a sense of history, too,’ he went on. ‘You respect that.’
‘If you mean the Chelsea garden,’ she said, knowing full well that he did, ‘that was very different. It was a modern impression of an era, not historical fact – a stage set, if you like.’
from The Sea Garden
The famous Chelsea Flower Show is on this week in London, and although I haven't been lucky enough to go this year, I have been swooning over the photographs and TV coverage. The achievements of the growers and garden designers are breath-taking, all the more when you consider that these perfect patches are only temporary, created in the grounds of the Royal Hospital.
In The Sea Garden, Ellie is a garden designer who has exhibited at Chelsea. It's due to the media coverage she receives after winning a coveted gold medal that she is asked to travel to the French island of Porquerolles - where the commission proves to be much more complex than she had imagined. Here is the competition she would have been up against this year. It's the combination of exquisite plants at the peak of their beauty (sometimes replaced every day), hard landscaping and installations of focal points that make these show gardens so special.
Particularly relevant to the one mentioned in the novel is Charlotte Rowe's No Man's Land garden, above and immediately below, designed to support ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. It recalls World War One, in particular the static conflict on the Western Front, within a landscape of minefields and across a narrow No Man’s Land between frontline trenches. The black pool is the "mine crater" now teeming with life, and Rowe's artistry reflects how the landscape, though changed forever, has been regenerated. There are representations of scarred hillocks which were once cut by trenches, now left to meadow flowers, including poppies.
This year, almost every garden seems to feature soft and subtle planting with a nod to the wild, even when the landscaping is starkly formal. And everyone seems to have gone for blues and purples! Below is the Cloudy Bay sensory garden by the Wilson McWilliam Studio, designed to reflect the tasting notes of the Cloudy Bay wines of New Zealand.
The M&G garden by Cleve West is a modern English take on the paradise gardens, driven by water, made by the Persians two thousand years ago - below.
And finally, the Daily Telegraph garden, with its immaculate lawn and topiary.
I've just picked out a few that appealed to me, but there is much, much more. All the photographs come from the Royal Horticultural Society's website, and you can find far more details, images and background information there.