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Chelsea Flower Show 2023: Sarah Price Uses a Painterly Palette in Her Dreamscape of a Garden


Chelsea Flower Show 2023: Sarah Price Uses a Painterly Palette in Her Dreamscape of a Garden

May 23, 2023

Precious few gardens stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. Sarah Price’s return to the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens today in London, does just this, presenting so many spell-binding vistas, sensitive combinations, and extraordinarily beautiful plants and colors that it lingers in the mind and will surely be one of the show’s most influential gardens of recent history. Step inside for a closer look.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

Above: A painterly vision. Irises ‘Benton Olive’, ‘Benton Susan’, ‘Benton Caramel’ and ‘Benton Pearl’ take center stage.

First, the plants: The artist Cedric Morris’s bearded irises are the stars of the show, where they are planted into the garden’s warm-toned fine gravel with space to be admired. Softening the effect is fennel, euphorbia, the gorgeous spires of Angelica archangelica, poppies, and thyme, and silvery foliage from stachys and Salvia sclarea.

Beyond the iris, the dazzling Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ adds punchy dots of deepest burgundy while Rosa mutabilis—trained as a climber here—along with wisteria adorn the sublime rendered and color-washed walls. Around the garden Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ provides a delicious honey-scented silvery backdrop while two fabulous Pinus sylvestris trees, which are pruned as stone pines, provide a spectacular statement over the more open areas.

Above: Mellow bricks, gravel, and eye-popping plants including the stunning Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.

Price’s first eureka moment in the long path to her design was when she saw Sarah Cook’s collection of Benton irises at the show back in 2015. These cultivars—bred over decades in the mid 20th century by the artist and plantsman Cedric Morris at his 16th century home in Benton End, Suffolk—enraptured her with their indescribable colors and gradations.

She immediately decided that one day she would do a garden based around them. The next pivotal moment was a visit to Morris’s home at Benton End in Suffolk, now in trust to the Garden Museum. The meadow was dotted with fritillaries including F. pyrenaica and anemones, and set against a backdrop of arching Elaeagnus and dark green pines. It was, she says, completely enchanting.

Above: Containers are crafted from air-dried sand, while a long counter provides an airy spot to display elegant pots and succulents.

Those inspirations have been reimagined in what is essentially a dry garden with soft casually placed brick paths and gravel providing the warmest backdrop. As you’d expect, there are lots of Morris’s other favorites in the garden too, many of which have been named after him—a scented rambling white rose, a wild sweet pea, and grey poppies.

Above: Textural details born from waste materials.
Above: High drama with iris, aeoniums, Atriplex hortensis and Rosa mutabilis climbing up the beautiful pink walls.

Aside from the plants, this garden is jam-packed with innovation and inspiring sustainable ideas. When Price was last here five years ago, she says, “no one was really interested that I’d made the garden with rammed earth walls and recycled tiles or that we’d used no cement.” All that has changed. As in her 2018 garden, the beauty here is ramped up by the low-carbon, “reuse and recycle” philosophy—from the mellow air-dried bricks to the lime-rendered straw bale walls and recycled canvases that are colored with natural paints. Garden containers were also made from air-dried sand that was pulled out of a reservoir at Price’s contractor’s Surrey HQ. Even the ropes that are used around the garden have been laboriously crafted over weeks using waste hops and brambles. Furniture has been made from fallen trees. This was all the result of close collaboration with Local Works Studio. It’s a garden truly made by hand.

Above: Scene-stealing roses provide a pop of color.
Above: A place to linger. The table, benches, and stools were crafted from fallen trees sourced close to Price’s home in Monmouthshire.
Above: Lathyrus odorata—Cedric Morris collected the seeds of this pretty sweet pea in Sicily.
Above: Recycled and waste materials reimagined as beautiful garden furniture.

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