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Showtime: Designer Sarah Eberle Brings Theater to the Chelsea Flower Show

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Showtime: Designer Sarah Eberle Brings Theater to the Chelsea Flower Show

May 25, 2022

The imagination of Chelsea veteran Sarah Eberle is reliably unpredictable; she keeps a low profile but her show gardens do not. They reveal a line of enquiry that is concerned with  finding plants and materials that can take us on to the next stage of our ecological journey, and the prosaically-named “Medite Smartply Building the Future” garden is no different in that respect. Waterfalls pour from artificial rock strata made from a type of water-resistant MDF (medium-density fiberboard) called medite smartply, taking the place of mature hardwoods that are allowed to continue the important work of carbon-storing and oxygenating the planet. Below, the woodland edge has its own environmental claims, as well as a high sense of theater in the shapes, textures, and precision-placement of each leaf.

Join us as we tour this unusual and slightly mysterious gold medal-winning garden.

Photography by Jim Powell, for Gardenista.

Above: Sarah Eberle, who gave us a silo on stilts a few years ago, provides another memorable image in an MDF waterfall.

Birch, conifers, and hawthorn trees were the most popular choices in Chelsea’s most environmentally-aware flower show ever. Besides being fantastic for wildlife, each has the design appeal of casting light shade for the woodland- and water’s-edge planting that has been prevalent at the show.

Above: Buttercups are another leitmotif of the show. This showier variety is double meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris ‘Multiplex’) with distinct, palmate foliage.

The planting is based on the Irish climate, where the wood-alternative product is made. “It is wet, like a temperate rainforest, hardy to zones 8-9, with some areas being very wet with bog planting,” explains Sarah. “Buttercups are naturalized but we’re taking native species and mixing them further, with exotics like Tetrapanax.” (The large leaves by the birch, shown above).

Above: Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’ rambles through an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra ‘Austriaca’). A rambling rose was also featured growing through hawthorn on the William Morris garden, just along Main Avenue.

The effusion has a very Irish feel, with plants growing through each other. The color is stubbornly green, and when yellow, cream and the occasional dash of orange make an appearance, they really glow. “The planting is mainly textural,” continues Sarah. “There’s a lot going on, and color can be very disturbing, in carnival colors. I wanted to calm it down.”

Above: Bog planting. Calming, luscious, creamy yellow Iris sibirica ‘Gull’s Wing’ with Rodgersia podophylla foliage.
Above: Even goat’s beard has its day at Chelsea, showing up on several gardens. On this one, the original wildie (Aruncus doicus) mingles with cultivated Aruncus ‘Horatio’.
Above: A temperate rainforest, MDF edition. Foliage plants find a home in the stage-set rock strata, in a completely convincing way. In fact, pots have been placed snugly into ridges that were made for purpose.

The back of the waterfall, at the back of the show garden, is one of its most theatrical features, with a temperate rainforest of interesting leaf shapes that continues horizontally to the other side of a perfectly raked hoggin path.

Above: Native woodlander Solomon’s seal at the back of the waterfall, mingling with native wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) in the wall.

“We’ve got something for plants’ people; we’ve got Asarum canadense, Canadian wild ginger, which is different from the little European Asarum in the wall.”

(This is also the year for wild ginger enthusiasts: see Monday’s Chelsea Flower Show 2022 Preview: Wilderness and Wattling.

Above: Sarah Eberle’s waterfall runs over an industrial-style cave. The medite tricoya (modified wood) has been given a glaze that mimics Corten steel in its appearance. It shouldn’t work, looks-wise, but it does.

For more on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, see:

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