The sound of trickling water is commonplace at Chelsea, at least on the relatively quiet Press Day before the annual flower show opens. The 2017 Chelsea Flower Show (which opens to the public today at 8 am) showcases quiet pools, rushing water, and an evocation of the wetlands of Northern Ontario. There is even water that throbs to music. Without an element of the absurd, Chelsea wouldn’t be Chelsea.
Here are some of our favorite gardens to see at the flower show:
Photography by Jim Powell for Gardenista.
The Zoe Ball Listening Garden
Besides being a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show and acknowledged bon type, James Alexander-Sinclair makes gardens which are elegant and fetching. His style is more in the spirit of the Bonzo Dog Band than Radio 2, but somehow, he has managed to pull off the tastefully absurd, with tanks of water that throb to music. Stand on the gravel around the edge and feel the vibrations, while admiring sculptural green leaves and the pale yellow blooms of Geum ‘Banana Daiquiri’.
The Feel Good Gardens
In terms of planting, there have been murmurings of approval over Matt Keightley’s contribution to this new section at Chelsea (called “Feel Good Gardens”). Feathery fennel rubs along with antennae of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, pincushions of astrantia, and the silky petals of Eschsolzia ‘Ivory Castle’. Peeling bark maple is silhouetted against a smooth, angled wall. It’s all about texture. The Feel Good Gardens are not being judged, which is just as well since judges take a dim view of show gardens which are not visitor-inclusive, and while visitors are free to hear, see, and smell, they certainly cannot touch.
The M&G Malta Garden
On to the show gardens on Main Avenue, which are a little thin on the ground this year, something to do with what happened in this country last June, when investors were wondering whether to sink £100,000 into a show garden, or hang tight for a year. The beautiful show gardens are still beautiful; they just have less competition.
James Basson made a stir a couple of years ago with his arid Provençal garden, which complemented the best-in-show extravaganza of Dan Pearson’s slice of Chatsworth, both pushing ahead a collective desire for an evocation of landscape over a “garden” in the old-fashioned sense. With his three-piece suited Anglo-French charm, Basson collects gold medals at Chelsea. This year will be no exception: guaranteed. The Malta garden is an example of a post-industrial space; a disused quarry on a Mediterranean island, inhabited by the kinds of plants that you might find growing in just such a place, as well as a very nice table to sit at.
The Royal Bank of Canada Garden
Having canoed through a small amount of the great watery expanse of Canada’s boreal forest last year, Charlotte Harris has brought back a homeopathic droplet of that “epic and wild” landscape. The Jack Pines that she saw over there have been sourced from Germany and 65 percent of the plants on the garden are native to Canada. Others are close alternatives. The garden is not an idealized version of a foreign landscape but a quietly elegant space, underpinned by Charlotte’s sure handling of hard materials. We will look at this garden in more depth tomorrow.
No Wall, No War Garden
A special treat every year is a walk down the shady path of the Artisan Gardens to find the latest offering from Kazuyuki Ishihara. His gardens are made of moss, water, acers and this year, irises. The name of Ishihara’s 2017 exquisite concoction is No Wall, No War: not a western reference as such but inspired by the Emperor’s residence in Kyoto, uncluttered by walls or moats: this glazed structure rises out of water.
Catching up on coverage? Compare this year’s gardens to past years’ best at the Chelsea Flower Show: