SHOW AND TELL A celebration of Bath at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show... Words by Nick Woodhouse Photos by RHS/Neil Hepworth
t’s always a joy to see Bath so well represented at the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Local horticulturalists, nurseries and businesses all headed again this year to the grounds of the Royal Hospital for what is undeniably the highlight of the horticultural calendar. While the event is open to the public for just five days, the lead-up and afterlife of any showgarden stretches far beyond this. This year saw 28 gardens contending for the much-coveted judges’ certificates. The show was definitely greener than ever, both in colour and attitude. Planting not only took on a more calming palette of greens, yellows and white, but it also seemed also to reflect the growing momentum to more sustainable living. Drought- and
show gardens once the show is over, asking all exhibitors to ensure their gardens are ultimately relocated in their entirety or across a number of projects. Best in Show went to Andy Sturgeon’s M&G Garden this year. Here, burnt timber structures represented natural rock formations inspired by a recent visit by the designer to the beaches of Australia. The biodiverse selection of planting was based on the colonising plants of a woodland setting, highlighting nature’s incredible ability to regenerate. Although plants were selected from all corners of the planet, their ability to survive the vagaries of the British climate was given equal consideration. It was great to see Bath’s very own Iford Manor providing inspiration for Jo Thompson’s silver-gilt winning garden this year. This was Thompson’s second collaboration with sponsor Wedgwood, this year’s garden celebrating the company’s 260th anniversary. Iford Manor is one of Thompson’s favourite gardens to visit, something she does on an annual basis. “Iford is a masterclass in framing and scale and context and layout,” says Thompson, “Harold Peto certainly knew what he was doing.” A pavilion subtly referencing Iford provides the show garden’s main structure. Its arches looked on first glance to be constructed from stone and steel but were in fact made from plastered wood and ply board for the show. The garden is also strongly influenced by Etruria, the village and factory built for Wedgwood’s workers by founder Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th century. Watercourses and canals were integral to Etruria and this was reflected in the showgarden by a channel running throughout. Bath-based garden designer Rosie Nottage returned to Thompson’s all-female planting team again this year. Unusually for the show, the team plants every plant within the ground, rather than buried pots. This allows plants to intermingle in their own, more natural way.
“It was great to see Bath’s very own Iford Manor providing inspiration” pollution-tolerant planting appeared throughout the gardens, with trees being often being favoured over the garden studio or outdoor living spaces. And what a range of trees this year – from a leaning pine on the Morgan Stanley Garden, to a giant monkey puzzle tree in the Forestry Commission’s Resilience Garden. The message was undeniable: we must look after our woodlands and help them adapt to the growing threat of climate change. Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden was perhaps the most dedicated to minimising the environmental impact of his Chelsea offering, with plants grown in taupe pots, a new alternative to the single-use black plant pot. Ground works on this garden were also undertaken with an electric excavator rather than the traditional diesel counterpart. Encouragingly, the RHS has also reacted to the recent debate over what happens to the
134 I BATH LIFE I www.mediaclash.co.uk
Thompson took particular note of visitors to her 2018 Chelsea garden; they loved the naturalistic look but struggled to recreate it back home. This year, planting still had a determined wildness but was constrained to more structured beds and borders. Colour hues were predominately of a soft palette, ranging from pastel pinks and apricots to deep caramels. Highlights included Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ and Angelica archangelica, the latter supplied by Jekka McVicar. Home to the country’s largest collection of culinary herbs, Jekka’s nursery is a short drive from Bath in the South Gloucestershire village of Alveston. Horticulturalist Jonny East and artist Paul Jackson, both Bath locals, also returned to Chelsea this year, collectively helping Bristol-based business Agriframes build and plant up their show stand. The company, a leading supplier of plant supports and garden structures, is led by Bath-based husband-and-wife team Andrew and Hannah Downey. Bath’s iconic architecture is hugely influential to the design of their products, so their sponsorship of this year’s Bath Festival seemed a natural choice. “Bath,” says Andrew, “is the perfect example of how practical and functional design can still be beautiful to look at.” His sentiment is of course spot-on and should perhaps remind us that we don’t always need to look at Chelsea’s five days of glory for all our inspiration. Sometimes it’s here, too, right before us.
Nick Woodhouse is the co-director of interior and garden design company Woodhouse & Law on 4 George’s Place, Bathwick Hill, Bath; 01225 428072; www.woodhouseandlaw.co.uk