GARDEN : Chelsea Flower Show

The Chelsea Flower Show is firmly established as one of the world’s most creative garden design destinations, with the glorious show gardens at its heart. Providing a showcase for outstanding landscape design, we go behind the scenes with six renowned garden designers to discover what informs their visions in green. CORRIERE DELLA SERA, LIVING MAGAZINE

A gardener’s world is part architecture, part planting, part artist’s eye. An iconic building or a great painting is as likely to inform a gardener’s work than anything from the horitcultural sphere. Trends and fashion play a role too. 

In recent years, sculpted topiary has been de rigeur, with garden champions Luciano Guibbelei and Kazuyuki Ishihara leading the way with their elegant compositions of button mosses and box.  This year, however, Luciano’s gold medal garden for Laurent-Perrier reflects the designer’s new-found interest in a more naturalistic, English planting style. ‘We wanted to create a sense of place’, he explains. ‘I have always been interested in architecture and interiors and love the idea how you can create an atmosphere through design.’

Luciano Guibbelei has been designing peaceful outdoor spaces since he started to make gardens. He says: ‘This is our third show for Laurent-Perrier and this time we came closer to the language of flowers and the sense of freedom they provide.’

The floral trend continues with Gucci's runway-ready design. Created by British horticulturist Sarah Eberle, the garden features stunning bouquets inspired by the Gucci Flora, a motif originally created in 1966 as a gift for Grace Kelly. ‘Our aim with the installation was to excite, delight and inspire,’ says Sarah. ‘It was totally refreshing to see the vibrant colours and wide mixture of plants from dainty wild flowers to the more waxy, ornamental cut flowers. It broke all the rules yet worked!’ 

A trend for strong colour emulated in many of the show gardens. One of the most daring colour palettes was Luciano’s spectacular use of yellow lupins in the Laurent-Perrier garden but it was Chris Deakin’s Fresh Garden for British department store House of Fraser, that really went to town. Painted it pink, to be precise. 

‘As House of Fraser do fashion and interiors, we wanted to create a fashionable interior outside,’ explains Chris. ‘We picked up on the companies Scottish heritage with the tartan and used the bright pink to give it a modern twist. 

‘We wanted to show people that even if you have a small garden, you can think outside of the box. Our aim was to present an ‘Outdoor room’ that encouraged people to look at their garden differently.  We used materials suitable for outdoor use but opened up so many options to garden owners who are looking for a different approach to creating a wonderful outside space.’

Pushing the boundaries on the purpose of gardening, this year many gardens had a strong narrative of sustainability, conservation and environmental responsibility. A first-time Chelsea designer, 28-year-old Sophie Walker’s contemporary Cave Pavilion is a modern-day take on a Wardian case, the terraria used in the 19th-century to transport plants from their native habitats. The planting, designed to emulate a dreamlike jungle Eden, is composed of rare plant species from all over the world. It is the first garden at the show where the plants are fully traceable, each having its own collection number, and is designed to raise awareness of international plant conservation. 

Explaining what she loved most about the installation, Sophie says:I’m interested in is using landscape as a volume - a thing that comes on top of you and around you, not just something that happens under your feet.’ Influenced in her work by Monet and the way he gave life to his garden at Giverny, she adds: ‘The plants seemed as if they were untouched and unmade, as if they had always been there.  They were all of wild origin and they had great character.’

Similarly creating a garden with emotional resonance, John Warland’s concept for World Vision was derived from the initial aid crates that were delivered to the people of Ethiopia 30 years ago. Wanting to create a moment of wonder and curiosity, John’s love of gardening came from a childhood spent day dreaming out of classroom windows, wishing to be outside. Describing his style as conceptual, John says: ‘I prefer to work on commissions where artistic tendencies blend with horticultural practice. Whereas most designers place a piece of art or sculpture within a space, for me the challenge is to make the space in its entirety the work of art.’ Most importantly, John adds, is that the finished article goes beyond aesthetic merit. ‘If people can't walk past one of my pieces without feeling the need to stop and take a photograph, then I know that a measure of success has been achieved. I call it the ‘camera phone’ moment where people feel compelled to take an image to share or use for future reference.’ We call it garden, art, love.