Garden designs at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show

by Tom Turner @ 1:20 pm May 22, 2014 -- Filed under: Garden Design   

Here is a video of the gardens which caught my eye at Chelsea. The aim was to balance the designers’ accounts with critical comments but I have given too much time to their puffs and not enough to myself (!). Shooting the video gives me a keen appreciation of the BBC videographers’ skills – and an envy for the 25 person crews they use for the ‘filming’.

My first impression of the gardens on the Main Avenue was of a nineteenth century style revivalism. ‘Is 1850 the future of British garden design?’ I asked myself? The M&G revival of ‘Persian’ ideas was a prime example in this category – and is not included on my video. My vote for the best Show Garden goes to the Cloudy Bay garden and, nearby, my vote for the worst garden on the Main Avenue goes to Alan Titschmarsh (also not on the video). The ‘hilly bit’ at the back of his design was quite nice but the ‘summer house’ and ‘pond’ were awful. The BBC was right to replace him with Monty Don as their lead presenter but Monty looked frail and I worry that he is taking on too much work. If Monty finds it too much it will be a real pity if they go for Joe Swift as his replacement. Joe’s horticultural knowledge may be OK but his design judgement is jejune. OK, I know it is the Chelsea Flower Show, but I find the gardens more interesting than the flowers and a goodly proportion of the TV coverage is about the show gardens.
See also: Review of garden designs at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show


  1. I am wondering whether it would be possible to divide the entrants into 1) trends in garden design and 2) innovations in garden design?

    Comment by Christine — June 3, 2014 @ 5:57 am

  2. I did not manage it this year, because of the video problems, but normally aim to do both these things. Neither is easy (1) trends only become apparent when they are no longer new (2) innovations are few

    Comment by Tom Turner — June 3, 2014 @ 6:42 am

  3. Innovative trends often follow on innovation, and yes they are difficult to detect. Sometimes it is easier to identify general trends which reflect the diffusion of innovation into the mainstream consciousness of designers more broadly – even if this is still at the edge of innovation. There is a point at which innovation as trend enters the public realm through proliferation within the professional realm. It is here that it can be recognized in display. Sometimes it helps to view the designs through themes or typologies.

    Comment by Christine — June 6, 2014 @ 1:23 am

  4. Developments in glass technology have had a profound influence on architecture but I guess the first uses of the new technology were to do jobs previously done in older ways. Gardens are less technologically driven then gardens but the influences are still there. It was not so long ago that the first green walls and green roofs appeared at Chelsea. They are now common but one sees more examples of them being used badly than of them being used well.

    Comment by Tom Turner — June 6, 2014 @ 4:06 am

  5. Yes. You are right, the adoption of new technologies does not always result in them being used well or in good design. This is an interesting angle on the ‘shock of the new’!

    It would seem that glass replaced wooden shutters [ ]and shoji screens? [ ]

    Innovations in design came with advances in material science. Here is an example from the 12th century [ ] and from the 21st century [ ].

    Comment by Christine — June 11, 2014 @ 4:58 am

  6. Garden design has not been as technology-led as it might have been, although green walls and green roofs are of considerable significance.
    I love stained glass. Why don’t architects make more use of it?

    Comment by Tom Turner — June 12, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

  7. My supposition is that the use of stained glass has mainly been restricted to churches and cathedrals, the religious sphere. Although you do see its use in Parliament Houses and Court Houses designed in the Gothic style or the Victorian era: Palace of Westminster[ ] and Qld Parliament [ ]

    It seems to be a motif of church and state rather than secular?

    Comment by Christine — June 16, 2014 @ 4:58 am

  8. Stained glass used to be a very expensive product and still is if hand made and lead rimmed. You do see coloured glass in contemporary buildings but not nearly as much as ‘one might expect’. I suspect there is a (generally admirable) puritan hangover from the Modernist aesthetic which is affecting designers.

    Comment by Tom Turner — June 16, 2014 @ 5:19 am

  9. Interesting comment – modernism and puritanism? I am going to do some more reading around this…

    Comment by Christine — June 17, 2014 @ 4:41 am

  10. I am wondering whether the modernist designers advocated the Puritan position of ‘The ‘Principal of Universal Public Responsibility?” Puritan beliefs seem to be that privacy, leisure and other freedoms come from a robust social order. It opposed the Liberal view that when civil society breaks down it disintegrates into amoral chaos.

    Still reading…

    Comment by Christine — July 4, 2014 @ 4:53 am

  11. I doubt if the the point applies socially or personally, and think the modernists liked cigars and red wine, but the rejection of ornament and love of ‘plain function’ seems Puritan to me. So is the enthusiasm for conscience-based decision making rather than the acceptance of any points ‘on authority’.

    Comment by Tom Turner — July 7, 2014 @ 4:41 am

  12. The modernist rejection of ornament and focus on function arose in response to the decay of Beaux Arts into stylistic decadence characterised by blind windows to achieve symmetry and the ‘false door’ of Vaucluse House. I am not sure how or where the suspicion of authority arose in connection with modernist values? Perhaps it was a natural outgrowth of the Age of Reason and the triumph of science in the machine age?

    For the sake of their health hopefully the modernists have now given up their cigars but still enjoy a ref wine!

    Comment by Christine — July 8, 2014 @ 4:29 am

  13. I once had a real modernist boss: pencil bow-tie, red wine and a cigar – also used for pointing to drawings and with the aggravating habit of dropping smouldering embers onto waxed tracing paper.
    I think the rejection of ornament began with a horror of the design standards displayed in the Crystal Palace but it grew into a belief, not unlike early protestant design, that ornament was ‘crime’. And, yes definitely, a natural outgrowth of the Age of Reason. Designers were enjoined to consult fundamental principles and to reject the authority of the historic styles.

    Comment by Tom Turner — July 8, 2014 @ 11:09 am

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