Chelsea Flower Show Trends 2011 – and the Chelsea Fringe Garden Show

Sustainable and theatrical themes at Chelsea help argue the case for an Unofficial Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival

Amongst other things, garden design an arena for fashion. This tempts the critic to look for trends and what I noticed was more an extension of previous trends than anything completely new:

  • the visual language of sustainability is becoming stronger, with green walls and green roofs tending towards the norm
  • there is more use of food plants each year, as in the above photograph (of a design by Bunny Guiness)
  • the interest in green roofs is trending towards high-rise gardens: Sarah Eberle designed an accessible roof garden; B&Q designed a multi-storey garden; Dairmud Gavin hung a garden from a crane [see 2011 Chelsea review]
  • the financial trend is to more-and-more money being spent on the show gardens each year

The financial trend reminds me of a previous suggestion: the Official Chelsea Flower Show should be supplemented with an unofficial fringe event. We therefore renew the proposal, made in 2005, for a Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Show. The advantages of a Chelsea Fringe would include:

  • there could be sustainably Permanent Show Gardens, as well as Temporary Show Gardens. People often remark on what a waste of money it is that Chelsea Show Gardens are only on view for a single week. The Chelsea Fringe would allow some of the show gardens to become permanent.
  • many summer visitors to London, who cannot get tickets for the Official Chelsea Flower Show, would be able to see wonderful gardens. The gardens could be opened in sync with the official show and would then be at their best for the whole summer.
  • the Chelsea Fringe would re-inforce London’s position as the World Capital of Gardening
  • the Chelsea Fringe Show Gardens could be combined with theatrical and other events, as in the above photograph
  • there could be Floating Chelsea Gardens on the Battersea Reach of the River Thames

Here are the 2007 proposals for the type of events which could be brought within the umberalla of a Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Show Events.

33 thoughts on “Chelsea Flower Show Trends 2011 – and the Chelsea Fringe Garden Show

  1. Adam Hodge

    When will you be having a glass of Prosecco and a chat with the Show boffins at the RHS ? I reckon your proposal of a Fringe Show is a cracker !!

  2. Adam Hodge

    M’thinks they might run with the idea since the economic climate has changed. Lets all lobby them with your idea !

  3. Christine

    Hopefully the festival would be less literal than the theatre theme of the Chicago Garden Show. [ ]

    It would be much more interesting to explore the historical connections of fisrt ballet in England to the site of the ancient Benedictine convent garden to Westminister Abbey, and the latest floral addition to theatre, the Floral Hall at Paul Hamlyn Hall. [ ]

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    Chicago is right to build upon its theatre and garden traditions – and this is an obvious opportunity for London. ‘Covent Garden’, as you say, brings the two traditions together (1) as an opera house with a Floral Hall (2) street theatrical events in the Piazza. My initial suggestion is to focus the Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival on a 1 km wide strip of land along the margins of the Thames from Chelsea to Westminster.

  5. Christine

    Very good idea. I was amazed to note that from 1650, Covent Garden’s close association with pineapples:

    “When you are in Covent Garden Market – look up. On top of each light you will see a pineapple. It is an integral part of the building’s fabric – and a key link to the Market’s incredible history.”

    [ ] Since electricity wasn’t introduced until the 1900s I assume these lights were gaslights?

  6. Christine

    Wow! That’s amazing. Is it exhibited at Covent Garden? Perhaps it would be good to also have an art exhibition of associated food & floral paintings during the Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival?
    Maybe even inaugurate a Royal food & floral art prize for contemporary works?

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    Art and food go very well with gardens – so they are both great additions to the Festival idea. With regard to the financial aspect of the Chelsea Show, the gardens are like sports sponsorship: they come out of the advertising budget of the promoter. The Chelsea Fringe Garden Show should not have additional revenue streams: fine art sales, admission tickets, food sales. But there may be a danger in this: the London Boroughs would not want their streets and open spaces to become a big tacky fairground.
    Sorry I do not know who owns the painting (I do not think it is in the Queen’s collection).

  8. Lawrence

    Tom, perhaps you would get more joy writing to Boris Johnson, or have you already done this too? Adam and Christine are right, this is a very good idea. Would the LI lobby, or are they still confused as to where gardens fit into their scheme of things?

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes, I think the LI are still confused about where gardens fit into the scheme of things. Many landscape architects design gardens but they do not get support or encouragement from the LI. My views are (1)gardens are at the heart of the history and theory of landscape architecture (2)gardens have often served as microcosms in which ideas later applied to urban design have been developed.
    The reason I did not push the Chelsea Garden Fringe idea in 2005 and 2007 is that I am not a natural lobbiest – but I have heard that the idea is being considered.

  10. Lawrence

    After gaining admittance to one of the German Architectural Chambers one’s official professional title is “Garden and Landscape Architect”. I wonder why the German Chambers don’t have a problem with this, and the LI – based in a “Nation of Gardeners” – does?

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    If you ever have the time and the enthusiasm for an historical investigation, I would love to know the answer. Here are some possibilities (1)the Bund Deutscher Landschaftsarchitekten was founded as the Bund Deutscher Gartenarchitecten in 1913 and the nomenclature probably influenced the German architectural chambers, making ‘garden’ and ‘architect’ comfortable bedfellows. (2) England, in the first decade of the 20th century, was recovering from the ludricous Blomfield vs Robinson argument over the relevance of architecture to gardens and the term Garden Architect was never popular. (3) There was an uneasiness, in England, over the term landscape architect and the garden designers who joined the Institute of Landscape Architects in the 1930s soon found themselves unwelcome. (4) In the years after 1947 there was a strong desire by landscape architects to establish the fact that they were different from gardeners and could contribute more than planting design skills to architectural and planning projects. I think the 4th consideration remains the most significant in the reluctance of many Landscape Institute members to embrace the history and theory of garden design as part of the landscape profession’s heritage.
    When I was studying landscape architecture at the end of the 1960s my dad advised: ‘Don’t call yourself an architect – everybody hates those matchbox buildings they are putting up. Call yourself a gadener – everybody loves gardeners’.

  12. Tian Yuan

    If people have a look at the 2011 Xi’an International horticultural Show they will come to understand the real meaning of “wasted money’.

    The link above is to a place which is not at all sustainable and is not an example of ecological landscape design. It was designed by the director of the Landscape Urbanism department of Architectural Asoociation in London. ( And the building architecture was designed by her husband) I recomend this couple to go to visit the Chelsea Flower Show 2011 and try to get some inspiration from garden design.

    Landscape Urbanism is very good and new idea, but it really depend on SCALE and such a small space does not need to use the SHAPE or THEORY of Landscape Urbanism. The designers should learn from the garden design method. The planting and the composion should focus on Chinese Xi’an’s characteristics.

  13. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you for the link to the Xian Horticulture Show. It looks as though it is correctly named, as a horticultural show, perhaps even a horticultural trade show. Chelsea is much more of an ‘amateur’ show than a trade show. The nurseries which put on displays in the big tent are doing it for people who own private gardens. The show gardens are often ‘advertisements’ (eg by tourism authorities from different countries) but they tend to be designed ‘as if’ they were private gardens.
    My comment on the Xian design is that it looks like ‘fancy geometry and nothing more’. One would have to go there to be sure.

  14. Christine

    Thankyou Yuan. The idea of scale relationships in the way we imagine the urban realm in architecture and landscape would be very interesting to explore in a seminar. Particularly how we think (see reality and imagine a new reality), sketch (represent our ideas) and design (synthesis reality our imaginings)…I’ll do a post on it.

  15. Tian Yuan

    Thank you Christine. I look forward to seeing your post about scale. Sometimes, it is a shame that public do not know what ‘Landscape Architecture’ is. So they always think architects can do landscape architecture prohects. I think this is reason for Chinese government finding two architects to run the whole project. Of course, they are from the best architecture school in UK, but their landscape work is not very satisfactory.

  16. Tian Yuan

    Tom, What do you mean to say? Do you mean even when architects do their own job, of architecture, the results can be disappointing?

  17. Tom Turner Post author

    No, I mean that architects tend not to be as good at designing ships as naval architects. This is because, however strong their design ability, the functional and technical knowledge required to design a ship is different. It is the same with landscape architecture: the designer needs a good understanding of user requirements combined with a technical knowledge of water, planting, landform, climate, ecology and the history/theory of designed outdoor space. A few architects have this knowledge; most do not. On the other point, there are of course very good architects and very bad architects. One of the most interesting examples, for me, is Edwin Lutyens. He was a brilliant designer, without the slightest doubt. But I think he ‘lost his footing’ when designing outdoor space without Gertrude Jekyll at his elbow. He was not much of a garden user. She knew all about the scale of garden space, the use of garden space, the types of garden space which people enjoy – and, of course, the types of garden space which plants enjoy.

  18. Tim Richardson

    Dear Tom

    Thanks for this and it was good to see you at Chelsea.

    I started organising my own Chelsea Fringe last May, not knowing that you had posted some ideas on this on your website a few years earlier. Anyway, we are now up and running and looking to launch at Chelsea 2012. We have lots of ideas, a clear structure, an effective steering committee and — following a meeting at Chelsea 2011 — the support and endorsement of the RHS, though the Fringe as an entity remains entirely independent. We are now talking to sponsors who might be in a position to fund the central Chelsea Fringe hub, which will include an office, website with online catalogue, and a small number of personnel. Among our ideas are horticultural ‘happenings’ or installations which will pop up around London, as well as initiatives such as the floral boats, which we talked about at Chelsea. Too many ideas to go into here — at the moment it’s all dependent on initial funding, of course. Thanks for your support and I will keep you posted as to how things progress. Do add my email address in case anyone wants to contact me directly.

    best wishes
    Tim Richardson

  19. Christine

    Tom, the aircraft home is amazing. Sometimes it is the raw energy of an idea which is the most inspiring. So although I would not literally duplicate this little home – I am incredibly inspired about the possibilities it triggers. Rather than being less than satisfactory it is a delight! (ie note the incredible economy in the use of the form, locating the entry under the protective cover of the wing.) I wonder whether the sleeping quarters are located in the tail section? How has the nose section with the window been utilised? And the home is connected to power!

  20. Tom Turner Post author

    You are right. It has a charm – and it is an example of recycling too. We could even have an Aircraftville in which all the dwellings were made like this – but might we not end up with too much of a good thing? It is, as you say, a question of scale.

  21. Tom Turner Post author

    I like the images on the fashion blog post. They could offer a discount or a reward (eg an icecream) to every visitor who arrives at the show with some kind of living floral ornament.


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