The Garden Guide

Garden designs at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2004

Chelsea, as the world's largest and most famous flower show, should be a good place to review trends in garden design. The show's horticultural pre-eminance is undoubted: you will find the best plants grown to perfection. One cannot say as much of the show gardens. Though many have excellent planting, their design quality is generally backward-looking and disappointing. It is largely the work of horticulturalists, albeit with design talent. Little is done by people with a serious design training. For the future, we must hope that more graduates from the new university garden design courses become involved. As BBC coverage of Chelsea indicates, there is every sign that f Chelsea visitors' enthusiasm is shifting from the floral tent to the show gardens, just as the National Trust is finding that its visitors' interest is shifting from stately homes to stately gardens. We are all gardeners now.

The best designs in the 2004 Chelsea Show are reviewed below, by Tom Turner.

Merrill Lynch Garden, by Dan Pearson Studio

Dan Pearson has produced a classic modernist design, reminiscent of the Church/Halprin design for El Novillero in Sonoma. Yet he sees it has having an echo of the British countryside and of 'medieval ridge furrows'. Begging his pardon, I cannot see this aspect of the design. It is however a well-conceived space, executed with a high level of professional skill.



Hortus Conclusus: designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole

Christopher Bradley-Hole has an undoubted design talent but suffers from conceptual confusion. His book on Minimalist gardens showed no real understanding of minimalism (an important movement in twentieth century art) or its potential role in garden design. Equally, his concept of a 'hortus conclusus' reveals an inadequate knowledge of garden history. The designers account refers to the Islamic tradition, medieval gardens and renaissance gardens - as though their similarities were more important than their differences. The plan of the garden looks more Cubist than classical and it lacks the key characteristic of a hortus conclusus. If the term has any defined meaning, it is surely 'an enclosure'. This garden is subdivided into compartments by walls and fences.



National Lottery Garden 'A colourful Suburban Eden', by Dairmuid Gavin

A garden may be defined as 'an enclosed outdoor space' and if this definition is strictly followed then Dairmuid Gavin is NOT a garden designer. He is a designer of objects, not spaces, of mass, not voids. In this example of his work it is objects (coloured balls on poles) which are his chief concern. But we should not quibble: the design is colourful and fun.

Dairmut Gavin The National Lottery Balls


Knightsbridge Urban Renaissance Garden - by Phil Jaffa

This is a highly accomplished design with the emphis, very properly, on the space rather than the enclosing objects. And the herbaceous planting is excellent. But the overall character is more that of a war memorial than an 'urban renaissance garden'. It is solemn and forbidding. After the show it will become the central feature of a development of 205 appartments, to be completed next year. Planned re-use of show gardens is an excellent principle meriting wider application.



Life Garden, by Jane Hudson and Erik de Maejer

This design more accurately achieves the aim of a 'show garden' then any of its competitors. It is eye-catching, colourful and altogether well-conceived. The garden is sponsored by Cancer Research UK and the designers' explain that 'When people experience cancer, they often describe a heightened appreciation of life and the beauty of nature that surrounds them'. It is a well-made point. But the showniess of the garden is not what most people associate with 'nature'.



Tourism New Garden - by Kim Jarrett, Trish Waugh, Lyonel Grant, Doug Waugh, Tina Hart and Brian Massy

The designers had the advantage of a theme with both cultural and horticultural aspects. They have used it with skill to create an attractive evocation of New Zealand - a living tourist brochure. The only weakness of the scheme is the concrete work - it looks too much like concrete. The use of mist is excellent.



The Wildlife Trusts Gateway Garden, by Stephen Hall

This small design deserves attention for its ingenious and intelligent use of a theme. They have taken a tradition theme and adapted it to a contemporary consideration: design for wildlife.