The Garden Guide

Garden designs at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010 - a review by Tom Turner

The Chelsea Flower Show is not back to its pre-Credit-Crunch Glitz though, oddly, I noticed more 'dancing girls' and less emphasis on sustainability - with the honourable exception of the Eden Project's Homeless Centres garden. The judges awarded 8 gold medals for garden design (compared with only 3 in 2009) - but this tells us more about the judges than about the garden designs. As the Telegraph puts it 'the RHS judges are a highly unpredictable, wayward lot in their choices' (25.5.10). Or as I would put it: they are amateurs armed with quaint criteria.


The computer drawing in the catalogue is trite but the Tourism Malaysia Garden was the best in the 2010 Chelsea Show. The gleaming abstract composition of stepping stones and island planters is elegant and dramatic; the design is well-adapted to the culture and climate of Malaysia; the green wall is good; it is a real garden space with a refreshing pavilion in which to serve gins and tonics with ice. Congratulations to David Cubero, James Wong and the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board.


Robert Myers, again with Cancer Research as his sponsor, is boldly geometrical. His work is more inventive than that of Tom Stuart Smith - but also lacks its highly polished excellence. This is perhaps inevitable with an experimental approach: some of the experiments are very successful and others less-so. The circle in the sky above a circle pool is one of the successes.

Tom Stuart Smith makes a virtue of stylistic consistency - which is what one finds and expects in the work of most painters As usual, the sense of spatial composition is admirably strong. The garden pavilion is strikingly sculptural. Tom's favoured colours and materials are greens, whites, waters and rusts. It is a wonder that he does not make more use of the other colour his sponsors like to use - the gold of Laurent Perrier's champagne bottle tops. But the judges usually step in with a gold medal.

Andy Sturgeon made good use of mild steel columns for the Daily Telegraph garden and it has some pleasing visual effects. But it lacks a spatial sense and it is difficult to imagine any normal garden functions taking place in the various compartments. Apart from the superior quality, it is most like a display garden at a garden centre. The RHS thought it was the best garden in the show, probably because it has more flowers than the other contenders.


I do not understand why Leeds City Council makes such dreary 'gardens' - nor why the RHS have given them a Gold Medal for it. Honesty is of course a virtue but Leeds is not such a dull city and the aim, presumably, is to attract more visitors. Canal locks are of course wonderful things, but they are not gardens and I see no reason why they should be planted with flowers. Muscularity is great.

There is difference between a garden and an advertisment. Would the Chelsea selectors accept an oversized coke bottle with the words Coca Cola as a floral tribute around its base? I hope not.