Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Chelsea Flower Show

The Chelsea Flower Show opened yesterday, but only to the Queen and the Royal Family, the great and the good, the famous and not so famous like the press….and lucky old me.

As I explained about the show last year - just read the Chelsea blog of May 2007 by looking through my archive – and you can see it all on television anyway, I’m going to take this opportunity of doing a bit of professional soap-boxing.

If I’ve heard the remark, “It’s very green this time”, or, “There’s not a lot of colour in the show gardens”, once this year then I’ve heard it ten times. And I can only repeat what I say in reply: “Gardens should be green and green is a colour”.

But of course I know what they mean: some people like riotous clashing colours, others like toning shades of pastels or vibrant hues in their beds and borders. But these colours would all be unbearable without the background green of the leaves or grass. In the marquee and in many of the show gardens small and large there were some amazing flowering plants, whether bulbs, perennials or annuals. All were quality plants which were breathtakingly beautiful, spectacular, delicate or just plain pretty.

But a garden of green can be colourful and interesting in its own right. There are very many greens: pale, bright, dark, light, yellow, acid, variegated. And there are very many textures to leaves: crinkled, smooth, glossy, matt, ribbed, rough, feathery. Shapes? What about leaf shapes: round, linear, heart-shaped, oval, dissected, palmate. Then the very form and size of the plant adds an enormous interest. And put together these all create a pattern, or lots of different patterns, that add interest by their contrast or complimentary qualities.

So an all green garden can provide colour, texture, form, pattern, shape and size. Just look at the garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith for Laurent-Perrier: this is one of the show gardens described by many as Very Green, and Not a Lot of Colour. But it is the most interesting garden because the designer has combined all the above with an interesting layout, real attention to detail and the use of top quality plants.

Although, look again, and the design does include either subtle hints of another colour – mostly white – or occasional splashes of something other than green as a highlight. And there is drama: the trees he has used for height - hornbeams – are pruned in a highly unusual way. Water is there too, always a pleasing component, and its smooth, dark surface reflects the different elements. Believe me, the garden’s a knock-out.

Of course gardens of the past were often very green: look at the clipped edged beds and hedges of eighteenth century gardens or the landscapes of Capability Brown, all sinuous shapes of smooth green and clumps of trees. And those classical gardens of Italy with their evergreen box and yew in pots or tubs of green leaved fruit trees. We are drawn to those landscapes: we love our parks with their grass and trees, our urban street trees, our countryside hedgerows and verges. Why do we like them so much? Why have these landscapes such a timeless appeal?

Those designers of yesteryear knew what we seem to have forgotten with all our choice of flowers and bulbs: that green is a very calming colour, a colour to refresh the spirit and the rest the mind. And we all seem to need a bit of that nowadays.


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