RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 – Best in Show

by | Exhibition

With more than 30 gardens on display at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, the event is bigger than ever before – impressive given the tightness of the space. Significantly there are also many more women designers (7 out of 17, contrasted with only 2 out of 15 last year). This year HM the Queen’s 90th birthday is celebrated throughout the show with a floral arch and large photos depicting some of the patron’s 50 or so visits.

The Chelsea Flower Show is of course never just about horticulture and design, it’s also about whatever issue is being actively promoted – and as usual there are many worthy campaigns including: meningitis, slavery, the decline in chalk streams and engaging children with music. And of course the RHS has its own ongoing campaign of Greening Grey Britain with a garden designed by Ann-Marie Powell.

Not a campaign to persuade senior citizens to reduce their carbon foot-print and recycle, but an urgent response to the staggering fact that seven million front gardens in Britain today are completely concrete with no plants at all. In fact compared to a decade ago, three times as many front gardens are now completely paved over. When you also consider the damage inflicted by the fashion to deck over the back garden to habitats, flood risks and to health and wellbeing, the scale of the problem becomes fearfully clear.

The official start of summer may be heralded by the solstice in the third week of June, but it always feels like it’s colourfully, fragrantly and joyfully begun with the Chelsea Flower Show. And next year RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, a new and exciting annual event will be launched, adding to the RHS portfolio of shows that includes Cardiff, Malvern, Chelsea, Hampton Court Palace, Tatton Park and London. The RHS – which is entirely funded by its members, visitors and supporters – may rest assured that the mission by its founders Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood in 1804, to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture – is being admirably continued.

Here are our picks of the best of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

BEST IN SHOW – The Telegraph Garden

Designer – Andy Sturgeon. Sponsor – The Telegraph.

The Telegraph Garden is inspired by the magnitude of geological events that have given shape to our planetary landscapes over millions of years. It is also about climate change and how we humans – within a couple of hundred years – will have had a devastating impact on geological time, which usually works in tens of millions. The gravity of this impact – that is now being referred to as the Anthropocene – is however somewhat out of sync with one of the stated aims of the garden, to demonstrate our relative insignificance. Described as a ‘captured landscape’ – this garden that has won Best In Show – is nevertheless a beautifully subtle balance of artificial and naturalistic elements as well as palette.

The Telegraph Garden highlights the need to adapt gardens to their environments and to futureproof them against a changing climate.

The garden represents a ‘captured landscape’ in which a gently gardened space exists within a larger, wilder setting – reminding us of our own relatively insignificant and fleeting moment on Earth.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER – The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital

Designer – Chris Beardshaw. Sponsor – Morgan Stanley.

The world-class Great Ormond Street Hospital may be experts in healing the bodies of sick children, but gold medal winning veteran Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden, is all about healing minds – particularly of stressed and anxious parents. This masterfully tranquil yet optimistically inspiring garden of virtuoso excellence will be relocated piece by piece onto a second floor rooftop surrounded by other buildings. Chris’ sophisticated design and horticultural skills along with a widely informed awareness of garden history and global traditions, have helped shape this contemplative oasis.

“Parents’ genuine need for a space where they can find emotional and spiritual renewal governed the garden’s design”, explains Chris. Three interlocking pavilions inspired by the Japanese azumaya (summer house), with cut-out screens of oak leaf patterns and timber grids provide a private sanctuary, whilst framing the various vistas onto the woodland plants and the stillness of a canal. This rooftop Hortus Conclusis is a triumph in the fulfilment of its brief and once again confirms Chris’ deservedly unassailable reputation.

The garden features a reflective water feature and a pavilion inspired by Japanese azumaya (summer house) – each interlocking section frames the view of the garden.

The rooftop garden features a rich, green and verdant woodland scheme, sprinkled with pockets of colourful planting and carefully placed statuary.

Chris Beardshaw’s garden will provide a much needed, private and reflective space for parents and families of the children undergoing treatment at the hospital.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER – L’Occitane Garden

Designer – James Basson. Sponsor – L’Occitane en Provence.

The gold medal winning L’Occitane garden is really a masterful reconstruction of a fragment of landscape – and one with particular significance to the brand. It was in the beautiful but harsh environment of Haute Provence, that that the 23 year old Olivier Baussan found a discarded old steam distiller and started producing essential oils from local rosemary and lavender. The garden – recreated by award-winning garden designer James Basson – is as much about what you can see as what you can’t. The design is so convincingly authentic in its conception and detailing of a dried stream bed surrounded by almond trees and local plant life at different stages of growth, that you can imagine the lavender fields, rolling hills and stunted woodland all around. The delicacy, restraint and lightness of touch is truly impressive, and in dramatic contrast to the show gardens that are designed and manicured to within an inch of their lives.

This is an impressively authentic and detailed recreation of an arid garden in Haute Provence, on the edge of an imagined lavender field, rolling hills and stunted woodland.

The L’Occitane Garden celebrates the 40th anniversary of the natural beauty brand by returning to the company’s roots in Provence with this authentic fragment of landscape.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER – The Husqvarna Garden

Designer – Charlie Albone. Sponsor – Husqvarna.

Escaping the stresses and strains of fast-paced modern life is the stated motivation for the Husqvarna Garden. This Australian city garden serves as quiet refuge in which to get away from it all. A square shaped sunken lawn is traversed by a gently moving rectangular water rill, while boxy topiary provides some shade. All this rigid geometry serves to bring the man-made order of the outside world crashing into the purportedly calm oasis of nature. Meanwhile on the far end – a floating cantilevered canopy with patterns referencing iconic Australian buildings, is the point from which to admire the changing theatre of the garden. And like most of these show gardens – with the obvious exception of the L’Occitane garden – change is very much the keynote, as these fantastically high maintenance creations have little to do with the natural life cycles of plants, let alone ‘nature’.

Peace and calm may be the order of the day in this garden, but it is sought through a rigid geometry of square lawns, rectilinear rills and boxy topiary. It is only on the outer raised flanks that flower beds are allowed a faux abandon and exuberance.

This Australian garden is all about escaping the hurly burly cacophony of urban living into a green oasis of calm.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER – Senri-Sentei Garage Garden

Designer – Kazuyuki Ishihara. Sponsor – Senri-Sentei project.

The so-called Artisan Gardens always produce some exceptional examples, and the unusual concept of Senri-Sentei’s Garage Garden, does not disappoint. This is described as a garden for an antique car enthusiast, with the planting designed to complement the vehicle. A two tier structure provides off road shelter for the car while its roof and flank is designed as a place for the family to relax. In expert Japanese fashion, an enormous amount is comfortably crammed into a tiny space. Colourful acers, bonsai and mossy mounds disguise the bulk of the structure, softening its impact and creating a paradisiacal fusion of nature and urbanism. This may be a tiny garden, but it’s a credit to the designer that it feels so expansive and deep, and is well deserving of its gold medal.

“One year is 365 days: mornings, afternoons, evenings – the scene of a garden keeps changing, a myriad of movements. In Senri-Sentei, you can feel a thousand seasons”.

The optical magic of this tiny garden confuses the mind into seeing a very much larger space. The design appears to achieve this clever sleight of hand by its masterly use of the Japanese art of bonsai, combined with larger scale deciduous planting to create the depth and drama of a landscape around a simple garage.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER – Viking Cruises Mekong Garden

Designer – Sarah Eberle. Sponsor – Viking Cruises.

The floating gardens of the silk-weaving regions of Cambodia have inspired the Mekong Garden – awarded the prestigious accolade of Best Artisan Garden. This tiny 7 x 5 m garden is entirely water-based with a small deck leading to a floating lounger style on a traditional fishing boat. Shade is provided by a cantilevered canvas canopy overhead that references local silk weaving and the traditional fishing nets of the Mekong river. The floating beds follow the style of the region and contain an eclectic mix of fruit and vegetables all of which wouldn’t look out of place on the Mekong itself. The garden was designed by eight-times RHS gold medal winner Sarah Eberle, who fascinatingly lives on a farm and doesn’t have a garden herself.

The design reflects the floating gardens found along the Mekong riverbank with references to the silk-weaving work and fishing undertaken by the communities along the route.

Mindful of the risks of using tropical plants, Sarcah Eberle has used temperate British plants to suggest a garden created in the UK by someone who had visited and admired Cambodia’s floating gardens.


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