MARCUS BARNETT

Marcus Barnett

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What Chelsea Flower Show can teach us about our own gardens
19 May 2017

Marcus Barnett is an award winning landscape and garden designer, winning, amongst other things, gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2005 and also in 2006, when he designed a garden for Savills. Over the years of working with Marcus he has been a valued adviser to many of our clients and is always happy to discuss projects without any obligation. To see more of Marcus’ work you may wish to visit his website, www.marcusbarnett.com.  

 

In previous years the Chelsea Flower Show week would be the most daunting of deadlines. The culmination of months of preparation and a final sprint before judgement day. It can be exhausting and nerve-wracking in equal measure, but mainly hugely exciting. This year we won’t be involved directly in the Show, but it’s nonetheless a well-circled week in the calendar - that week of floral mania, unseasonably bad weather and warm Pimms.

The Show attracts thousands of visitors every year, the mood ranging vastly from the glamour of the opening night to the frantic bargain-hunting at the last day’s sell-off. At least some of these visitors come looking for inspiration for their own gardens. But just how helpful can the Show actually be when the gardens on display are not so much gardens as installations, floral arrangements and a spectacle. It’s not by chance that it’s called a Show.

The RHS’s criteria for Chelsea gardens are many and various, each encouraging the creation of the ‘perfect’ garden, an apotheosis. They are designed to show what a garden might be, if numerous realities were swept away. In much the same way as we may look at clothes on catwalk models as distant and unachievable, so the Show garden seems compared to our own patches of home ground. For example, each of the gardens, not just those on the main avenue, are designed to be at their very best for a week, and a week only (although many are now given a second life elsewhere). In short, a Chelsea garden is built to be ephemeral, a day lily of a showstopper.

But all of this is not to say we can’t find inspiration or motivation from those intensely thoughtful patches of horticulture. Far from it, this is exactly what they should be. Sources of inspiration, a pinterest board of ideas for your garden. Attempts at exact replication should be avoided at all costs.

Last year the theme of the most successful main avenue gardens seemed to be a wild beauty and relied on a sense of place above all else. James Basson’s Provençal garden did this particularly well. But this evocation of a place is initially hard to replicate, the danger of pastiche hangs just around the corner, although the essence of this idea holds true; a garden should be sensitive to its surroundings, sit happily with the landscape. All of us can achieve this fairly easily, by looking out for local features, or craftsmen still working with traditional crafts, for example.

The Show does offer the best place to keep an eye on trends in garden design. Go back ten years and the look was more structured and formal, markedly different from last year’s displays, reflective of a wider shift in garden design. This year there may well be another inflection on the current trend. These moods can act as a guide within which to approach a garden, we know that sometimes it might feel difficult to know where to start.

New colour and planting combinations are perhaps the horticultural nuggets that any visitor can take away from Chelsea. Workable on all scales, from small city gardens to vast country estates, this is the easiest way to suffuse one’s own garden with an element of Chelsea fizz and sparkle. It’s also something to play about with, an experiment, in much the same way as the designers at Chelsea use the show, as an opportunity to explore new ideas and try things out in an environment where reality lies just outside the door.

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