October 16, 2017

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 Q&A – Artisan – The Seedlip Garden

Celebrating the art of alchemy, Catherine MacDonald uses inspiration from the story of the world’s first distiller of non-alcoholic spirits, Seedlip, to create her garden. Plants featured in the founder’s 17th Century book ‘The Art of Distillation’ have influenced the planting palette. The garden is sponsored by Seedlip with its plants supplied by Hortus Loci.

Q&A with the garden designer, Dr Catherine MacDonald:

When did you first start working on the original design and how long did it take to perfect?

This design is probably the quickest that I’ve ever worked up from concept to finished design, there was such a strong story inspiring the design and I felt such a strong personal interest in it due to my scientific background that it made it a much easier process. It took only a couple of weeks in July last year to come up with the layout, though of course the detailing took longer.

What are the stand out features of this particular garden?

The stand-out features in the garden are probably the sculpture, the copper work and the planting palette.

The sculpture, crafted by Rupert Till, it is an abstract interpretation of the Seedlip story from ‘book to bottle’. The ‘book’ being ‘The Art of Distillation’, published in 1651, that inspired Ben Branson’s journey of discovery, motivating him to experiment with distillation and from which Seedlip, the ‘bottle’, was born. The copper elements running through the garden allude to the importance of the distillation process that takes place in the creation of Seedlip.

The planting scheme is also inspired by a list of plants in the 17th century book, and by ingredients in both Seedlip spirits.  The planting design is conceptual rather than a representation of how plants would thrive in nature, they are included for their relevance to Seedlip as well as to the book.

Did the sponsor provide a detailed brief? If so, how did you interpret this within your design?

This garden is an interpretation of Ben’s and thus Seedlip’s story so although I created the design it is probably one of the most collaborative gardens that I’ve ever worked on. The garden attempts to detail the journey of how Ben discovered 17th century knowledge and was enthralled by it. This enchantment and passion shines through and my challenge was capturing that and recreating it in the demonstrable form of a show garden.

What is so special about having a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show?

Chelsea is our industry equivalent of the Oscars, the eyes of the world are turned upon us so that is both a pressure and a pleasure. It is a chance to push yourself to the extreme and hopefully shine and if you do well then there is no doubt that it will be a career highlight.  The best of the best are at Chelsea – designers, contractors, suppliers and planting teams. A gold medal-winning garden needs all of these to succeed, one can’t work without the support of the others, Chelsea is a team effort. Of all shows it has the most intense build but it also creates the most intense relationships and the camaraderie makes up for the stress – most of the time!

How do you hope the public/visitors will perceive this garden?

I would like people to be intrigued, interested and inspired. I’d like them to see what can happen when you bring to life the magic of science and nature and if that comes across I’ll be happy.

 

Q&A with the contractor, Landform:

What are you looking forward to most about the build?

Working with Seedlip has been a very natural and inspiring process and we’re excited to bring this garden to life. I think it will look fantastic and will definitely be a highlight in Ranelagh Gardens. We’re bringing a team back that worked brilliantly together on the Hartley Botanic garden last year. To have a successful build at Chelsea very much depends on a good team and we’re really pleased to be able to get everyone together again for this garden. The friendships that grow during a Chelsea build can last a lifetime. It’s hard work but it’s great fun.

What’s going to be the biggest challenge on the build?

Being an Artisan garden, we’re in Ranelagh Gardens where there’s a ‘no dig’ rule which presents certain challenges but another is the later start than other gardens, which sometimes leads to a bit of an issue with access, but nothing we can’t overcome. Smaller gardens also don’t necessarily equate to less time needed for completion, there is less space to scrutinise and so every element has to be perfect and work hard for inclusion so we have to make sure that the attention to detail is spot on, there’s no margin for error – not that there ever is with a garden at Chelsea!

Are specialist contractors required for any elements?

Rupert Till, who’s creating the sculpture that runs through the garden, is the only specialist contractor, though we may have some other artists adding a few magical touches to the garden at the end of the build but you’ll have to wait to see those!

If you could take one thing away with you from this garden, what would it be?

It’s been really great to be involved at the start of something special and Seedlip is a company that is definitely special. The connection between the story and the garden is absolute and the whole process has been facilitated by this energy.  We’ve really enjoyed this project and are looking forward to delivering a fantastic build.

Do you think the judges have enough knowledge of the complexity of construction when deciding on the medals?

As an RHS Assessor myself I know that the judging panels consist of multiple disciplines and specialisms so we’re confident that their combined knowledge can cover all of the areas that need to be assessed.

 

Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip, said: “It’s a dream to be selected for RHS Chelsea Flower Show. With design by Dr Catherine MacDonald, build by Landform Consultants and plants by Hortus Loci we have a world class team and the perfect platform to showcase our story.”

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