Charlotte Harris will be reflecting the vast lakes and forests of Canada and has taken inspiration from the country’s geographically vast and ecologically vital Boreal forests and freshwater lakes, as this year celebrates the 150 anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, as well as the tenth year of the RBC BlueWater project. The Garden is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada and the plants are supplied by Hortus Loci.
Q&A with the garden designer, Charlotte Harris:
When did you first start working on the original design and how long did it take to perfect?
I started working on the design in June 2016 when the Royal Bank of Canada first issued their brief to a number of designers. I always knew I wanted it to be inspired by the Boreal forests and had a strong idea of how it might look. I spent the summer exploring design routes and researching the plants that you might find in this area, but it wasn’t until I travelled to the Northern Ontario wilderness in September 2016, and explored the boreal on foot and by canoe, that the detail design and plant list really started to take shape. I sent Hortus Loci a pretty challenging list on my return and they have been amazing in finding characterful, mature trees; tracking down much of the list; and helping to identify alternative options where the native Canadian species have not been possible to find. Like any design it has evolved, changed – and I hope, improved – since it was a series of sketches last summer. Early 2017 was spent visiting suppliers and comparing samples, and now I’m hoping it all comes together.
What are the stand-out features of the garden?
The garden is inspired by a landscape of water and trees. The trees are 40-year-old Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana) that Hortus Loci have sourced. I love them because they are gnarled and full of character. I’m grateful to Kingcombe Aquacare who are executing the design detailing of the pool, which has a naturalistic feel. Around the garden, you’ll see beautiful granite boulders, which Harry Norman from Allgreens managed to find after me being pretty demanding! The terrace uses the same granite – we’re slicing the boulders to form a stylised paved terrace, upon which sits the garden’s Pavilion, designed with Feix & Merlin architects, with structural engineering by Price & Myers, and fabricated by Mike Smith Studio.
Did the sponsor provide a detailed brief? If so, how did you interpret this within your design?
This is the seventh Main Avenue garden that the Royal Bank of Canada has sponsored at RHS Chelsea to raise awareness of the preciousness of freshwater resources, through their RBC Blue Water Project. The gardens they have sponsored reflect this commitment, and this year, their brief specifically noted that it was the 10th anniversary of their RBC BlueWater Project as well as the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. I felt that this was a great opportunity to celebrate the iconic Canadian boreal, which is home to the largest source of unfrozen freshwater on Earth, as well being as the biggest intact forest. It’s impossible to bring the scale and grandeur of this spectacular wilderness into a show garden and instead I hope to make a garden inspired by that place, rather than in any way attempting to replicate it. As such, the hard materials are those vernacular to the boreal’s ecology, using granite as the key hard material, supplemented with timber for the board walks and Pavilion. Copper is used to represent the mineral-rich geology of the habitat. And the planting is either species found there or we have researched similar European substitutes.
What is so special about having a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
Chelsea is a chance for us to experiment, to showcase work, to collaborate, to hear feedback from visitors and judges alike. It’s a place to explore ideas, talk about the bigger issues – such as the preciousness of freshwater and the sanctity of our wild places – and hopefully inspire ourselves and others to do something, however small it seems, to green up our world. It is also an extraordinary place to stretch and challenge ourselves, whether we are designers, contractors or nurseries. Chelsea encourages us to takes risks and put ourselves in places of discomfort – and there have been lots of those moments! – which is absolutely central to being a creative person and developing.
One of the greatest parts of Chelsea is actually the year-long process of making it happen and learning from contractors, plantspeople, specialist fabricators. Every bit of the journey – and that has been at times challenging, frustrating, and nerve-wracking as much as it has been joyful, and celebratory and creative – is necessary. Chelsea also gives us all an opportunity to be part of a great and very positive collective endeavour; the atmosphere during the build-up is always very positive and its wonderful to see friends and faces from the industry working in one place together.
How do you hope the public/visitors will perceive this garden? I hope visitors to the Royal Bank of Canada Garden leave feeling inspired to travel and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in unexpected places. While I did not attempt to recreate the Boreal at Chelsea, I was struck by how natural elements fold around man-made ones, and I hope visitors will enjoy those elements weaved throughout my design, as well as recognise the importance of living in harmony with our ecosystems.
Q&A with the contractor, Landscape Associates:
What are you looking forward to most about building this show garden?
Firstly, where garden brings together many specialist elements, we are really relishing the challenge of bringing them all together harmoniously. As Charlotte says, the garden carries an important message about the use of freshwater resources and the hope is to create something that not only encourages discussion about the subject but also does justice to the natural landscape that inspired it.
What’s going to be the biggest challenge on the build?
We have worked previously on the same plot and logistically it can be very difficult in terms of storage and access for larger plant and deliveries. The other main challenge will be making sure that the co-ordination of all the specialist features is spot on. This being Chelsea there will obviously be a mini monsoon at some point during the build that we’ll need to deal with.
Are specialist contractors required for any elements?
Yes we are working closely with specialist contractors on many elements, the pavilion designed by Feix & Merlin will be manufactured by Mike Smith Studio. Kingcombe Aquacare Ltd are assisting us with the pool construction and Jonathan Blackburn is constructing the Larch boardwalks. Allgreen Group are sourcing and supplying the stone elements and Hortus Loci are sourcing and supplying all the plants.
If you could take one thing away with you from this garden, what would it be?
This is a tough question, I’m very tempted to say the Jack Pines but I think I would have to take the pavilion. It is a stunning structure and I think it could look amazing in a number of settings.
Do you think the judges have enough knowledge of the complexity of construction when deciding on the medals?
I think the judges look first and foremost at the brief and the execution of it when deciding on medals which is as it should be. This is only the second year of the constructors’ award and that recognition is important. I think they should have a good enough knowledge and last year they probably called it right.
Nicola Carroll, senior manager of corporate citizenship at the Royal Bank of Canada, said: “This is the seventh consecutive year that Royal Bank of Canada has had a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and it is always a rewarding experience for clients and employees. The show provides a great platform to raise awareness of the RBC Blue Water Project and the importance of freshwater as a valuable natural resource, encouraging visitors to consider sustainable water management in their own lives. It is also a great opportunity to work with and support talented designers and to see their ideas come to life after months of planning.”