Creating a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in under three weeks is no mean feat considering the starting point is a green field site in central London. Contractors and designers gain access around the 1 of May and have to move mountains of earth in a very confined space to allow plants or large trees to be craned and heaved into place. However things are coordinated like a well choreographed ballet with precision timings so that every garden has the opportunity to finish on time and be in the running for an RHS medal come Tuesday morning.
The show gardens and great pavilion displays may be the stars of the show but it’s the landscape contractors who are perhaps the unsung heroes. For his first Chelsea show garden Jonathan has chosen to work with a very experienced contractor in Mark Richardson from Stewart Landscape Construction.
When talking about his garden Jonathan often refers to it as a ‘garden’ within a ‘landscape’ and a representation of that landscape (the Cape Fold Mountains) will be recreated as the backdrop to the garden with 40 tonnes of quartzite stone sourced from near Glencoe in Scotland. The team have completed a mock up of every rock, numbering each one for ease of positioning when it comes to the onsite build.
Perhaps the biggest challenges on this build have been with the rocks, sourcing and trying to carry the same colour tones through the garden (reds, oranges etc). Overall the garden and everything in it will have a slightly weathered, aged and sunbaked feel to it.
The windows and door of the homestead will be painted in dark green, Western Cape style. The gate in the garden wall was inspired by visits to the many wine estates that are found in and around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The sourcing of the terracotta tiles for the patio of the homestead has proved tricky but a solution came from Antique Style Flooring’s terracotta replica tiles.
The render for the house and garden walls will have a rough authentic finish and the thatch will be recycled. In South Africa the thatch would be made from fynbos restios, an example of how the landscape carries through to the house and garden. Aged wooden oak wine barrels will serve as planters on the terrace.
From the perspective of the landscaper, the homestead construction is not without its challenges, in that, given the weather, it has not been easy to keep the wooden frame and cladding dry, and warping was a major worry. The cement-board clad wooden skeleton will be carefully rendered on site at Chelsea by two master Partgeters.
Partgeting is an ancient form of ornate exterior plastering still practised by a few artisans in Suffolk and much like expert thatching, it is now a dying art. Two thatchers will thatch almost 140 bundles of Norfolk reed in just 4 days. The thatch needs to look authentically weathered to give the right character to the show garden and so they have sourced 3 year old thatch.
The construction of the garden wall is particularly interesting because it incorporates old and new technologies. The coping is actually made out of stryrofoam that is then going to be rendered to look authentic. Landscaper Mark believes this may be a Chelsea Flower Show 1st.
Designer Jonathan Snow’s inspiration for the garden came after a visit to South Africa. He has returned many times to walk in the fynbos with a local botanist who shared his knowledge about this vegetation which is seriously under threat from invasive non native species, urbanisation and agriculture. It is Jonathan’s hope this garden will go some way to raising awareness of the smallest but most botanically diverse of the world’s six plant kingdoms.