Creating a show garden is not just about producing something that is breath taking and beautiful, you also need to meet a brief – just like designing a garden for a client in a design business, or simply creating a home garden for yourself.
What a lot of people do not understand when you enter a garden show is that you need to tell the judges who the garden is supposed to be for and what you are trying to achieve. For example, the garden might be a family friendly space, an entertainers delight, a chic city courtyard or even a conceptual piece inspired by an experience you have had.
Once you have your brief in place the garden must meet the criteria you have set in every way possible. Like all gardens a great design starts with the layout, placing your spaces throughout the area in a way that gives a usable format with impact and having the correct scale and proportion is the best place to start.
When I designed my second Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2016, I designed a chic city garden with a stylish sunken lawn and this was one of the first spaces I laid out on the design. Former garden selector for the Chelsea flower show, head lecturer for the London College of garden design and a friend of mine, Andrew Fisher Tomlin, once told me “a lawn should never be so small so you cannot lay out on it and enjoy staring up at the sky.” This stuck with me as I started the planning of this garden.
Once you have a layout you can start thinking about the details – this is often the junctions where materials meet, the layout and pattern in the paving and the selection of the plants. For me the plants are the biggest and most exciting part of any garden be it a home garden or a show garden. In real life a garden is always evolving, as plants grow micro climates change and things come and go with the changes of season. In a show garden the whole planting palette needs to be horticulturally correct at that moment in time and its judged against the brief you put in. This also comes down to the variety of lawn you select – remember it is a plant too!
For a family friendly garden, you would want a lawn that is hard wearing, something like DNA certified Sir Walter. For a drought tolerant garden TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda is the only grass in the world with a water accreditation approval so it would suit perfectly. For a chic city garden or a luxurious and stylish space Sir Grange Zoysia would be a great choice.
Designing a show garden is also about pushing the boundaries so you can inspire the thousands of people who come to see the garden. As a designer we are always looking for the new ways to turn the standard on its head and with grass this comes in the form of Sir grange Zoysia.
This turf variety is unique in the fact when you mow this grass to a standard backyard height it gives you a manicured fine leaf and stylish appearance but if left unmown it grows to an even 300mm, doesn’t get covered in seed heads where it can look scrappy but instead looks like a vibrant, luscious green native looking feature grass. Having this versatility in a single variety of grass means you can create great impact by leaving the edges and areas around trees wild and deep green and still hitting the mark like a traditional grass where it is mown.
Caring for a show garden is a very different concept to caring for a garden in the real world. Show gardens only last for a maximum of one week where as home gardens are for ever (unless you get bored and change the whole thing!) and this is something that needs to be considered when selecting all your plants and lawn.