Is this your idea of the perfect garden?
Vibrant flower borders encased in perfect hedging, with complementary and sophisticated architectural bits and pieces. Or does your heart pull you more in this direction?
Subtle, manipulated ‘naturalism’, slightly unruly and chaotic but with the promise of a relaxing afternoon in the shade of the olives?
Both approaches to the garden – sophisticated control, and controlled chaos – were on show at Chelsea this year. While I was in awe of the plantings and the designs of the more traditional gardens –
– it was the naturalistic ones that evoked a more nuanced emotional response (usually manifesting as a desire to move in immediately!).
While I appreciated the skill and beauty of the former, I wanted to be in the latter. Unusually, I was on the side of the judges this time, who awarded the big naturalistic Chatsworth garden designed by Dan Pearson for Chatsworth and Laurent Perrier, the Best in Show gong. This garden was big in the physical sense, but also in its grand concept. This is what I had to say about it in the Sydney Morning Herald this week:
Pearsons’s design purported to reproduce some of the lesser-known, wilder areas of the famous Chatsworth estate, namely the rockery built by the brilliant landscape architect-engineer-garden publisher Joseph Paxton in the early 19th century, and the ‘trout stream’, a little creek that loops through the top of the property.
Neither of these parts of the garden at Chatsworth is actually ‘natural’ in the sense of being unmanipulated, and of course their reproduction on a corner block in Main Avenue at Chelsea for a week is even less so. But while the other Chelsea gardens celebrated the hand of the designer and its power to produce images of great beauty, this garden wanted to make the designer invisible, to create the illusion that a section of the Chatsworth estate, naturalised over centuries, had simply been transported, Harry Potter-style, into Chelsea.
The illusion was a fabulous paradox. The more natural and timeless the garden appeared, the greater the art (and science) in making it appear so. Paxton’s rocks were shifted from their actual spot at Chatsworth and repositioned in Chelsea so carefully that the moss on their surfaces was undisturbed. A complex mix of wildflower plantings were grown in trays and laid along the stream edge, under the shrubs and trees and around the rocks like squares of carpet. Even the crevices were planted up, with wild strawberry and lily of the valley.
Gardens always exist on a continuum between chaos and control. At one end a natural landscape, at the other the kind of Tidy Town garden that never lets a fallen leaf rest. The control end of the spectrum is always well-represented at Chelsea. The control of space, of points of view, of planting and timing is all masterful. Pearson’s Chatsworth garden sat in a serene point of balance between control and chaos, artfully producing a perfected image of nature.