Other people's gardens

Charlie Albone goes to Chelsea

Landscape designer Charlie Albone has just shipped three big bluestone slabs to England. Originally part of a solid 19th century Melbourne bank, in May the slabs will form part of the water feature at the back of Albone’s garden design for the Chelsea Flower Show.

It will be Albone’s second attempt at winning a gold medal at Chelsea, and it’s not going to be easy. The bid to turn gardening, surely the planet’s least competitive activity, into an Olympics-style competition forces Chelsea’s Royal Horticultural Society judges to be hawkishly pedantic. Albone’s slip-ups last year: “I had written in my brief that the garden was to be enclosed by a hedge, but my hedging plants didn’t have enough leaves to enclose the garden,” he explains. “Also some lighting points needed to be better hidden, a few plants were in the wrong place…”

Charlie Albone Chelsea 2015

Here’s Charlie in his Chelsea 2015 garden, sponsored by Husqvarna, suited up for judging.

In the vein of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, within a month of his silver-gilt disappointment, Albone had decided to return to Chelsea. Partly he says, it’s the highly competitive sliver of him that wants that gold. “Also it’s fun. There’s a great atmosphere for the 21 days of the build and the show, and you get to design and build what you want.”

Charlie Albone garden Chelsea 2015

My favourite part of Charlie’s Chelsea 2015 garden was the water feature, which seemed in inhale and exhale as it filled and drained away. A little too quickly to be as moving as it could have been, but it had to be fast enough to catch the crowd’s attention.

Like the 2015 garden, this year’s design presents the garden as a place of emotional healing. “I have a busy life, with tv [Albone is a presenter of Selling Houses Australia], two young kids, a business, and Chelsea, and my own garden gives me a lot of support. Being in the garden settles me and I wanted to show that.”

Support: The Husqvarna Garden is imagined as a garden for a busy professional couple. An entrance flanked by mature banksias leads to a sunken lawn, backed by water falling silkily over those bluestone slabs. The lawn will be fringed by purple, white and pink perennials spiked with acacia, protea, and dark purple leucadendron.

The perennials will be sourced in the UK, but the Australian and South African plants are grown in nurseries in Spain, and Albone spent a speedy four days at the end of February visiting 14 nurseries to choose the individual plants. By April 30 when they head to the competition the team of eight will have gone over every detail of the build, because nipping down to Bunnings for something you forgot is not an option.

This year Albone reckons the hot competition will be from two-time Best in Show winner Cleve West; Dairmid Gavin, whose work inspired Albone to take up a career in landscape design; and James Basson, whose ‘Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse’, for l’Occitane, was Albone’s favourite from the Chelasea 2015 line-up show. [You can read more about that garden and the Best in Show for 2105 here.]

Chelsea 2015 James Basson

James Basson’s gorgeous 2015 landscape for L’Occitane was, A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse.

It’s three years since Melbourne landscape designer Philip Johnson won a gold medal and Best in Show at Chelsea, the first time for an Australian designer.

Philip Johnson Chelsea 2013

In case you’d forgot, this was Philip Johnson’s winning garden. If you ever get a chance to listen to him tell the story of the win, grab it.

Consequently it was the first time in living memory that gardening took up front page space on Australian newspapers. Albone is keen that an Australian presence continue at Chelsea. “Our quality of design and tradesmanship is excellent and I think it’s important that’s represented on the world stage,” he says. Yes, but can he deliver garden-lovers another headline!

It’s time to:

Pick a free tree
The City of Sydney is giving away 1000 free trees to residents of the City of Sydney next Saturday, March 12 at Sydney Park. There are small medium, deciduous, evergreen, native and exotic choices. Take a rates notice or driver’s license to prove your bona fides. The giveaway starts at 10am and lasts only til the 1000th tree.

See roses
Goulburn calls itself the City of Roses and boasts more than 8000 named roses in its public gardens alone, as well as its own rose, ‘City of Goulburn’, a floribunda with scallop-edged apricot blooms. The city’s annual rose festival in on March 12-13. Details: www.goulburnrosefestival.org.au.

Volunteer for Vaucluse House
Vaucluse House is looking for new garden volunteers to maintain and develop the gardens, in particular the heritage kitchen garden. Volunteers work every second Monday 9am-1pm. Here’s the application information.  Applications close March 14.

Get to the Fair
Lanyon is an historic homestead and garden on the southern outskirts of Canberra. In autumn it plays host to the Canberra Plant Fair. This year more than 30 stallholders will gather on March 12 and 13, from 10am-4pm. More: www.hsoc.org.au

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2 thoughts on “Charlie Albone goes to Chelsea

    • Robin Powell says:

      Oops. Well-spotted Veroncia. This story was written for an early March issue of Spectrum. Gardening was shunted out of the paper that week to make way for a story about the Spectrum Now Festival. I forgot to update the It’s time to for this post when the story finally appeared in the paper this week (with a timely It’s time to!)

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