THE SILK ROAD

DESIGNERS Patrick Collins and Laurie Chetwood SPONSOR Chengdu government CONTRACTOR Willerby Landscapes

“THIS IS my fourth Chelsea show garden with Laurie. We tend to brainstorm an idea to come up with a concept, then go off and develop it individually – Laurie looking at the architectural, structural side and me on the planting,” says Patrick.
“Laurie had several Chinese contacts and approached the Chengdu Provincial Government with this idea; they were keen to promote awareness of their culture and the historic significance of The Silk Road as a trade and cultural link between east and west – something that’s particularly resonant again now. 
“In the design our Silk Road is a path that leads through a stylised mountain range made from giant red fins, coloured ropes and ribbons to create a sense of flow through the landscape. The path leads visitors through the garden, offering views of the planting from different aspects.
“The circular gold disk represents the symbollic Legend of the Sun and the Immortal Birds, with four birds that represent the four seasons. We wanted to include it because it’s also the city logo. 
“Sichuan Province has a huge number of plants so what we’re showing here is just a snippet of its overall flora. We’ve got Viburnum pragense clipped into cloud pruned shapes, Euonymus alatus, rhododendrons, primulas and mecanopsis, and also Chinese wild ginger Asarum splendens and the Chinese trumpet flower, Incarvillea delavayi.
"One of the main challenges for me lies in the fact that although there are so many Chinese plants to choose from - 40,000 different spedies - they need to be in flower in late May and commercially available.
"I ended up dividing them into three broad groups: plants we always associate with Chinese, plants that have a wider distribution but include China, and plants that have Chinese ancestry such as hybrids developed more recently. In the process we’re trying to highlight the importance of Chinese flora to horticutural world. 
“The colour scheme will be mixed – including vivid pink Primula beesiana and orange P. bulleyana, so we’ll have to be careful they don’t clash with the fins. These will be made of plywood for light weight and portability, as the garden will have to be shipped elsewhere afterwards.
"We’ve got the prestigious Triangle Site this year, so visitors will be able to walk around it and enjoy the different aspects of the garden.  Our biggest challenge will be narrowing down the huge amount of flora - there are 40,000 different species to choose from, and we’re trying to zone in and represent the Sechuan Province in such a way you’re focusing on the right kind of message and story. It’s a bit daunting!”