Garden name The Morgan Stanley Garden • Designer Chris Beardshaw • Sponsor Morgan Stanley • Build Chris Beardshaw
“FOR THIS YEAR’S show garden I wanted to revel in the fact that as a nation we have traditionally produced very lavish floral borders and here I want to reawaken people’s interest.
“RHS Chelsea show gardens have gone through all sorts of fads and fashions and the time is right, I feel, for a flower-rich garden. I want to reassure gardeners that it is possible to create these fabulous planting schemes without taking a resource-heavy, slavish approach that’s a lot of hard work.
“As ever I’ll be selecting the right plants for the conditions they’ll be growing in; this is the best way to keep plants healthy and growing well without recourse to chemicals and artificial fertilisers.
“The idea came from conversations about sustainability with the sponsor, Morgan Stanley; to design a herbaceous-rich garden, which will encourage conversation about how we, as gardeners, can manage resources more sensitively. The project looks at how we can move away from traditional, often linear practices of make, use, dispose, towards a more circular approach [in our gardens], minimising waste and keeping resources in use as long as possible.
“In many ways gardening isn’t all that green. Here we took the view that we wanted everything in the garden to be judged against the circular principle. For instance, the compost we’re using is generated from salvaged, water washed minerals and garden waste, which makes a positive change from coir- and peat-heavy products.
“The plants are all being grown in the new, 100% recyclable taupe plastic pots. It’s long been a mantra in commercial growing that ‘black plastic pots are best to warm the compost’, but actually, in tests by Kelways [the nursery producing all Chris’s plants this year] they’ve found the plants respond incredibly well to the taupe ones. The bonus here is the fact they are fully recyclable through council waste collection.
“We’re also pursuing an approach where we aren’t growing the plants under heat this year, nor are we going with a heavy fertiliser-rich growing regime - we’re just relying on the nutrients locked into the compost. So, everything we’ve put in - compost, pots fertiliser - is trying to bring plants to the show garden in the most efficient way possible.”
“We’ve applied the same principle to the buildings and materials we’re using, too. For pavers we’ve used porcelain, as it uses a high proportion of waste product in its manufacture, compared to quarried stone and is much more sustainable than stone.
“The engineering behind the two pavilions means they’re both lightweight, so easier to transport and construct on site, and also recyclable after the Show. Instead of using solid slate for the structure at the far end of the garden, we’re using a pioneering slate veneer that’s just 1mm thick and resin-bonded to the building beneath; it has the same serviceability and aesthetic of the raw material but it’s a lot lighter. The adjacent building is made from compressed strips of pine, bonded together so it’s strong as steel and allows us to support the cantilevered roof and is sustainably produced.
“For the curvilinear shelter floors we’ve used crushed and de-fibred bamboo that’s been pressure treated and heated to produce a wooden product that’s more resilient than hardwood.
“In previous years we’ve used heavy concrete blocks and render to build the garden walls, but this year the far wall uses micro-plaster and micro-render products that can be painted onto a smooth canvas in layers to create a light weight board just 12mm thick.
“It’s impossible to say the show garden is completely sustainable garden, but we’re certainly moving towards that goal. Even in the build process we’re using battery-powered vehicles and tools to keep the carbon footprint low, but hopefully without compromising on the beauty of the garden.”
“The main focal point in the planting is the dramatic pine tree, where nature has played a leading hand in shaping its trunk. Over the years, wind had blown it into 30deg angle, and where other nurseries might have thrown it out as unsaleable, this one was saved by the growers. I saw the sculpture in it immediately.
“Other trees include a large, standard Zelcova serrata tree, which has fresh, lime-green foliage and casts fabulous dappled shade so we can plant some perennials underneath. On the right-hand side is a scruffy old hawthorn – I wanted to celebrate one of our native trees. This specimen was grown as a multi-stem; they’re hardworking, resilient and sculptural, with floral bounty and fruits for wildlife.
“A series of neatly clipped yew lozenges lead the way into the garden – a metaphor for nature and the circular approach I’m taking here – and behind them are the glamorous herbaceous perennials.
It’s going to be a real mix of white, blue, yellow and pink, and flashes of orange for a bit of spice. I’ll be playing with the way old herbaceous borders were put together, using a series of well-defined contours, with taller plants at the back and shorter ones in the front. Within this layered approach, there will be a scalloped pattern of planting, so you can see the maximum amount of plants from any viewpoint. This design allows one plant to lean on its neighbours for natural support, reducing the need for staking.
“In effect it’s like a jigsaw of pieces which all have the job of supporting their neighbour and allowing for a transition of colour. It removes the need for weeding, so the only maintenance jobs are trimming down the plants and mulching them with organic matter after the season. It’s an idea pioneered in the long borders at Arley Hall, Cheshire, in the mid-1800s. Here I’ve updated the idea so it’s more relatable.
“Planting a herbaceous border isn’t about choosing plants so everything is in flower at the same time. Instead it’s about allowing some of the foliage to play a role – using the ‘sorbet course’ of green texture. We don’t want to create a kaleidoscope. So, you might have a shrub rose in flower beside a clematis in bud and then a euphorbia coming through in darker purple as an understorey. It’s all designed for a succession of flower to make a resilient tapestry.”
CHRIS’S PLANT PICKS
Some of the plants I’ll be using are often overlooked, but they’re all fabulously resilient.
• Anthemis puntata cupiana (Scilian chamomile). Delicate ferny foliage and looks like an oxeye daisy with blooms right across the plant. May-July. H40cm (16in) S80cm (32in) Pic: Beth Chatto
• Digitalis ‘Illumination’ series. These are colourful, overexcited plants with lush foliage and a bevy of blooms. June-Nov. H90cm (35in) S45cm (18in) Pic: Thompson & Morgan
• Erigeron annuus (tall fleabane). An appearance almost like a firecracker, with vibrant green upright stems and flowers born on every shoot like a sparkler. June-Oct. H1m (3ft 3in) S60cm (24in). Pic: Great Dixter
• Geranium maderense. One of my trademark plants - a delight with unabashed lipstick-pink blooms and great zest. May-July. H1m (3ft 3in) S 80cm (32in). Pic: Thompson & Morgan
• Lupin ‘Persian Slipper’. Super electric blue flower spikes on stout stems with no gaps. May-June. H75cm S60cm (24in). Pic: PlugPlants.net
• Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (species daylily). Primrose-yellow fluted single trumpets blooming May-June. H1m (3ft 3in) S40cm (16xin). Pic: Crocus
• Phlox Carolina ‘Bill Baker’. Many phloxes have lovely fragrance but are slightly hard work. This one is an early flowering lilac blue that’s beautifully scented on an evening - so an absolute must. May-August. H and S60cm (24in). Pic: Beth Chatto