A Garden That Commits; a Show Garden from the Chelsea Flower Show
April 18, 2010
Allan in A.P.L.D., Adrian Bloom, Andrew Fisher Tomlin, Chelsea Flower Show, Garden Design, Shrubs, The Daily Telegraph Garden, Tom Stuart-Smith, Whitney Freeman-Kemp, contemporary garden, minimalist garden, perennials, show gardens

Image courtesy of A.P.L.D.Here is an example of a Garden That Commits. I first learned about this concept garden from Whitney Freeman-Kemp, of Connecticut, USA, in January 2010, when she blogged about it at the site of the Association of Professional Landscape Designer. According to Ms. Freeman-Kemp, gardens that commit are identified as having “..a strong and clean motif or colors that are emphasized or go for broke….These gardens you will love or you will hate. But the ones that you will love you will never forget.”

Gardens That Commit, are also known as show gardens, and they are intended to, literally, stop traffic. While several of these can be seen on Whitney’s blog, the garden I feature here is the one that riveted my attention. It is titled “The Daily Telegraph Garden” and was designed by Tom Stuart-Smith for the Chelsea Flower Show, in the UK, in 2006. There, it won a gold medal and a Best in Show Award. In this garden, modern geometry combines with a postmodern approach to material handling. Rusted copper colored steel sheeting serves as a background wall while weathered oak and stones cover the  floors. It is a minimalist contemporary garden, planted in the spirit of a prairie, meadow or steppe garden.

All of the images posted here are different perspectives of the same garden. They demonstrate a masterful and abundant use of, flowers, ornamental grasses, and material handling. To understand how the designer created this garden, it helps to know that it is composed of four layers: - The first consists of two staggered groups of Viburnum rhytidfophylium that frame the view into the garden and that provide height. The image at the top of this post demonstrates the use of Viburnum.

Image via shootgardening.com.ukThe second layer is made up of a hedge of Carpinus betulus [similar to Fagus sylvatica] planted on two sides of the garden and alternating with the rusted steel panels.




Image via tomstuartsmith.co.ukBuxus hedges that under-plant the Viburnum make up the third layer.


Image via bbc.co.ukThe fourth layer consists of a flower composition using 44 perennials. The theme governing the choice of flowers is drought tolerant plants, in shades of rust, blue, purple, white, and grey.


Image via shootgardening.co.ukFor drought tolerance, the designer used  Iris Germanica, Knautia, Ornamental grasses, Salvia , Stachys, and Verbascum, and Ornamental Grasses. Scroll back to the top of this page to see how the designer incorporated the grasses into the master plan.

shootgardening.co.ukAmong the 44 perennials used, the rust color is supplied by Anemanthele lessoniana, deep red Astrantia, Euphorbia griffithi, Geum coppertone, and Geum georgenburg.  The dramatic use of soft blues and purples, balances out the earthy copper. This is achieved by using Geranium Phillipe Vapelle, and Nepeta Walker’s Low.

shootgardening.co.ukGilemia trifoliate and Orlaya grandiflora supply a dash of white.





shootgardening.co.ukSilver-grey color balances out the metal motif with the use of Stachys byzantina and Verbascum bombyciferum.





Landscape designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin of London, UK, commented on the concept of Gardens That Commit by reminding readers that a show garden’s strong theme is more suitable for public places than residential gardens. Designers intend such gardens to look superb for the brief period of a show. They do not plan them for private grounds, unless the park or estate can contain the garden’s energy, without overpowering the rest of the landscape. Adrian Bloom, in his newly published book, Blooms Best Perennials and Grasses, reminds us that, unlike show gardens with a short life, actual gardens, with year round interest and an intended longevity, require strategic planning from a more realistic point of view.

I chose to share Mr. Stuart-Smith’s Chelsea 2006 show garden with my readers merely for the visual entertainment it provides. Gardeners that have experimented with their own bold color combinations, understand the challenge of making these gardens aesthetically sustainable over time.


The following sites were helpful in illustrating this post.




Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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