Friday, June 10, 2011

CHELSEA 2011 REPORT - Part Two: Press Day Show Garden Highlights

I honestly didn't have time to stop and say "OMG, OMG, I'm at the Chelsea Flower Show". My mindset was more like, "OK, what's the game plan? Where do I start? Do I just start taking photos??". So I did:

First, I strolled through the outdoor gardens and, boy, talk about diversity in styles and function! There were about 17 show gardens and numerous smaller "urban gardens" that were aimed to demonstrate what could be done in a small amount of space.

There were several highlights and with garden design being so subjective, I'm going to highlight a few personal favorites (or photos that turned out well) and why I liked them. I don't want to be overly critical, these are just my casual observations:

B & Q Garden 5
Amazing what great shots you can get without the hoards of people around. This garden drew so much attention as it featured the tallest structure ever built for the Chelsea Flower Show. This was the B&O Garden featuring a modern style that utilizes all edible plants and sustainable building features such as a potting shed that harvests excess water for its own integrated irrigation system, solar panels, a vertical garden of vegetables and herbs also built with its own irrigation system, etc. etc. The only thing that doesn't really come across as sustainable was the perfectly clipped mulberry trees to create this rigid framework that makes the design futuristically chic, but to maintain this look is going to take a lot more work than one might realize.

Malaysia Garden
Chelsea is known for its efforts to draw an international repertoire of designs and designers and this extravagant garden was sponsored by Tourism Malaysia. It might look spectacular from someone who's never been to the tropics and, don't get me wrong; it's truly awesome, but the overall design and palette of plant materials is comparable to that of a trendy shopping mall interiorscape that seems to be installed in every large shopping center in Southeast Asia.

Potted Edibles in courtyard
One of my favorite gardens, I will say had to be this highly overplanted and dense design by Bunny Guinness, who I hear a lot about. I guess what I like about it is the plant palette: it's all so familiar and it's so dense that you feel like you're one with the plantings and they're there for you to savor and enjoy. The lighting captures the essence of this garden to make it feel like a morning stroll through an abundance of fruits and vegetables. It is quite overdone from a design standpoint and certain spaces weren't very well defined as the original sketch submitted made it look more formal than it really turned out to be.

I could go on and on about all the other gardens, but that would just be ridiculous! Hahah.

Looking at these gardens, I look at our own Northwest Flower and Garden Show and I feel like our displays are fairly comparable in terms of execution. The biggest difference is the plant palette since our winter show tend to utilize winter blooming plants with very few things forced to grow out of season and the fact that our show takes place indoors makes it really hard to compare as there are strength and weaknesses with having both kinds of shows.

Both shows are certainly both over-the-top with some practical application to home gardeners and take an extraordinary amount of planning and time to put together.

The timing of Chelsea really maximizes on the availability of so many different plants and many traditional plants that people are very familiar with, so instantly, they're able to relate and marvel at the extravagant displays. Compared to the NW Flower and Garden Show, we have to work a little harder to educate the public who may not know what Sarcoccoca and Helleborus are or why twigs of Cornus sericea, the silk tassels of Garrya or the bark of Betula utilis v. jacquemontii are so attractive and interesting.

Another big difference to are SPONSORS!!! Chelsea is such an iconic name and to even get to be an exhibitor at this show is BIG TIME! What really struck me were the sponsorships that gave money to these gardens. Yes, it's totally advertising for them as well, but for big corporations to just even give a damn about gardens was mindblowing!!

Then I ask, "Why can't Microsoft, Starbucks, Macy's, Amazon, etc. take a very small portion of their vast advertisement budgets and provide support for a garden?? Have they even been approached about such an endeavor?"

I think the problem with these American companies is they're so insistent on having their name and image everywhere they put their money into and for garden designers, they refuse to just "sell out" and cater to their sponsors when they need to sell themselves as well.

Chelsea seems to find a good balance of actually sticking to the principles of the show, yet still gaining the sponsorships and support necessary to make it as successful as it has been.

As always there are more photos on my Flickr page, but there are more stories to come from press day. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

CHELSEA 2011 REPORT - Part One: "Wow, how'd I get here?"!"

It's been several weeks since this all happened, but it's crazy to think that I actually did what I did: I got to come to England, I got to stay for free with a world-renowned botanist, I met up with a friend I met on Facebook to visit a few gardens and nurseries and, of course, I got to attend THE GREATEST FLOWER SHOW IN THE WORLD! People may argue whether it really is the greatest, but it's certainly the most prominent and being able to attend PRESS DAY, I understood why it has coined that distinction.

It was a bus ride from my professor's apartment to Hammersmith Station on the infamous TUBE and Sloan Square was my stop. Already, evidence that there's a big plant show coming was already quite obvious:

Entrance and Exit from TubeAds everywhere

Getting a PRESS PASS is almost like winning the lottery it seemed like. I was encouraged by colleagues here to TRY and get in during press day to avoid the massive crowds. So, I went to the RHS website for media and press and found an online application which stated my intentions for wanting to come during press day.

Press Pass for press day

A few months later, I was granted accreditation and had to pick up my pass and wristband the day before. Kinda ghetto that we had to write our own name and it wasn't printed on, but oh well. I WAS IN!

Being that it was my first time attending, I took a very early morning bus to get there around 5AM and I followed a few cameramen to the gate to enter the show. Being told that the entrance was not open yet, we were asked to enter through another entrance across the river Thames. Thankful I didn't have much with me (my point-and-shoot digital camera, my write-in-rain notebook and my bookbag with my extra battery, an extra sweater and some snacks to get me through the long day.

I tried to strike up a conversation with the two cameramen I was walking side-by-side with and inquired about their experience with Chelsea. One of those photographers was Clive Nichols, check out his website here, amazing work. He's been around the world photographing plants and gardens and he directed me to which areas to see first, I barely had time to shoot this shot and take a moment to realize that I had finally arrived:

Marquee Front

A Young Chelsea Designer: Sarah Price

Before I flood this blog of all things Chelsea and UK horticulture, I want to shed some light on a young lady I had the pleasure of meeting at tonight's NHS lecture. While she wasn't at Chelsea this year, she's sort of a veteran with two previous gardens under her belt at the show and numerous other noteworthy projects.

Sarah Price is a landscape designer from the UK that's very quickly rising in the ranks, and according to fellow garden writer, Marty Wingate, she's only 29 y/o. We might be wrong, but she's definitely a youngin'!.

She came to speak about her design process and showcase some of the incredible work. Her list of accomplishments and high profile projects is unbelievable: She's designed 2 gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show, has won a gold medal at the Hampton Court Flower Show (another show I MUST see when I return to the UK!) and one of her current projects entails being a plant consultant for the landscaping being installed for the 2012 Olympic Games in London!

A design for the Chelsea Flower Show.

One of my missions being able to come to the Chelsea Flower Show this year was to observe potential up and coming gardeners. Sarah seems to define what I began to observe and she's just one of many who could lead and continue on a grand tradition that's just so much more recognized and respected over there in England.

The first garden she designed. Not too shabby, eh?

Sarah struck me as a humble, fairly composed young lady with a very strong art backround that she uses to great effect in her design and even in her random doodles, which she wasn't afraid to share even though she claims that they weren't very good, were actually very constructive and quite useful and elegantly done. Her emphasis on "the process" was great to see. Often young designers, or even seasoned professionals always what the high impact image of a "before and after", but seeing preliminary sketches and drafts of her work were actually very interesting.

Getting to chat with her afterwards, I think I might have overdone it with the enthusiasm as I was just so pleased to meet and see someone my age be so successful, talented, yet she also possessed a shyness and apprehensiveness that makes her a real 20-something year old who has a lot of room to develop and grow.

Some may argue, "too much too soon", but if you've got the experience, the drive, the talent and the work ethnic to pull off a veteran project, why not?! Her style is quite natural and she uses the open meadow effect with mass plantings intermixed with various forms and textures and there's a light and airy quality to it that's pleasing to the eye. She uses plants that are relatively common, but again, to great effect.

I wish her luck as they continue building the London 2012 site and I hope she visits the NW again so she can visit the mountains and natural areas here, visit more gardens and meet more of her fellow next generation gardeners!