Ovens making heather fashionable at Chelsea

Cloudy Bay designer Sam Ovens has said he wants to bring heather back into fashion at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. The "controversial" heather, as well as pines and grasses, make it an unusual garden for Chelsea, he said, while the use of heather at the show has been "twee" and "wrong" in the past.

Ovens: chosen to design Cloudy Bay garden for Chelsea
Ovens: chosen to design Cloudy Bay garden for Chelsea

Ovens said some of his plants are three months ahead because of the mild winter, which has "made things a little more complicated". He wants an "un-Chelsea" design that is "bold and simple but you can look closer and see a lot of subtleties and hidden depths".

But Alan Newsham, owner of heather grower Twin Acres, said heathers are "resurging" because of the bumblebee’s decline. Heathers provide bees with flowers in the winter when there are few other plants in flower, he added.

The Outdoor Room is the contractor on the show garden and Hortus Loci is supplying the plants. The primary planting is grasses and represents nature rather than a garden. Although Ovens has not been to New Zealand — home of Cloudy Bay Vineyards — the design reflects the heathland landscape of his home county Cornwall, which he said is similar.

The cost of the garden is a six-figure "mid-budget", he added. Materials used include concrete, zinc and cedar. Trees are from Germany and Belgium and bilberries are from Sweden. Ovens was a late replacement for the Rich Brothers this autumn. Cloudy Bay identified the designer via RHS feedback and liked that he had won the young designer competition.

Last year the Riches’ Cloudy Bay garden cost £180,000. Ovens is on the triangle site at Chelsea, which he said means "a lot of technical issues have to be resolved", and the brief was "quite open".

Ovens studied garden design at University College Falmouth under Richard Sneesby and Matt James, as did fellow Chelsea designer and young designer winner Hugo Bugg. The loss of the garden design course there is an "unfortunate thing for the industry but it was a struggle with numbers they could get on courses", said Ovens, who was among the last graduates from the course. James is now a senior lecturer and leads the degree-level garden and landscape design delivery at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

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