Chelsea’s show gardens are better built this year and far more varied in design than in recent years, said veterans of the RHS event. Irises and roses are in — and naturalistic “wildflower” planting is out — but most commentators struggled to identify one clear design trend emerging. Chelsea veteran Mark Gregory said “the bar had been raised”, with the first ready-mixed concrete mixer on site and bigger, bolder schemes. “The RHS is starting to recognise the importance of minimalism. Designers are getting braver,” he said. Society of Garden Designers chairman Andrew Fisher Tomlin said attention to detail is much better this year than last, “and there’s a much bigger variety of gardens”. Many garden commentators noted the mixing of modern and romantic looks — a theme of Tom Stuart-Smith’s Daily Telegraph-sponsored best in show garden (see right). News of the World garden writer Richard Jackson said: “The mix of romantic and modern is more accessible than the last three or four years, which were were too in-your-face and outrageous.” Garden designer John Brookes was more critical, saying there was too much regurgitation this year of the “pseudo-modernism” of Christopher Bradley-Hole’s 2004’s best- in-show-winning garden. Designer David Domoney welcomed a greater diversity in blooms and the return to roses. “That was a strong theme in the show — old favourites or classic original variations mixing with new and innovative ideas, which harmonise well together.” But Australian Dean Herald said he saw little that was new: “It’s pretty much the same as last year. Chelsea is about promoting a different culture through gardens but it doesn’t seem to have happened that much this year.” “Lovely, but of a type” was Society of Garden Designers chairman Andrew Fisher-Tomlin’s verdict on this year’s best in show garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith for The Daily Telegraph. Others echoed his view, including Telegraph garden writer Dan Pearson, who felt Cleve West’s gold winning, Saga-sponsored garden was more original than Stuart-Smith’s £190,000 entry, which he described as “a garden he has done before — but does very well”. Stuart-Smith said: “I think it’s quite different. The 2003 garden [voted best in show] was woodland. This is a much more cultivated garden. The planting is more artificial, although it has a naturalism to it in that it uses very cultivated plants. I’m the same person — my work is recognised.” Last year’s best in show winner, Julian Dowle, said the garden — built by Crocus/Waterers — was “brilliant and beautiful, with planting that holds together”. Stuart-Smith said his aim this year was “meeting modernism and romanticism”. He used pre-rusted steel walls and tanks as a backdrop to bright purple and rust-coloured bearded irises from Kelways Nurseries. Stipa gigantia came from Howard’s Nursery in Norfolk.
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