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Unsung heroes of Chelsea Flower Show

2nd August 2016

Whenever I visit Chelsea Flower Show I’m always in awe of how simply beautiful the place looks, and so different every year.  It makes me wonder about the amount of work that must have gone into creating the stunning spaces, making each area look totally natural.

Landscapers are, of course, the unsung heroes of Chelsea Flower Show.  For years they have slaved away from 1st May in congested and limited conditions – come rain, hail or heatwave – to produce award winning gardens, of the best quality in the world.  Yet is was not until this year that the RHS thought it time to give them the recognition they deserve, in the form of the Best Construction Award.

It may have been me who designed the garden for Schellevis this year, which you can see and read about by clicking the link, but it was Squared Earth who brought it to life, and only in a week!  I had the idea from seeing the plans of the Battersea Power Station, so created a contemporary gravel garden with a scattering of Schellevis planks, as well as life size sculptures to add a human scale. Pavers were interspersed with rusted steel panes, complemented by bronze grasses and orange flora, including the pretty Geum ‘Mai Tai’. There was a distinct orange theme going on, all set off by some lovely orange cushions.

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And the RHS Best Construction Award goes to…

Sadly, not me!  This year it deservedly went to Steve Swatton for the M&G Garden, designed by Cleve West.  The award can go to any level of garden design, as it is judged on the ‘excellence’ of the construction rather than the design.  This year it was awarded to one of the Gold Medal winning gardens (that happened to have a huge budget!).

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Complicated to judge, all the gardens are, of course temporary.  Therefore, they don’t require the same technicality of build as a permanent garden.  Short cuts are often made, with the restrictions on site being palpable.  The logistics of building in such confined spaces, all adjacent to each other, involve an enormous amount of planning. Begging the question, should the contractors also be judged on their project management?

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David Dodd of The Outdoor Room, in the July issue of Pro Landscaper Magazine, makes the valid point that they should be judged on the final finish rather than technicalities as the gardens vary so much in complexity.  He also suggests that the BBC engages with this new award in order to raise the public’s awareness of quality landscape builds.  BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) went some way towards this by exhibiting at Chelsea and talking to the general public about their work.

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All the contractors at Chelsea build normal everyday gardens, so their experience of reaching the level of quality demanded by the RHS transfers directly to these gardens too.

This award, albeit a long time coming, can only be another step towards improving the level of professionalism in our industry.