by Sarah Naybour
15th November 2015
The concept for Chelsea 2015 came from a comment made by David Harber while on the stand in 2014…..’Next year I’d like to try something different’.
So, we challenged him to take the gamble of placing his sculptures in a shady, woodland glade setting.
When designing a trade stand for RHS Chelsea the movement of people through the space is of paramount importance to our client. It is firstly a shop, and secondly a garden. It must be easy for the public to flow in and out of the space, and plenty of room to see each of the 14 sculptures individually. We also have to consider the weather, so shelter from sun and rain is also important. We get judged on all these aspects too – so we have to get them right.
In 2015 the glade was formed by a large oval with three access paths to the front and sides. Stuart Garden Architecture kindly built a beautiful oak ‘hut’ for us, with a cedar shingle roof. This provided David and his staff with a comfortable space in which to discuss sculptures and sales, as well as host the many corporate events during the show.
Wanting to create a very natural space, we chose native Betula trees, with their delicate leaves, pretty young Acer palmatum and an un-clipped Thuja hedge, as the main background.
We under-planted with a mixture of un-clipped Osmanthus and Taxus domes, giant ferns, and a mix of shade loving perennials and bulbs. We were delighted when our blue Camassia were entered into the RHS Plant of the Year by Avon Bulbs, who we had asked to grow them on for us. Camassia are a fantastic addition to any moist shade. Like giant Bluebells, when planted in large clumps they tower above new fern and Hosta shoots early in the season. There is also a white variety, if you are looking for a more subtle effect.
Building at Chelsea is a fantastic experience. Going from an empty, open lawn to a show of over 400 stands and gardens, in the space of two weeks is an amazing feat.
Chelsea Royal Hospital Garden before the Show.
The days are long and hard, with everyone dedicating themselves to perfection. For fourteen days the sight of High Viz vests and hobnail boots is accompanied by the sound of reversing alarms and diggers. It is far from tranquil. Gradually out of the hubbub the gardens emerge, each day a new feature is revealed.
I can remember in our second year there we were opposite Adam Frost’s Homebase Garden. On about day 2 pallets of perfect stone walling arrived and they immediately set to work chipping and bashing the edges off all of them, to create the effect of ‘aged’ stone. They were still at it 5 days later, and they still had smiles on their faces !!
I always tell my clients that having a plan saves time and money. We spend months planning Chelsea and making sure everyone knows who is doing what when, but sometimes all this information ends up in one place…… This is our plan drawing at the end of the first week on site…who knows what we would have done if we’d lost it !!
It is also a place of great camaraderie. Beacuse we are all competing against RHS criteria, in theory everyone could get a gold. So, if a crisis arises it is all hands to the deck. We have been given plants by Avon Bulbs and Kelways, and been asked for any spare ‘Trollius’ by Charlotte Rowe…
So, what next? My time with David Harber has ended, but my time at Chelsea has not. In 2016 I am designing and building a show stand for Schellevis. Its a smaller space, and not on Main Avenue, but I will give it just as much attention and dedication as I have the last three, and hope I can get them the 5* Award they are hoping for…