We speak with designers Marcus Barnett, Kamelia Bin Zaal, Harry and David Rich, and Judith Blacklock about what makes their 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower show gardens so inventive
Marcus began his career in the British army, and decided to pursue a new path by enrolling at Inchbald School of Design. He fell in love with the world of landscape design, and turned out to be a natural – he went on to win a Gold Medal for his garden at the 2005 Chelsea Flower Show, just one year after finishing his design course. Marcus is known for his modern, uncluttered style, which often blurs the lines between inside and out. This year, he has been selected to create The Telegraph Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
When did you realise that gardening and landscaping was something you were passionate about?
Landscape Design was not something I dreamed about as a child, it was a passion and longing that slowly developed. My mother was a keen gardener and I spent much of my childhood running around forests and fields but it wasn’t until I was serving in the Scots Guards that I became obsessed with landscape design. A little while after leaving the army, I finally gave in and went to study landscape design at The Inchbald School of Design. Once my course was finished, I set up my own practice and the rest is history.
Why did you decide to change from a job in the military to garden design?
Landscape design is certainly a leap from life in the army but I still use a lot of the skills I learned in the forces – tight management of timelines and budgets, clear communication and attention to detail are all vital for a project to run smoothly. Understanding the lie of the land and appreciating all its quirks and characteristics is another area of overlap – but that’s probably where the similarities stop. As a landscape designer I really enjoy creating something which will hopefully last for generations.
You’re designing The Telegraph Garden this year – what have you got planned?
I have to be careful how much I give away. The garden is inspired by the De Stijl Movement which used strong rectilinear geometry and bright primary colours. So paths, waterways and differently sized blocks of colour and texture will stand out whether the garden is seen from within or from above.
Two walls punctuating the boundary hedges will act as a foil for the planting, while trees and hedges will provide some dappled shade as well as some vertical and sculptural form.
I am choosing plants which will provide a tonal balance and textural contrast within each space, and I am aiming to offset the brighter colours with the use of movement, together with restful greens and whites. I can’t wait to see it finished.
Dubai resident Kamelia Bin Zaal studied at Inchbald School of Design before becoming a garden designer. She runs a landscape architectural practice, Second Nature, and helped design the beautiful gardens at Al Barari, her family’s luxury low-rise green development in Dubai where residents get to enjoy beautiful peaceful gardens. This year she will be the first woman from the Emirates to show at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
How did you get involved in the Chelsea Flower Show?
I designed a garden for the Dubai Garden Design Festival and met Dave Root, owner of vintage nursery, Kelways, there. We got on very well and he persuaded me to pitch for the Chelsea Flower show.
How would you describe your show garden?
My garden is called ‘The Beauty of Islam’. It represents a positive light on Islamic and Arabic culture. The garden is designed in a quadrant, which is typical of Islamic gardens with lots of water features. It is a representation of a typical Islamic protected, multi-functional garden. The use of poetry, calligraphy, sculpture and a play of shade and light also come together in the garden.
What plants and materials are you using?
We are using plants that reflect those found in Islamic culture like pomegranate, jasmine, thyme, rosemary, olive and a big willow tree. The foundation of the garden uses Turkish white marble with dividers of stainless steel and cement adding contrast to the plants.
What message are you hoping to get across to visitors?
Being an Islamic woman, I am keen to get a positive message of our religion across. If even one person sees the garden, walks away and reads a bit about Islam, then I will feel I have succeeded.
Landscape-design brothers Harry and David Rich have spent much of their lives trying to reconnect people with their surroundings. In 2013, the Rich brothers won gold at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for their artisan garden ‘Un Garreg’ which featured sandstone that was 425 million years old. This year, the duo were selected to design a garden for New Zealand winery Cloudy Bay inspired by the brand’s Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
How did you both get into landscaping and garden design?
We both studied as landscape architects so have always been inspired by the freedom of being creative and innovative. This approach, in addition with the practical elements, provided the perfect balance for us.
What did you learn about wine when creating the garden?
We learned that there are many affinities between winemaking and landscape design, from aspect, soil type, preparation and understanding. This sympathetic approach shows the complexity and depth behind the wine making and made us appreciate the processes a lot more.
What can visitors expect from your show garden this year?
Our garden exposes industrial mechanics with the subtle refinements of planting and material finishes – an innovative design that encourages the interaction through a moving shack and fold-down table. We wanted to get away from a garden just looking ‘pretty’ and give it a depth and complexity. It will be a modern take on planting and design that appeals to a younger audience and will hopefully encourage visitors to think differently about what is possible and to understand how Cloudy Bay is simple from the outside and highly complex from the inside.
What was your favourite moment from RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014?
Having the honour of meeting the Queen for a 10-minute chat about our garden and bumblebees. We still had dirty hands from finishing off the garden, which was a little embarrassing as she was wearings very white gloves.
Could you pair your favourite plants with an appropriate wine?
Angelica Archangelica – It is a fresh, citrus foliage relating perfectly to a Sauvignon Blanc
Digitalis Ferruginea – Its rustic, earthy, architectural form fits with the key attributes of a Pinot Noir.
Star florist Judith Blacklock is the author of 12 best selling books on flower arranging and owner of the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge. She’s shared her floral design wisdom with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Kirstie Allsopp, and has been involved with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for many years. Here she tells us which gardens she’ll be visiting at the show this May.
When did you first visit RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
When I was 25 my mother was in charge of creating a huge flower arranging stand for NAFAS at the Chelsea Flower Show. I was recently engaged and living in Belgium but was over for the show. My mother quickly got us working and my future husband earned brownie points by fetching, carrying and helping the team. The stand won a gold medal and we were all delighted.
What are your favourite memories from the Chelsea Flower Show?
My first exhibit at Chelsea was creating a stand for the Institute of Horticulture with no budget! I was able to persuade Tesco to sponsor the stand and organised the creation of an electronic apple tree which educated visitors on the different varieties of English apples. When they correctly matched the apples to the correct name a bumblebee buzzed its way around the tree. Electronics may be everywhere today but over 15 years ago nothing of this nature had ever been seen at Chelsea and it created quite a stir.
Tell us about your work at RHS Chelsea Flower Show last year?
Last year I was asked by the show’s sponsor M & G Investments to create a floral dress that would last a week and could be worn on Press Day. They also wanted me to find a model. For many years I gave little Nina Schubert a lift to school. Now she is a top model and she was delighted to be involved and wear the dress before and during the show. The dress was created from 1,000 beautiful Vanda orchids which last well out of water.
What are some of the growing trends in floral arrangements this year?
British flowers are very much in vogue, also succulents and hydrangea.
What are your top three gardens to see?
The Homebase Garden by Adam Frost A wildlife friendly garden in a contemporary style by an experienced garden designer who always has something new and exciting to show.
L’Occitane: A perfumers Garden in Grasse Full of scented flowers and aromatic plants.
Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw This garden is going to be relocated after the show to form a centrepiece in a new community project in East London.