The Sheep Garden goes to Chelsea

Tiffany Daneff / 22 May 2015

Gardening editor and Sheep Garden blogger Tiffany Daneff shares her highlights from this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

The only sheep I noticed at Chelsea was made entirely of shells and very iridescent it was too. But my gaze quickly skewed left as a friend said something about a man balancing stones and there indeed was a man with a piece of granite (or some similar hard grey stone) in his arms. It must have weighed about as much as a sheep for he held it very carefully.

See Tiffany's photo gallery of Chelsea 2015 highlights.

With Buddha-like concentration and an impressive inner calm (bearing in mind the ceaseless squawking of the press and endless security teams bawling at hapless humans to mind the giant camera booms) Adrian Gray succeeded. It has to be seen to be believed.

What I loved most though was the rumour going around that health and safety required that he glue the statues in place. “How many broken thumbs,” I had to ask. “Actually I’ve not had any, luckily,” he said, “though I have had quite a few bruised fingers.”

After that I made a beeline to see the garden built by Sean Murray, the 51-year-old winner of the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge. His prize was the chance to build a show garden on Main Avenue at Chelsea. Sean had been on Radio 4 in the morning being interviewed by John Humphries alongside the RHS Director General Sue Biggs about the need to keep front gardens planted and here he was with his design for a front garden.

How long had he had to build the garden, I wondered? “I came on site on 1st May,” he said, “17 days.” Cleve West had been his mentor, “a lovely man,” he says, but the work was all Sean’s. I particularly liked the fact that he had made his own sculpture. People, he told me, assumed he had spent a lot of money on it, but Sean had discovered that if you burn empty cans they turn a pleasing rusty blue. All it cost was the forty odd quid for the mounting.

At the Sheep Garden we are much in need of some creature comforts so I wandered around Hartley Botanic and Gabriel Ash looking longingly into their greenhouses. Then, the rain came and everyone dashed inside the floral marquee. The weather hasn’t been kind to roses this year which made them look a bit knocked about but various things caught my eye, including:

1. The first ever black stemmed agapanthus shown by Hoyland Plant Centre who are National Collection holders.

2. The eye-popping display of delphiniums and begonias from

3. The gloriously globular Basset Allsorts arrangements from the National Chrysanthemum

4. The extraordinary beauty of Meconopsis punica ‘Szechuan Silk’ which hangs like a silk frock thrown across a chair after an all nighter

5. Tim Richardson, tireless organiser of the now four year old Chelsea Fringe, the Alternative Garden Festival which this year celebrates with a printed map listing all the events you can visit. I had no idea that the idea has now caught on across the world inspiring garden fringe events as far as afield as Australia, Slovenia, Italy and Japan.

6. The sunken cacti in the World Vision Garden designed by John Warland – beautiful, thought provoking and different. This won Silver Gilt which seems a tad stingy, but those judges have special criteria unknown to mere mortals.

7. The walkway of hanging flowers beside the newly-sited floristry exhibitions just off Main Avenue.

The Laurent Perrier Chatsworth Garden

But without a shadow the absolute highlight this was year was the recreation of a part of Chatsworth in that most awkward of garden sites, the triangle at the base of Main Avenue.

This was designed by Dan Pearson who was lucky enough to be sponsored by Laurent Perrier, who paid for the flatbed truckloads of rocks to be transported south from Derbyshire. I think this is the first time I have seen this plot used to such effect, producing endless new vistas as you walked around. Without any edges this garden had to work from every single angle. It had height, depth, streams and grassland but more than these it had lyricism and it managed to dominate everything around it.

How did they manage to recreate the wild grassland? By bringing in wildflower turf which was grown and transported to Chelsea on stacked pallets. With only about 18 inches headroom between layers some of the red campion were a little bowed on arrival but they soon perked up.

The perennials were planted first and then the turf was laid around them. With the rain that fell in the build-up weeks the turf settled in nicely, with the odd bare patches either covered with leaf matter or left bare as it might well be in the wild. There were wonderful shrubs too, of which my favourite was a multi stemmed laburnum, a variety that flowers from the branches, rather like a cercis.

Quite rightly Dan won Best in Show for what will become the new benchmark for Chelsea show gardens.

See Tiffany's photo gallery of Chelsea 2015 highlights.

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