RHS Chelsea Flower Show is always a paradise for gardeners, and this year more than ever thanks to Cleve West’s Paradise Garden for show sponsors M&G Investments. By: Deborah Stone Published: Thu, May 15, 2014 “It is loosely based on a Persian Paradise Garden – they have fascinated me,” explains Cleve, who has been working on the site since April 30.
“It’s not that I wanted to recreate one – it is just interesting that the ideas of shelter, refuge, enclosure and the taming of nature started over 2,000 years ago in Persia and these elements have stood the test of time in terms of enclosure, retreat and sanctuary.”
Cleve’s garden has a fountain as the central focal point with four rills of water emerging from it.
“Water is the life force of everything,” he explains, “and the fountain has gargoyles with water coming down a central shaft into four rills.
“Paradise gardens divide into four parts to signify the four rivers of Eden, but they were also useful for irrigating the garden.”
Cleve describes the planting as “loose herbaceous” with Acanthus Rue Ledan as one of the garden’s main plants.
The award-winning designer is known for his love of topiary, and the garden has Box that have been pruned into balls. “There is a gravel garden at the front which is symbolic because originally Paradise Gardens were refuges from the desert, and gravel is typical of the way we garden in Britain these days,” says Cleve.
Also symbolic is the stone panel backdrop carved to show the roots of the tree of life.
“The roots of all our gardens can be found in these Paradise Gardens,” he says.
While Cleve’s garden is all geometry and symbolism, The Massachusetts Garden couldn’t be more different.
Designed by Susannah Hunter and Catherine MacDonald it is inspired by the sand dunes and sand plains at Cape Cod with hydrangeas and roses that grow wild in the region.
The pair designed a Fresh Garden for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism last year, using panels of leather applique flowers as the unusual but stunning backdrop.
“Last year our Fresh Garden was more like a mini Show Garden,” says Susannah Hunter, who makes leather handbags with applique designs.
This year, Susannah admits, the pressure is greater but “the potential outcome is better”.
That’s because last year Susannah and Catherine had already designed their garden before Massachusetts decided to sponsor it, but this year the garden has truly been inspired by Massachusetts.
“They took us out there and it was very exciting,” explains Susannah.
“We both loved Cape Cod, it is an absolutely fabulous place. The only difficulty was how to turn a remarkable piece of landscape into a 10metre garden.”
The solution is a massive photo-banner of Cape Cod as the garden’s backdrop, Susannah’s leather applique panels of Rosa rugosa ‘Rubra’ and hydrangeas and, of course, Catherine’s clever naturalistic planting scheme.
Then there is the dune shack – perhaps the new garden shed?
This is based on the artists’ studios in the sand dunes near Provincetown, where writers Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill sought isolation and abstract painter Jackson Pollock created a splash with his modern art.
Rosa rugosa grows in the duness with beach grass and bear berries, while the adjacent sand plains are full of lupins and oxeye daisies, juniper trees and pine trees – a planting palette that Catherine has reproduced.
“We have tried to create a postcard of the area,” says Susannah, “it is a most beautiful place, and amazing how many plants grow on the dunes.
“There are dunes where I come from in Scotland, and the next time I go home I’m going to have a better look at them!”
Certainly the Massachusetts Garden is not typical of RHS Chelsea’s show gardens: “Perhaps it’s different because it is designed by two women,” suggests Susannah. ------ ...