Show garden designed by Tony Woods | Sponsored by Hamptons & Koto
Built by Garden Club London | Plants by Kelways
Unwittingly, my last post has provided the perfect segue into the next – a preview of a serene, Japanese-inspired garden conceived as a space to decompress and reconnect with nature. It will be on show in just ten days’ time, at the start of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London.
If this year’s horticultural extravaganza seems to have come around quickly, that’s because it has: last year’s show was postponed until September, creating a gap of eight months rather than twelve. I had misgivings about the show’s first autumn incarnation but I am now ready to put them to one side and approach Chelsea 2022 with a kind heart and open mind. I shall be visiting the show on preview day, Monday, May 23rd and on the first members’ day, Tuesday, May 24th, so do follow along on Instagram @thefrustratedgardener and @dancoopergarden for lashings of pretty pictures, interesting insights and honest comments throughout the week. If you happen to be there on the same days, do please stop me and say hello!
Back to the subject, a garden entitled A Garden Sanctuary that has been designed by Tony Woods. I have been watching Tony’s career go from strength to strength for almost ten years now and we’ve managed to keep in touch on and off over that time. Since being named RHS Young Designer of the Year in 2013, his star has steadily risen, gathering gold medals and accolades as it ascends. Tony is now the lead designer and managing director of Garden Club London, a landscape design-and-build practice specialising in polished, contemporary gardens for urban settings. Without a doubt, you will already have seen his stunning roof terraces and smart city gardens featured in books and magazines. They are the stuff that sophisticated city dwellers dream of, endowed with ample entertaining spaces, atmospheric lighting and beautifully orchestrated planting.
Garden Club London’s award-winning roof garden at the old Hartley’s Jam Factory in London
A Garden Sanctuary promises to demonstrate a softer side to Tony’s style, in keeping with the show’s emphasis on sustainability and the natural environment. Based on the renderings shared in this post, the garden will be light, bright, effortlessly simple and naturalistic, a look that’s deceptively tricky to pull off in a period of weeks. But with the garden being constructed by his in-house team and planted by Chelsea veterans Kelways, Tony will have every element of the build closely under his control.
The scheme is centred around an asymmetric cabin providing a retreat and meditative space immersed in nature and plants. Designed by modular architects Koto, the building is clad with charred timber, giving a nod to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi – the acceptance of transient life and celebration of beauty in imperfection. The view from inside the structure, which I hope I shall be lucky enough to experience first-hand, will frame views outwards into the garden.
Hear Tony and the founders of Koto speak about what influenced the design of the garden and its central feature in this short video:
Water is an important element in this garden, a large pool blending seamlessly with the planting around it. Working with water at Chelsea is almost as precarious as working with children and animals, not least because the great London planes (Platanus x hispanica) that run behind many of the show gardens have an annoying tendency to release clouds of white fluff on warm days. Also the cause of the infamous ‘Chelsea cough’, these bristly seeds like to float on the surface of the water, blurring carefully contrived reflections and generally making the place look untidy. But since this show is all about sustainability, we will overlook any debris and agree that no meditative space is complete without water or a representation of water.
It’s great to see that a comprehensive selection of attractive marginals has been made, meaning that we may even be treated to the sight of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. Look closely at the plant list and you’ll see that stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, a food source for many of our most colourful butterflies, make an appearance. Such wild abandon would have been unthinkable at Chelsea twenty years ago, yet seems pleasingly acceptable now.
Overall, the garden is rich in plants for pollinators and densely-planted trees aim to encourage birds. Rounded, glacial boulders and smooth, natural stepping stones contrast with the sharply angular building, providing an intentional way to slow the journey to the cabin through loose planting and across moving water. Boundaries of hornbeam hedging and charred larch panels will provide a foil to show off the stunning bark of the Betula nigra (black birch) and Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine). There will be scents too from pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) phlox and lilac (Syringa vulgaris). Fragrance is a dimension that we don’t always consider as a deliberate act of design, so it’s great to see it focussed on here.
Anyone wishing to create a similar look in their garden would do well to convert Tony’s plant selection straight into a shopping list. All the plants chosen are readily available from good nurseries and would thrive in any moisture retentive garden soil given the part sun, part shade conditions that many urban gardens are blessed with. They are solid, garden-worthy plants and many of them can be grown from seed, including the trees if you have the time and inclination.
5 things we can learn from A Garden Sanctuary
– Rather than being consigned to the back corner of a garden, a studio or summer house can be designed so as to take centre stage, offering outward views in more than one direction.
– Water is a potent ingredient in the recipe for relaxation – moving water even more so. Consider a pond or water feature as an integral part of a garden design, not a separate round or oval blotch in a lawn.
– You don’t need new, fancy plants to create a successful planting scheme. Most of the plants featured in this design have been around a long time and there’s good reason for that – they’re top performers.
– Native and ornamental plants can be best friends if grouped correctly. Because they’re well-adapted, natives tend to be a little more vigorous, so give them space and keep a watch on their neighbours to ensure they’re not engulfed over time.
– Imperfections are beautiful – this is something we all need to get used to as we cease using pesticides to guarantee perfect fruit and veg and turn back towards natural materials. Imperfections are not ugly, they are marks of uniqueness.
Once the show is underway I will update this post to include pictures of the finished garden. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview. Fingers crossed that Tony and his team will come out with yet another gold medal this year. TFG.
Trees & Shrubs
Betula nigra Carpinus betulus Cornus kousa Pinus sylvestris Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’Syringa vulgaris
Actea rubraAngelica archangelica Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Black Barlow’Asarum europaeumAsarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’Astrantia major ‘Shaggy’Aspelnium scolopendriumBaptista ‘Indigo Spires’Cenolophium denudatumCerinthe majorCornus canadensisCynara cardunculusDeschampsia cespitosaDigitalis purpurea ‘Alba’Epimedium youngianum ‘Niveum’Euphorbia ceratocarpaEuphorbia oblongataGallium odoratumGillenia trifoliataLunaria annua var. albifloraLuzula niveaMatteucia struthiopterisMolina cerulea ‘Transparent’Papaver somniferum ‘Dark Plum’Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’Podophyllum peltatumPolygonatum x hybridumRidolfia segetumRodgersia pinnataSilene fimbriataThalictrum delavayi ‘Elin’Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide White’Urtica dioicaValeriana officinalisViola ‘Roscastle Black’
Alisma parviflorumAnemopsis californicumCyperus longusEquisetum hyemaleGeum rivaleGratiola officinalisIris louisiana ‘Her Highness’Iris pseudacorus ‘Alba’Iris sibiricaJuncus inflexusLigularia ‘The Rocket’Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘White Robin’Mentha pulegiumOrontium aquaticumPontederia cordataTypha minima