As we move ever closer to May the excitement and pressure seems to build and everyday I become more aware that it is just over 4weeks until the garden will be living and breathing on its own.
What kind of plants go into creating a garden which looks like it has existed for eternity and where do you get them? This seems to be a well-guarded secret and if I am vague in my answer it’s a mixture of English modesty and maintaining carefully nurtured bonds with nurserymen for such painstaking labours of sheer love.
In actual fact many of my preparations started back in the early Autumn, when I began to work out the theme of the garden and what it will ultimately look and feel like. The theme for this garden sponsored by Bradstone is biodiversity and it ties in with 2010 as the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity.
Although the garden is 23ft x 16ft we plan to use over 1500 plants, not to mention our 40ft hedge which has been growing in preparation for five years and then there’s the shrubs and trees. Creating a biodiverse garden can be as simple as leaving the lawn to grow longer and not being too precious about the maintenance of the areas of the garden closer to the natural landscape. Many of these simple tricks have real and direct benefits on eco-systems but in an urban garden where space is at a premium, creating something beautiful that you want to spend time in and that plays a vital role in the wider context is both challenging and rewarding for gardeners.
Many of our plants have been grown on at nurseries where the owners have a real passion for plants, potting on from cuttings and growing them on into 5 or 10 litre plants. I am regularly visiting nurseries now, even with little showing in the pot, to select plants which look as if they will eventually grow into a suitable size to give the illusion of maturity. Throughout this process I will also be deselecting material which is not suitable for Chelsea, in many ways this is the hardest part of the process. However, I know these plants which are healthy and full of vigour but lack that special Chelsea quality will go on to find good ‘growing’ homes in other projects.
One of the things which never ceases to amaze me with any project is the instant effect large trees can have. Combined with the fact that you can purchase semi-mature container grown trees up to 70ft in height it is stunning how they can create a sense of place within minutes of being craned of off a lorry and into the garden. For the Chelsea garden we are using 3 trees to provide balance and depth to the design. I have chosen species which create special biodiverse bonds such as the Chinese Red Birch, Betula albosinensis that creates mycorrhizal associations with various species of fungi; the best known is its mutual beneficial association with Amanita muscaria. I like the fact the some bonds aren’t immediately obvious and help to create a multilayered story to the garden and I think this is more representative of our own interactions with our gardens.
For now I will leave you as I have a date with a very large tree nursery and it won’t wait.