Creating A Show Garden – Part 1

Submission and Preparation :- The show gardens process and building of them

In 2020 the Malvern show theme was to be ‘Wanderlust’. Every year there is a different theme and ‘Wanderlust’ conjures up a desire to travel, and for garden design and me personally I wanted to create something exotic using a different cultures philosophy towards gardening.
But before we get to the show garden itself, I would like to talk about the submission and acceptance of a design.

My Journey in the Design and Building of a Show Garden

Firstly, having credibility and the RHS knowing the show garden will be built for both the designer and the RHS to look professional; needs confidence and trust between both parties.

I submitted a design in 2019 and managed to get a meeting, but unfortunately it was after the submission date so couldn’t be accepted. So where now? I decided I wanted to help in some way and was then accepted as a volunteer along with my assistant Jane in 2019 to help and gain experience by working with that years designers to produce their award winning gardens.

Both Jane and I stayed on site in a motorhome so as to be available for early starts, as if the stress of building a show garden around other very stressed designers wasn’t enough, we got through the two weeks sleeping at each end of this small vehicle. In the photos you can see the chaos on site.

From the overall organisation, timing of materials delivery and as the show takes place in May, knowing how and where to protect the plants especially the tropical ones was a definite learning curve; some nights the plants were even wheeled into the communal toilets for protection.
In total, we spent 2 weeks on site helping the designers build their show gardens. It was great that all our hard work paid off with several gardens winning gold which was a fabulous reward for us all. So anyway, back to my show garden.

With the ‘Wanderlust’ theme and the upcoming Japanese Olympics I thought there was no better time to design a Japanese garden than 2020. As with all garden design, this begins with research. Reading lots of books on Japanese gardens and philosophy, absorbing every little bit of information about their gardens and being able to relate it to the United Kingdom would be key to its creation. I submerged myself in their culture and one of the main elements that stood out for me was a feeling of total calm and tranquillity. If people were to relate to this, I had to relate to it myself. Fortunately for me, I live by the sea so sitting and watching the calming ocean became my mantra.

In a Japanese garden the “feeling” is key, along with the spacing between planting which is as important as the planting itself. The space between planting represents the space and time between your thoughts and busy life for contemplation. You may have seen raked gravel gardens where there are just a few rocks placed? It takes up to 10 years training to be considered as a qualified gardener in Japanese culture and to position rocks in the right place to achieve the correct tiered heights which in this kind of design is so crucial.

The garden was finally accepted after a re-design. The outside space was to be a plot 6 metres x 3 metres. The original design had pages of feedback and I had to justify everything: why it was there, the concept of the design and how it was going to work. The design ended up being called ‘Akira’ meaning “bright” in Japanese and in total was almost completely re-designed in just two weeks.

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