I believe that Jay Sifford’s interesting piece about garden design suffered because I accepted his use of the word ‘Conceptual’ in the title. Some people got little further, due to the feelings they have about Conceptual Gardens as understood in the UK. The term has come to be quite specific, as Tim Richardson discusses here.

The comments on Jay’s piece develop the discussion about terminology. At Veddw I have definitely included what I tend to refer to as ‘meaning’ in the garden – I have attempted to honour the people who have lived on the site in the past and to remind people who visit of the lives and history of these people.  But I don’t think of it as a ‘Conceptual’ garden. Or even – this term now seems to be superseding Conceptual – a ‘Statement Garden’ (see We’re surrounded by ‘Statement’ gardens’ if you can get behind the paywall).

Perhaps we need a new term altogether? I have tended to say ‘gardens with meaning’ but I’m not entirely happy with that. All ideas and thoughts welcome.

Meanwhile, Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster made their own statement about Statement gardens into their own Show garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – a ‘No Concept garden’. Charlie discusses it here.

Anne Wareham, editor

Portrait Anne Wareham copyright Charles Hawes






Charlie Bloom:

I penned this piece after exhibiting a Show Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, Colourbox Garden. This was a show garden that had been a team effort, with a ridiculously small budget and a desire to build a simple, non intrusive, back drop for plants in full bloom in July.

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster at Hampton Court Flower Show

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster -and friends.

Our ethos was ‘no Conceptual meaning’. Though all artistry has a concept at design, the definition of Concept, as in Conceptual art is an entirely different animal, as I discovered at art college – the very one which vomited out Tracy Emin.

The art school experience glorified Conceptual content and designer ego over any actual technical knowledge or talent. Embryonic fine artists like myself were downgraded and dismissed, in favour of inexplicable installations and splats on canvas, accompanied by pretentious waffle. It didn’t matter whether you could hold a pencil right, or even knew what a paint brush was, as long as you could string a nonsensical number of sentences together to justify the dog poo you’d just freeze dried and put in a bell jar.

The majority of people probably perceive ‘art’ as a landscape painting, a lifelike sculpture, a well-crafted piece of furniture, expressions of artistry that have involved a skilled hand, technical understanding and an in depth knowledge of the materials. The pretentious followers of The Conceptual hated the anachronism of the general public, the perceived ignorance of uncultured people and wallowed in self-importance, the basic premise being ‘We understand it and that’s all that matters’.

That’s fine if your audience is actually happy to pay for the experience.

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster at Hampton Court Flower Show

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster – and friends

The feedback we received from the general public for our Non-Conceptual Garden was astounding. The consensus was that they appreciated the garden’s simplicity and horticultural merit, but most especially that it did not require mental acrobatics to enjoy and was not connected to any large sponsor, pushing their agenda.

So therein lies my problem with the Conceptual at Horticultural Shows. Horticultural/ Flower Shows are attended, generally by people who like, or have an interest in plants and flowers. They are not on the whole patrons of the Conceptual art crew. People paying for the privilege of entering a Horticultural/Flower Show have done so to be wowed and inspired by the skills and knowledge of horticulturalists; they have come to see plants in all their simple glory, grown to perfection by experts in their field; to marvel at expert planting in ‘Show Gardens’ – gardens being the appropriate word there.

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster at Hampton Court Flower Show

Colourbox Garden by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster and friends

They haven’t paid out to be patronised by ‘Designers’ who seem to have limited horticultural knowledge and are catering to a niche Conceptual audience. By making the plants the fill ins, around the ‘intellectual wank’ they devalue the skill and knowledge that has gone into producing them.  Significantly, I was honoured to be given much praise for the garden from top nursery men and woman from the floral marquee.

I believe we supplied a paying public with what they wanted to see and in the end they are the ones who fundamentally support horticulture in their day to day lives.

Many gardens within the ‘Conceptual ‘ category at the shows bring to the fore political and environmental issues we all should pay more attention to. And many also take their planting choices seriously. My issue with Conceptual at Horticultural Shows starts when concept and designer ego is all important and horticulture a secondary consideration. I believe this is both patronising and arrogant and after having talked to hundreds of people over the course of the show, I know I’m not alone.

Charlie Bloom 

On twitter


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Designing a Conceptual Garden by Jay Sifford

July 13, 2017

I’ve never been quite sure what a conceptual garden is. Victoria Summerley made a brave attempt at defining it, as “a garden that seeks to portray an idea, rather than provide a landscape design solution.”  And very recently, on the back of Hampton Court ‘Flower’ Show the idea became controversial.  Renamed strangely as a ‘statement […]

A Chelsea garden in Monmouthshire reviewed by Patterson Webster and Anne Wareham

June 22, 2017

I recently had a very welcome visitor – Pat Webster of Site and Insight and garden maker of Glen Villa. Arne Maynard’s garden, Allt-y-bela is only half an hour away from Veddw, in Monmouthshire, and is basically only open to Bed and Breakfast guests (or people attending events) so Pat booked in for B&B and obtained […]

Chelsea 2017 – this ghastly fame phenomenon, by Catharine Howard.

June 6, 2017

I had intended to join the sponsors and give Chelsea a miss this year, but I can’t turn down a good offer. Catharine was less than delighted by Chelsea 2017…..   Anne Wareham, editor Chelsea 2017 – this ghastly fame phenomenon, by Catharine Howard.  Chelsea is the mother of all flower shows but this year it […]

What style? by Kate Cox

May 11, 2017

If you’re a garden designer, do you design gardens based on what you love? On what originally inspired you to become a designer? On your own garden? On major public gardens? Or what the client wants? I hope Kate won’t mind me saying that she struggled with this piece, developing her thinking as she went […]

The Deckchair Gardener reviewed by Catharine Howard

April 27, 2017

When Catharine asked me if she could review The Deckchair Gardener for thinkingardens I just felt pleased – as you do when someone wants to review your book. I had no idea originally whether she would slam it, knowing my declared commitment to honesty, and I was anxious. It was only later, after I read her review, that […]

Posh Day Out for Katherine Crouch

April 13, 2017

Although this took place quite some time ago, it seems to me that many thinkingardens readers will find interest in what goes on at this prestigious annual event. And others will simply find it very entertaining. With thanks to our willing victim, Katherine Crouch. Images courtesy of Society of Garden Designers. Anne Wareham, editor   […]

Essay on Gardening by Henk Gerritsen, reviewed by Catharine Howard

March 30, 2017

This review made me buy the book. It’s a real thinkingardens treat. But the cost on Amazon made me blench. Couldn’t find it cheaper. I ended up with the paperback at £27, with all the photos in black and white (see below). And I wanted to buy  Site, Sight, Insight: Essays on Landscape Architecture (Penn […]

The Ultimate Visitor Experience by Janna Schreier

March 15, 2017

This is the question that a great many of us would like to make sense of, and here is someone actually seriously researching it for us – with your assistance, I hope.  It would be great if you would answer the survey and help add to our understanding of our experience of gardens. Anne Wareham, […]

“You Should Have Been Here Last Week” by Tim Richardson reviewed by Bridget Rosewell

March 2, 2017

This is one of those (few) books every thinkingardener wants to have to read in the bath. Anne Wareham, editor.           ‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week – Sharp Cuttings from a Garden Writer’ Bridget Rosewell: Did you know that John Denham wrote a poem in 1642 immortalising Cooper’s Hill, […]

A Matter of Words by Patterson Webster

February 9, 2017

This is an important topic to me. I love words and I love to find words in a garden, as long as it’s not about a garden being a lovesome thing, or something about being nearer God’s heart. So let’s find good ones in gardens more often? Patterson Webster is a visual artist whose amazing garden, […]

Can a walk be a garden? The High Line revisited by Bridget Rosewell.

January 25, 2017

We’re back, troublesome as ever. Has anyone else bar Bridget found the High Line less than perfect? Count on thinkingardens for a different view… Anne Wareham, editor           Bridget Rosewell: What is it about the High Line in New York which generates such plaudits?  I visited it in the summer of […]

Having a Break

December 16, 2016

Hi everyone. I bet you’re all upset and worried because you haven’t seen a thinkingardens post for a while. “What will we think about?” I hear you cry. We’re all daft like this, us bloggers – think the world will fall apart if we have a break. Well, I’m going to have one. I’ve worked […]

‘There is a place for jokes, and a place for not-jokes’ – Ambra Edwards meets Ian Hamilton Finlay

December 1, 2016

This is the first of a series of repeated and rejuvenated early articles from thinkingardens. I’ve been aware for some time that there are excellent pieces on here which many people don’t find. (though there is an index on site) And that if they did, they’d find some of them rather less presentable than I’d like, […]