A Tribute to Linnaeus designed by Ulf Nordfiell reviewed by Stephen Anderton

August 6, 2007

in Events, Shows

A Tribute to Linnaeus - Image 1

Chelsea Flower Show 2007

It’s tempting to think that Chelsea judges should give a mark for simplicity in their score cards because some gardens indulge so much in complexity.  One feels rather prissy and unambitious saying so, yet no one would disapprove of a garden where the elements of design had been economically used and edited – and surely that is a form of simplicity.

It’s not that over-complex, fussy gardens involve more areas of expression than simple gardens – space, colour texture, light, narrative sequence, plant materials and hardscape materials – but that they do too much with too many of those areas.  They do not let a few speak loudest, and take necessary account of the rest but use them less powerfully.  They try too hard.  They have to show they can use them all.

It might not be a bad for any garden to start from a default position of absolute simplicity.  Only then would certain elements be expanded and explored, as and when the design required them.  I get the feeling that this was what had been done by Ulf Nordfjell in his Linnaeus Tercentenary Garden at Chelsea this year.  Nothing was unnecessary, but it was not bleak or lacking in interest (a few years ago Tom Cooper, editor of Horticulture magazine in the USA, left Chelsea show one lunchtime to visit a rather discreet garden in north London; he came back saying ‘Sometimes, less is less!)

Nordfjell’s plant colours were mainly green and white, in plants favoured by Linnaeus himself, and giving a simple native feel to the garden.  Bright colour only came from the screen wall, one side of which was a hard orange-pink like the outside of many Swedish houses.  The other side of the screen wall was grey like a Swedish interior and, adjacent to this, plants were a little less restrained and more colourful.  The garden combined a contemporary style with cool native planting, which makes a change from combining it with architectural exotics or endless grasses.  The trunks of trees and the ‘doorways’ in the screen walls provided a powerful vertical contrast to the heavy, horizontal beams which made up the walls themselves, and the beams were heavy and rough enough to comfortable with the native planting, their steel frames sophisticated enough to suit a modern garden.  Nothing was wasted and nothing overdone.

A Tribute to Linnaeus - Image 2Interesting, then, to compare the Marshalls garden where extra elements seem to have been added wily-nilly.  A green-roofed summerhouse with an orange wooden-framed door supported a pink-striped deck chair and was a backdrop to bright cherry-maroon glazed planters containing striped agaves; white zantedeshias stood lost in space and taller than the wall which should have backed them and made them shine; colour and texture were used profligately and wasted.  The summerhouse was laudably built of gabions filled with recycled broken paving, except that the scale of the paving slabs within was infinitely too small to look comfortable on a wall that height; scale gave way to eco-propriety, when in fact both could perfectly well have been satisfied by using the right recycled materials.  Crisp, white, low walls around the pond were imperfectly jointed and their would-be perfect lines lost.   Unlike Nordfjell’s garden, ideas and features were added without thought to their necessity and the result became muddled.  If every extra element had had to be justified before it was added, the garden might have said so much more for itself.  As it is, one was left longing for simplicity.

Stephen Anderton – garden writer and critic

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Read Anne Wareham’s review

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