Chelsea 2015 – a review by Katherine Crouch

May 19, 2015

in Events, Shows

This is what you want, I think – a real reflection of Chelsea without the hype. Thanks for an amazing effort Katherine, getting it to me so fast and with so many pictures and so much messing around for my benefit. (I’m a monster editor)

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham copyright John Kingdon




Chelsea 2015

A review by Katherine Crouch

It’s no good moaning about the shortcomings of Chelsea. For a hundred years, it has been too crowded and with nowhere to sit unless you buy expensive food.

Burger at Chelsea ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Bacon butty and tea £8

Just get on with it, wear flat shoes, bring a bottle of water and immerse yourself in the delights.

Press day this year was chilly and rainy, and the photographs consequently flat and dull. Sorry.

Big show gardens

Twenty years ago, I could amuse myself with spotting pot rims and dodgy construction details – no longer much of a sport as the current standard of ‘finish’ has reached very high levels.

Overall, this year’s gardens are of a very high standard, with more variation than last year. As much of the show garden planting was sombre and the paving dark, the hard landscaping forms in solid repose, gloominess was narrowly avoided by the use of flowering perennials.

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden in the rain

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

BBC Great Chelsea Garden Challenge Winner’s garden (Sean Murray) – slate


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Rupert Till sculpture – slate..


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Brewin Dolphin – slate?

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Telegraph Rill – yes,  slate..

The cow parsley count was still pretty high, but apricot geums warmed up several gardens, complimented with pale blue irises, circium rivulare, alliums, verbascums, Lysimachia Beaujolais, aquilegias etc. Considering the rains last Thursday, the perennials were generally of extremely good quality. Box buns remain as popular as ever.

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support – wot no cow parsley?? (Gold)


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Jo Thompson for M&G -still no cow parsley. (Silver)

The Beauty of Islam garden bucked the trend of dark paving with large areas of meticulously laid white marble which dominated the design to the point that I can’t remember much else about it. I could hear the ghost of my grandmother whispering ‘that’ll be hellish to keep clean’ which distracted me from absorbing the culture of Islam. Bring your sunglasses.

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Beauty of Islam. Not a fallen leaf to be seen. By Al Barari (Silver-Gilt)

The Daily Telegraph’s garden is Anne’s fancy for best in show. (no – it was my Best in Show. ed.) Possibly. It’s awfully like many previous gardens. Well planned on a large budget – check. Hornbeam hedge down one side, big rectangular stone feature part way down – check. Building blocks of shrub cubes – check. No variegated leaves (possible exception for cornus controversa variegata) – check. Carefully judged changes of planting height with good proportions – check. Pings of perennial colour – check. Big chunks of stone – check. Very big multi-stemmed tree – check. Lovely. Yawn. (different ain’t everything. ed)

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Telegraph Garden by Marcus Barnett (Gold)


Nothing like this in Dan's garden (editor)

Nothing like this in Dan’s garden (editor)

Telegraph Garden Copyright Anne Wareham

Or this.

Telegraph Garden, Copyright Anne Wareham SAM_0679

or even this (pity my duff camera work doesn’t show you the subtle relief work on that panel. ed.)

I think Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth rockery might pip the Daily Telegraph to the post. Dominated by large ‘Lion King’ rock stacks (I am assured they are like this at Chatsworth) this is a fine lesson in scale and proportion, delicate naturalism amongst huge blocks of millstone grit (I think) and massive wooden benches. It will look better in full sunlight. Remove the sunglasses.

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Laurent- Perrier Chatsworth Garden – by Dan Pearson =  Best in Show


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Laurent- Perrier Chatsworth Garden

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Laurent- Perrier Chatsworth Garden

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

The Laurent- Perrier Chatsworth Garden

It has been many years since Douglas Knight’s rock and water gardens of plundered Westmorland limestone graced the bank where the Press Building is now located. It remains to be seen if this garden sparks a revival of rock gardening. It will certainly get Gold, but is it too subtle to get Best in Show? (It got best in Show. ed.)

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Sentebale Garden by Matt Keightley (Silver-Gilt)

On to the Sentebale garden, and a vast improvement on the mud ashtray of 2013. I tip Harry to get Gold.


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Sue at Chelsea (in a dress!) (SILVER!!)

The rain poured down, so into the marquee to see my BBC Gardener of the Decade buddy Sue Beesley of Bluebell Nursery, a first time exhibitor. She has had the good sense to produce cards with space for plant notes and free pencils. Fingers crossed Sue!

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Bluebell Nursery at Chelsea

Back out into the drizzle, to hunt for the daftest artefact at the maddest prices. The ‘who the hell would buy that?’ prize goes to a shell encrusted Medusa, your for £42,500. Good taste abounds at Chelsea, but naff and kitsch gets in if it is well crafted and very, very expensive.

Posh tat

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

With that in your pond, the kids will never go anywhere near the water

Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

If Medusa is beyond your budget, a pink shelly pig seat can be yours for only £4500.

Artisan Gardens

Round to the Artisan gardens, ‘to engage visitors with their artistic and naturalistic approach’. So, like the Chatsworth garden, but smaller and cheaper to build.


Chelsea 2015 ©Katherine Crouch for thinkingardens

Trug Maker’s Workshop

DSC00832 (Custom)

The trugmaker’s garden, by Serena Fremantle and Tina Vallis (Gold)

I tip the Trugmaker’s Garden and the Breast Cancer gardens for Gold. Well worth standing and staring at, both had a simple layout with much detail to admire.

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The trugmaker’s garden, by Serena Fremantle and Tina Vallis


DSC00842 (Custom)

The Breast Cancer Haven by Sarah Eberle and Tom Hare (Gold)

 However, the more I looked at the Runnymede garden, the more I was irritated. In the design rationale, the ingredients of willow, water, parchment, banners and ‘planting reminiscent of a medieval garden’ were justified, but somehow did not add up to something I cared to look at for long. The small shields were painted with bright modern paints and the pennants looked unfeasibly pure white and possibly made of polyester.

DSC00834 (Custom)

Runneymead? Really? (Bronze)

So much more to see….here is a picture of one of my favourite gardens at Chelsea this year.

DSC00823 (Custom)

Actually it’s not a show garden at all, just a bank in the Ranelagh gardens on the way to the Exhibitor’s restaurant. I shall sneak back in September, plant some more bluebells, some red campion, polygonatum verticillatum, ferns and one apricot geum and enter it for next year.

Katherine Crouch

Katherine Crouch portrait





Katherine on Twitter

See also –

Buildup Sunday

Great Garden Design by Ian Hodgson, reviewed by Katherine Crouch.

Naff names by Katherine Crouch

More Chelsea (2014)

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adam skinner May 26, 2015 at 11:07 pm

I rather liked the bank at the end with the cow parsley. And the Telegraph garden looked as if there should be a sign for public conveniences attached to the wall. The Dan Pearson planting was more to my taste, but I worry about the thousands of tons of rockery ‘rocks’ sold via garden centres all over the country, there must be some huge holes!

Why not have a cap on the amount of money allowed per garden? Have some gardens with achievable projects and ideas . Some of the hard landscaping is ludicrous. I am sure it all goes off to a good home, probably next to Ed Miliband’s Ed Stone .

I agree, sponsors names and designers should be completely anonymous, until after the judging, otherwise the whole thing is a joke. Which it is, really. If Chelsea is the Haute Couture of Gardening, and these designs will trickle down to us eventually, then I find it all rather depressing. Nothing wrong with MY garden that thirty or forty thousand quid couldn’t sort out! And I do have LOTS of cow parsley, buttercups cowslips, dandelions…perhaps rather too many dandelions.

Katherine Crouch May 31, 2015 at 10:00 pm

I wonder if Chelsea cow parsley is valued as a rare and joyous sight to most Londoners? it is joyous in Somerset but not rare. Always a shame when the councils start mowing the verges.

Rory Stuart May 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Is there some good reason why the show gardens are not judged anonymously for the best in show award? Both sponsors’ and the designer’s name can be revealed after the judging.

I wonder if the Chatsworth effort would have scored so highly without the names attached.

Katherine Crouch May 31, 2015 at 9:56 pm

I rather think that would be impossible in these social media days. When I was there 2 years ago the biggest garden build-ups had spotty teenagers to Facebook, Tweet and blog all day long. we were a bit rubbish at that.

Tristan Gregory May 20, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Chelsea is definitely more palpitation than beating heart for me, lots going on but none of it useful.

I like Mt Pearson but then I like mountains and its aesthetic success must be separated from its absurdity.

Sorry but this nonsense always brings out my inner Marxist.

Katherine Crouch May 24, 2015 at 9:40 pm

‘inner Marxist’ is now my phrase of choice for so many things. The feeling of walking away from clients jibbing at spending £15K on a garden scheme, squeezing past 3 very expensive cars on the drive as I go….

Katherine Crouch May 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

block planting done by Christopher Bradley-Hole in 2013 methinks? All very lovely and likable but it still doesn’t thrill me any more

annewareham May 20, 2015 at 3:36 pm

And a bit of souped up countryside does?

Katherine Crouch May 20, 2015 at 3:47 pm

not really. Hence my last paragraph, taking the p*** out of such gardens. I want Chelsea to thrill me with something innovative as well as desirable. It’s usually one OR the other.

annewareham May 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Think Chelsea isn’t going to do it for you on current showing.I’d have Christopher Bradley-Hole back myself. He has imagination.

Katherine Crouch May 20, 2015 at 5:02 pm

True, but he still does the sort of gardens where you need to wipe your feet before entering. Please will someone do wild and woolly as well as modern, pretty, stylish and interesting with actual garden plants without it just being a habitat re-creation?

annewareham May 20, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I like sharp, me. I’d wipe my feet for C B-H…

Helen Gazeley May 20, 2015 at 10:37 am

The problem with garden design is that as soon as there are recognised elements that make up a good garden (I’m talking Telegraph garden description here), they can be enumerated, ticked off and then dismissed. They still make a good garden. The result of such ennui seems to be a garden that is a stage-set for the kinder moments in Wuthering Heights.

Katherine Crouch May 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm

yes it was a good garden. I think I probably lack taste.

Andy Garland May 19, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Interesting article as always. I think the caption pics of Jo’s garden and the Homebase garden have been transposed though.

Laurent-Perrier was (rightly in my very humble opinion) a shoo-in for the best in show, for the sense of scale between the elements (perfect) and the attention to naturalistic detail (look down the valley over the bridge and you’ll notice the path has been deliberately trodden down).

Matthew Wilson and Jo Thompson probably (wait scratch that) definitely gutted.

I know the simple word ‘like’ is probably the antithesis of what Thinking Gardens is about but I liked Wellington College and Morgan Stanley’s efforts the latter showing that signature Chris Beardshaw look of tight formal control using box, restraining the hugely enjoyable exuberant planting.

But if great art is what kicks you in the stomach, then the garden that did that to me was ‘The time in between’ by Charlie Albone. I would love to be able to tell my late father how things have turned out and if given the chance how we could have enjoyed Chelsea together.

I’m back there tomorrow and manning a stand in the Great Pavilion for the very first time. Comfy shoes and thermos a must!

annewareham May 19, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Faulty captions now sorted I believe. Thanks Andy.

Charles Hawes May 19, 2015 at 3:07 pm

So what really got your juices running (if that’s not too impertinent a question?). Not the same gardens as mine, obvs as I thought the Gods, sorry, DPLP garden, a right sedative. Yeah we all go to Chatsworth to look at manky grass, burned trees (WHY) and a pile of rocks. So I suppose its only fair that he brought them to London to save us the bother, not to mention the travelling expense.

I was with Anne and thought the Telegraph garden ACE. I just don’t think that we had seen that block planting before – or if so, very rarely. It was brave and bold. As was the excellent wall with the geometric design. I loved it.

Is it just me that though I loved the Islam garden photographically I couldn’t help thinking that this was a gross propaganda jobby, trying to sell us Islam as a religion of peace.

The Artisan gardens were as Twee (WE LOVE TWEE) and as accomplished and as “seen it all before” as ever.

My best in show outside the main Avenue was the fabulous Fresh, World Vision Garden. It kept my attention for a full 5 minutes, and when I had such heart throbs as Olivia Colman to distract me, that took some doing.

Katherine Crouch May 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm

trying to cut and paste a picture of the 2013 CBH garden and failing…

annewareham May 20, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Must be online.

Katherine Crouch May 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

the comment box does not like pictures? anyway, here is a link,

shrub cubes galore. I loved it.

Adam Hodge May 19, 2015 at 2:49 pm

There seems a to be a lot of faux nature gardens getting the Judges all excited this year.Emporer’s clothes m’thinks. Have the judges lost the plot ?

Angela Tolputt May 21, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I agree about the Emperor’s new clothes – although the words and phrases naturalistic, awe-inspring and romantic (as well as monolithic re Lion King rock) are all applicable, what about all those designers who gave us fabulous garden design and gorgeous, inspirational planting and landscapers who gave us, in the case of the Brewin Dolphin garden, perfect structures meticulously formed from 40,000 pieces of Cornish slate? I can’t help thinking that the judges are not comparing like with like (sorry they’re not comparing – slapped wrists) – maybe there should be a ‘Naturalistic’ category? ….oh and why did Chatsworth bring half the contents of its gift shop? – I didn’t notice any others sponsors being allowed to do the same…

My favourite garden? – Chris Beardshaw’s Healthy Cities Garden for the sheer quality of design and exuberantly lovely planting.

Final comment – Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ is gorgeous but was a bit overused this year?

Katherine Crouch May 21, 2015 at 4:05 pm

…and that apricot geum was brightening up many a gloomy garden. Lots of lovely gardens I did not mention – no room. Brewin Dolphin well executed, but falls into the category that I call London Rectilinear. Big blocks of rectangular stones in the BD garden, big blocks of stone, yew and other evergreens in other gardens. Funny how in 15 years I have shown new Somerset clients this kind of garden and they have never lusted after this look. Perhaps we are a bunch of tasteless romantics!

Adam Hodge May 22, 2015 at 8:49 am

Katherine .I think your clients are worth heeding. M’thinks today’s designers are actually quite out of touch with what joe public like. They offer a product /style that just doesn’t do it

Katherine Crouch May 24, 2015 at 9:36 pm

I agree, Adam. Chelsea is like a parallel universe. I went to the garden centre today. Loads of people walking out with lobelia, petunias, tomatoes. Don’t recall seeing any of that in Chelsea gardens. I think many of the gardens by London based designers are aimed solely at rich London stockbrokers and Russian millionaires over here to buy our football clubs. Profitable too – a small garden needs as many phone calls to make happen as a big one.

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