A Massive Pinch of Salt

So…where was I? Oh yes, still questioning my sanity about fully intending to enter the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012….being a novice when it comes to Show Garden design!

Perhaps I should explain a little more…

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People ask me…Who?

Well, although i’m a mere  Soleirolia soleirolii amongst the multitude of talented garden designers and horticultural experts out there, all of whom have my utmost respect and appreciation, I would like to think that I can bring something to the proverbial garden table. (btw…i don’t mean that i mind my own business…i’m small – in the scheme of things –  but I get everywhere – and am perfectly complementary to many things!) I’ve mentioned before that i’m a designer by trade, many many years have been spent applying my eye to a multitude of projects, and I do feel that I can take those existing skills and apply them to an area where my passion has grown rapidly over the past couple of years, an area where that passion will stay. My plant knowledge is still growing, but hey, does anyone ever stop learning? I’ve been hindered by cancelled RHS courses over the past couple of years, but the perseverance and support of my truly inspirational RHS tutor has done wonders for my enthusiasm; he’s one person that is fully aware of my capabilities, and is also convinced that I should follow and fulfil this particular goal I have.

People ask me…Why?

Simply..why not? Okay, i’m not here to show the world that ‘anybody’ can produce a show garden…quite the opposite in fact. It’s a serious business, some real planning involved, some logistical nightmares to overcome, and some bartering skills will definitely have to come into play along the line. I purely and simply love the idea of designing something, building something that will hopefully bring a smile to others, not to mention (due to the idea I intend to pursue) giving them something that they can implement in their own garden. And..forgive me… I would have a huge smile just by taking part in the Chelsea Flower Show. To me it represents, out of all the shows, the complete intersection of horticultural knowledge, design, construction, technique and finesse; and if I were to get accepted to exhibit there, then I would be well and truly beaming. So if you see a big beaming thing in 2012 in amongst the shrubbery, that is either me, or..erm…a torch..possibly.

I’ll admit, often ‘Show’ Gardens tread over that line that separates ‘garden’ from art installation or contrived metaphor, and Chelsea is certainly guilty of promoting the use of a ‘theme’ when it comes to exhibiting…but I would say it’s up to the designer to interpret that theme…and maintain the fact that it is a garden, and outdoor living space… albeit one for ‘show’.

I’m digressing, that’s a discussion for another day (Anne?)…but I want to create something small and realistically achievable within the ‘theme’ I have set myself; and make it as cheap as possible to create, without formal sponsorship. Madness!

People ask me…How?

Hmm…well the whole idea came about because of my day-to-day work, combined with the ever-increasing interest in horticulture. I’ve mentioned it before, but to recap; my employer is a large mobility product manufacturer, and the initial idea was to create a garden based on mobility difficulties; an attractive proposition, in terms of both a brief for myself, and visibility and media coverage for said employer as a sponsor. All good in theory, but I began thinking more about what I wanted to achieve, in terms of my great passion but limited experience; I don’t want to exhibit at somewhere like Chelsea ‘purely’ because of financial backing…I want to get there because of my ideas, and my willingness to make them a reality.

People ask me…What?

The clue is in the name of the garden. ‘A Pinch of Salt‘. Again, i’ve mentioned this in an earlier post….I live in Saltaire, West Yorkshire; a model village which is now a World Heritage Site, conceived and created by Sir Titus Salt close to the River Aire. Rows of terraced houses…ENORMOUS gardens…haha…see below for a clue to where i’m going with this:

The enormous gardens of Saltaire

I’ll quote from an earlier post of mine:

“Which brings me to the second idea I had, a self-financed smaller show garden reflecting the place I live, Saltaire. A World Heritage site, Saltaire was founded in 1853, by Sir Titus Salt; a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry. Salt built neat stone houses for his workers, and it is in one of these houses that I live. The streets of Saltaire consist of neatly arranged terraces of these houses, with the streets named after members of Salt’s family. All the smaller terraced houses are essentially the same, with similar back yard areas; consisting of a paved area, low surrounding stone walls, and outhouses.

While there are some residents of Saltaire that have transformed their outside areas, the majority remain pretty bare, save for a couple of pots here and there. While there are limitations on what can be achieved in a small space such as this, in a World Heritage Site, I wanted to explore the possibilities of the typical Saltaire back yard, with traditional materials…and bring ‘A Pinch of Salt’ to The Chelsea Flower Show.”

As you can see from the pic above, the back yards are pretty much just that…yards…with walls around them. But look at that nice little view in the background. This picture isn’t the best, it shows a back alley and a load of wheelie bins, but Saltaire is a beautiful little place with some incredible old buildings (and stone lions from Trafalgar Square!) and many features to grab inspiration and ideas from.

Think about it, what does Saltaire have? And what could be used in a show garden to capture the essence of it? Terracing, textile/woollen mills, cobbled streets, a working funicular railway, a canal, heathland, stone lions, millstone grit, rock formations, wrought iron, cats….and a couple of Californian Redwoods in the church garden!

So there we have it…a Californian Redwood surrounded by cobbles. Perfect! Seriously though, there’s a lot in terms of inspiration for hard landscaping buy viagra no prescription required materials; as for the planting – well, that’s mainly going to depend on the chosen aspect; but in terms of colour and texture, there has to be that perfect complement to the millstone grit construction, and a softening of the confined area and limitations underfoot.

It’s up to me now, The RHS have stated their preference that I pursue one of the small Artisan garden plots, 5m x 4m – perfect for this idea. Now it’s time to sharpen the pencils and start planning.

So there you have it, the beginnings of an idea, an intention, a goal to see through to the end. It’s not going to change the world, but… it just might change mine.


5 Responses to “A Massive Pinch of Salt”

  1. James Todman says:

    I’ve got utmost admiration for what you are trying to achieve and wish you well with your brave ambition. But I do have a nagging thought that you are setting the bar quite high going straight for Chelsea.

    Would it not be better to prove your talent at some of the smaller shows such as Malvern than applying your skills to designing a Chelsea show garden.

    Most of the designers at Chelsea have spent many hard and often unrewarding years in the horticultural industry working towards a medal winning Chelsea show garden. Achieving that ambition is a pinnacle of their career.

    To walk in and design a Chelsea show garden without even working in the horticultural industry is a mighty lofty ambition, which if you manage to do will be a fantastic achievement.

  2. Garden Hero says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments, much appreciated. Yes, I suppose it is a somewhat lofty ambition, and I can see how it could also be misinterpreted. I’m certainly not thinking that I can just waltz in, plonk something down and pick up a medal…far from it.

    When I went to Chelsea earlier this year, I expected to walk out intimidated and overawed by even the slightest thought of ever exhibiting. Instead, I was completely and unashamedly inspired by it, and became determined to be a part of it. I actually found it less daunting than some of the other shows to be quite honest!

    I’ve always been honest about my horticultural credentials, but I can’t ignore my passion; I want to bring my 20 (unrewarding!) years of experience as a creative designer to the plate, mix in my ever increasing horticultural knowledge…and see what happens.

    I will be assisting with the build of a garden at NEC next year which will prove incredibly useful; and am attending the RHS seminar next week for potential exhibitors, which again will give me further insight. I do have experience of exhibition logistics (and the nightmares!) – in terms of designing and planning, so that should also come in handy.

    All said and done, your comments have given me food for thought; thanks for being both supportive and realistic. Just please don’t think i’m some young tearaway (i’m certainly not young!) that thinks it’s an easy task.

    Although I do think I can create a nicer show garden than James May’s plasticine one :)

    Thanks again James.


  3. James Todman says:

    No problem GH,

    My comment is just related to the fact that people visit Chelsea and come away saying ‘I could do that’. Bit like people going to a modern art gallery and coming out saying ‘my 10 year old could paint better’.

    But can they really? After having a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of a Chelsea show garden and with knowledge of plants and garden design, I think the real skill of a Chelsea garden is making it look so simple, which I now know it really is not.

    But it sounds like you are going about it the right way, with a realistic attitude, so I do genuinely wish you all the success.

  4. Anne Wareham says:

    We could do with really fresh ideas and fresh work at Chelsea.(there is a lot that is absolutely awful after all. And wins medals)

    Maybe working your way up through the smaller shows depresses creativity and originality, so don’t be discouraged. Go for the biggy I say!

  5. TimMH says:

    I think your idea is truly inspirational to anyone wanting to get into the horticultural industry, in particular garden design.

    Just because you may not have any current commercial experience in Garden design does not mean you will not be a great success with your breath of Fresh Air attitude that will bring a new twist to the industry.

    Your background in Graphic Design will definately stand you in good stead when it comes to your blank canvas Saltaire garden layout.

    I cannot wait for the design ideas to start appearing.

    Good luck Mr Garden Hero.


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