A dry climate is something Australians are more than familiar with, and whilst London has a lower annual rainfall than either Sydney or Melbourne (yes, really!), we don’t exactly associate it with England.
But this year, dry climate gardening was a real theme of the Chelsea flower show. We had Hugo Buggs’ Jordanian deserts, James Basson’s dry hillsides of Provence and even the Best Show Garden, by Andy Sturgeon, was a mix of Mediterranean and Southern Hemisphere drought tolerant species.
But perhaps the garden that provides the most practical inspiration for dry climate gardeners is Nick Bailey’s ‘The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden’.
You wouldn’t necessarily call it the most instantly appealing name, but this garden attracted some of the most prominent media attention of all. And for very good reason. There were three particular standout aspects for me.
1. Plant palette
In the UK, we tend to throw any old plant we stumble across into the mix and hope for an interesting outcome. At the other end of the scale, in Australia, invariably we have our ‘native gardens’ decidedly segregated from our ‘succulent gardens’, which are screened from our ‘vegie garden’ and so on. It would be so nice to find a happy medium.
And find it, Nick has. With everything from pines to lupins and aloes to banksias, it could be a bit of a muddle. But there are sufficient common themes running through the garden to hold everything together beautifully. He has used a lot of strong textures, with solid-looking succulents, yuccas and peeling barks, balanced by wispy grasses and delicate perennials to create an overall very strong, bold, definite design.
Colour is key to this garden’s unity. It isn’t boring or contrived, with plenty of variation, but the base colourings are very consistent. This is about grey-green foliage with copper, apricot and burgundy highlights, which similarly run through the hard landscaping. There are pops of blue and white and some brighter greens, avoiding any thought of monotony, but the whole is cohesive, serene and beautiful.
I was relieved to see a move away from the ubiquitous Buxus balls in almost all show gardens this year. Yes, they work well, but oh, what a bore they become after a while. And in this garden Nick found wonderful alternatives for structure, with our very own Westringia in pride of place. There were also loosely-pruned pine shrubs, offering similar colourings but contrasting texture. Both these structural plants were subtle, yet provided essential rhythm to the garden.
It was a surprise for many that this garden received a silver-gilt, as opposed to a gold, medal. It was certainly in my top three when I first scooted round the gardens, but I did find myself coming back to it a little less over the week. Was I subconsciously influenced by the medals, or were Andy’s and Cleve’s just that little more captivating?
I asked Nick about the feedback he had received from the judges. I wasn’t surprised that they had commented about the density of the planting. I’m all for very dense planting (Andy Sturgeon’s excepting!) but this did feel just a little claustrophobic in places. As though the plants might be finding it a little hard to breathe or move, let alone grow. Just a little too forced in and solid. The judges had also commented on the height of the ceiling in the seating area, which they felt should have been 10 to 15 centimetres higher. Ouch. That’s not much.
There is no doubt this was an exceptional garden and it was clearly not far off a gold. The Chelsea judging criteria are very detailed and very specific and it’s probably advantageous to have been through the full process at least once to fully appreciate viewing a garden through the eyes of the judges; something that Nick didn’t have the benefit of this year.
This is a beautiful, quite unique, intelligent garden from an exceptionally talented designer. It is perhaps a little more ‘human’ than some of the gold medal-winning offers, not quite so superhumanly-flawless, but don’t we like a bit a character in our gardens? I asked Nick if he would be back at Chelsea again and was delighted he gave a resoundingly definite, ‘yes’. I’m quite sure we will have many more treats in store from this talented man.
10 thoughts on “Nick Bailey: The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, Chelsea 2016”
This was my favourite Janna. I found it so captivating which I eventually resolved to be about its planting palette. But then again it may have been about its design providing a subtle movement through the garden with its curves and little vistas drawing me through it. But then again it may have been the tones of the materials he used, the copper and timber complimenting the plants. But then again it may have been …… Oh I think I just liked it all!!!!
Thanks for your review of this most enjoyable garden.
There was an awful lot to like about this garden, wasn’t there, Steven? It’s nice when there’s so much we can’t quite decide which was our favourite bit!
Another beautiful garden…….I have to agree the colour palette and planting are just beautiful. Thanks for the lovely photos and the journey you took me on in this garden. I have studied your photos trying to work out the plants. Your Chelsea blogs have really got me thinking about what I can do to improve my planting in my garden. I need to soften some of my hard surfaces and continue planting to fill in the gaps. I can’t wait to experience Chelsea myself someday…..
It is fun to look at great gardens and take away little snippets to build on in our own gardens. The nicest thing is that we can have a bit of so many of them and then make something quite unique to us. I can’t wait for you to experience Chelsea either…I’m excited about the mere thought of how much you’d love it!
I have so enjoyed your knowledgable epistles about Chelsea. We, in Australia can’t get enough of the latest trends exhibited at the amazing show place. I also loved how you commented on the use of our beautiful Australian plants and how they do mix so well with exotics. I might even give little ol’ Westringia another go!
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, Jantina. It’s really lovely to hear that you’ve enjoyed reading about Chelsea. There has certainly been a lot this year that has been very applicable to Australian gardening, perhaps because designers are more conscious of climate change or maybe it’s just the world becoming a little smaller and us all more international. Either way, it’s great to get this breadth of garden styles and planting. Good luck with your planting; I hope the Westringia works well!
The plantings are wonderful Janna – perhaps a bit too tight as you suggest though but stunning nevertheless. I use Westringia and other natives in amongst my exotics here in Australia all the time – why wouldn’t you! BUT I know what you mean, so many people segregate the two, but I think that may be changing. Re the rainfall London versus say Melbourne – the main difference is that perhaps Londoners receive the rainfall over the enitire year, whereas our rainfall is restricted to certain months — and we go for weeks (sometimes months) without rain and just to top it off, hot weather sucks any moisture left in the soil right out of it! Happens to me every summer, even with mulch. That is why it is so hard to garden in Australia over summer and ‘bad’ conditions often extend into autumn and start mid-spring.
It is actually really surprising how dry it is here. The most common planting requirement in London is for dry shade, as even when it does rain, there’s a huge rain shadow from all the tall buildings that are never far away and we rarely seem to get enough to penetrate the soil. It seems to be more ‘damp air’ than real rain! Add the dry shade requirement to the fact that we have clay soil and you really need extremely flexible plants! I think wherever we are, we tend to focus on the difficulties rather than the positive aspects. Even in the Cotswolds, with some of the most beautiful gardens in the world, locals talk mostly of the limey, stoney, thin soil. Of course it’s all about finding the right plants for the conditions, but we’re always tempted by inappropriate ones! As you say though, without the heat of Australia everything does dry out much more slowly, so you certainly have more leeway. We’ll find out just how much leeway when I finally plant up my south-facing, soil-less terrace!
I agree that Nick’s garden looked to be one of the Chelsea highlights. I like so much about it – the copper, the shapes, the balance of openness and enclosure. Everything really, except the white flowers in the planting mix. Maybe it’s just the effect in photos, as the white really over-exposes compared to other colours, but it doesn’t work for me. Did you see it like that in ‘real life’?
Interesting. I hadn’t thought for a moment about the white. Clearly, it didn’t jump out at me and I think perhaps it was necessary to avoid an overly-muted, perhaps rather sombre effect. It probably added a bit of light and ‘sparkle’ but it certainly didn’t jar to my eye. Might well be one of those instances where photos don’t represent the ‘real life’ experience so well.