Paul Hervey-Brookes on his new creation for the 2018 RHS Chatsworth Flower Show
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:33 17 May 2018
The designer of the Best Show Garden at last year's inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, Paul Hervey-Brookes, takes us behind the scenes with a look at his garden for this year's show.
The buzz of creating a show garden for one of the world-famous RHS Flower Shows never goes away, which is why I found myself, just days after leaving the grounds of RHS Chatsworth 2017, agreeing to design another garden for the 2018 show – this time for wealth management company Brewin Dolphin.
In fact, the ideas and inspiration for the garden had already started to formulate. During last year’s show, I met the Duke of Devonshire and was invited on a tour of Chatsworth House to see some of the fascinating renovations taking place. Taking me up on to the roof to give me a bird’s-eye view of the estate and the stunning landscape of the Peak District beyond, his Grace pointed to an area where the footprint of a former village could still be seen in dry weather. Dating from the 1700s, he explained that the village had been moved when Capability Brown redesigned the landscape, with his signature features of rolling grassland, lakes and trees that you see today.
The idea that an entire village once tangible and solid, should simply disappear, fascinated me, and designing the Brewin Dolphin Garden in the very place that it once stood, has given me a unique opportunity to explore the nature of time and our perception of it. In the Chatsworth archives a beautiful painting by Thomas Smith of Derby from 1743 shows the village as a busy, vibrant place with people strolling across the fields, horses and carriages in the distance and houses with plumes of smoke rising from them – a picture of everyday life, now all but razed from memory.
Inspired by the lost village, I designed the Brewin Dolphin Garden to explore our relationship with time. At the centre of the garden, a timber pavilion (built by Gareth Wilson Landscapes from Glossop )will be created from the void space of a street, and will be clad in 12,000 individual split chestnut laths – narrow strips of wood that would then have been used to cover the interior walls of houses. A laborious process, attention to detail is nevertheless everything in a show garden, and I’m working with a team of immensely skilled local Derbyshire craftsmen whose job it is to help me create it. Surrounding the building, simple cylindrical sculptures, some small, some tall, will be placed through the landscape – a further, shadowy reminder of the people who have come and gone across the landscape.
But of course, show gardens are all about the plants. Coming up with new and exciting plant combinations is always a challenge at RHS shows, not least because of the finite palette the designer has to draw from at any particular time of year. Choosing plants with an historical connection to the village, Chatsworth House and our own use of plants through time, created another challenge.
Negotiations with nurseries and plant growers start much earlier than you might imagine. Most have a love-hate relationship with show gardens, not least because of the demands we designers make on them for perfect plants – the first week of June can be tricky, many plants are still getting going. But once again, I’m working with some of the best. Jekka McVicar, Britain’s best known herb gardener who has amassed an incredible 62 RHS Gold Medals herself, is growing a variety of specialist herbs exclusively for the garden. All of them are plants that would have been common at the time the village existed and offer an array of fascinating medicinal uses as well as being edible.
One is wild angelica – a tall, handsome plant that was used as a vegetable until the 20th century and taken as a medicine to treat all sorts of ancient sounding ailments, scurvy amongst them. Sanguisorba, better known as Salad Burnet, is another. Its knobbly clusters of crimson flowers give out a cucumber scent when crushed and it was one of the staple herbs taken across the Atlantic by the Pilgrim Fathers. There’s also aromatic Tanacetum, sometimes known as Bachelor’s Button or Feverfew, which is still used to treat migraines today.
These, combined with an array of decorative plants will create the dense borders of colourful planting that I imagined last year when the garden began to take shape in my mind. In the end there will have to be changes and compromises and a degree of improvisation, that’s all part of the buzz of creating a garden for an RHS show, but I hope that the garden will encourage visitors to think about time and our relationship to it in the same way I did all those months ago standing on the roof of Chatsworth House.