THE Chelsea Flower Show celebrated its centenary this year. The
essence of this peculiarly British tradition endures. But what has
changed? First, it is higher-tech these days, and rightly more in
tune with conservation and global issues. Also, with society's
growing concern about sustainability, more of the Chelsea Flower
Show gardens are relocated after the show's run rather than simply
auctioned. Designers with an eye on a medal must bear this in
In most cases, significant changes will have to be made in order
for the garden to deliver all year round. To clothe fully the
allotted space at Chelsea, at a time of year when seasonal plants
are only just getting into their stride, plants must be crammed in.
Furthermore, flowering may have been stalled or accelerated to
reach a climax at the end of May.
The designer Jinny Blom describes her contribution this year as
more painting than garden. At one level, this holds true, but the
B&Q Sentebale garden has so much worth noting, and Ms Blom
thinks that the majority would work, albeit reconfigured. Certainly
a "lawn" of Leptinella squalida "Platt's Black",
apparently common in New Zealand, would be a talking point.
The wispy Deschampsia is a good ornamental grass to
introduce among perennials if you have so far resisted the whole
prairie thing as a passing fad. With its silvery sheen, the
movement it brings to a border could convert you. The lisp-inducing
Zaluzianskya ovata is a compact plant with aromatic
evergreen foliage. The whirligig white flowers close in midday sun,
but open again in the evening to release a wonderfully intoxicating
scent. It is perfect as a pot plant.
There are the basic design points, too. Crisp lines of hard
landscaping frame an abundance of plants: a bold rhubarb relative,
Rheum palmatum, against a froth of cow parsley,
Anthriscus sylvestris; the pollarded willows giving strong
vertical lines to balance the expanse of paving. Contrast is
Fundamentally, however, the garden has a message.
"Sentebale" means "Forget me not" in Sesotho, the language
of Lesotho, a small, mountainous country in southern Africa. Some
design features point us there: the circular architecture with an
earthen plaster finish; the terrace motif taken from the blankets
of the indigenous Basotho.
The life expectancy of the Basotho is 41 years, owing to the HIV
pandemic. Prince Harry witnessed the plight of these people during
his gap year, and, together with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, set up
the charity, in 2006, in memory of their mothers. Their latest
project is to build the Mamohato Centre, to extend care and
So, yes, the show gardens are more product than the process of a
"real" garden, but their beauty can stop us in our tracks, and help
us to remember, and move forward in a subtly different
B&Q is offering six "Sentebale" plants this summer, with
20 per cent from each sale going to the charity.