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Not just for show

by
24 May 2013

By Jamie Cable

iStock

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 mind.

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 all.

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 mentoring.

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 direction.

www.sentebale.org

B&Q is offering six "Sentebale" plants this summer, with 20 per cent from each sale going to the charity.

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