We were about to leave the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show when we stumbled upon my garden of the day. Lovers of the quintessential English Romantic garden style read on – this one’s for you!
I wish I had more pictures to share of The Sunset Garden. It helped the designer, Tamara Bridge, to wrest the prestigious title Royal Horticultural Society’s Young Designer of the Year away from worthy competition.
Tamara has a fresh perspective, though her work is firmly rooted in an English country garden tradition ages old. Classic design elements in The Sunset Garden included the formal hedge backdrop; trellising; a parterre effect around a central focal point; and a curved bench. Wooden posts topped with guilded metal arches gave a sense of enclosure while preserving the view.
Graceful, drifting planting added informality, throwing off any restrictions the traditional elements might imply. Lilies dancing above soft, swaying lavender were free to catch the light, not constrained by the weighty box so often found in traditional interpretations.
Tamara had chosen cottage garden plants and grasses that would interact with light and wind, including another of my favourites, gaura. Many brought fragrance to the party, such as standard roses, lavender and lilies. Others were mini paintpots of colour: I spotted aubergine penstemon; blue cornflower, allium and scabious; yellow daylilies and achillea; apricot and pink enchinacea; and chocolate cosmos.
Visitors to the show had to peer in from the sides, which was a pity: this is a sensory garden. How nice it must feel to brush through lavender in The Sunset Garden, to linger on the bench, inhale the scent of the flowers and listen for some plant susurrus!
Something in the artistic positioning and luminosity of the lilies reminded me of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. It’s easy to imagine one of their English beauties, perhaps Jane Morris or Elizabeth Siddal, transported here from another age (Lizzie was born yesterday, 186 years ago). I’d love to have seen those famous lips smiling broadly among the flowers rather curled in melancholy as they’ve come down to us, immortalized through art.
But I digress – back to the show! I’m sorry I haven’t better pictures of The Sunset Garden to share. It was getting late and both iPhones were completely flat by the time we set off for the red car park (a jest on any northerners dutiful enough to follow traffic directions from the M6) hoping to beat at least some of the rush hour traffic (hollow laugh). Drivers familiar with Knutsford at show time know what I mean.
Our journey home gave us plenty of time to reflect on what had made this year’s Tatton Park special. We’d found inspiration in the gardens: though some of the planting elsewhere seemed a little sparse by Chelsea standards, the focus of a July show is on flowers, which I love. Affluent Manchester had attracted a great range of vendors, many with interesting plants for sale.
This was a vibrant RHS show with fun at the forefront – and some decidedly kitsch carnival elements: garden huts; vegetable and recycling installations; a New Orleans-style insect parade marching to a drum corps; giant knitted flagpole flowers.
Above all, it was refreshing to see young, upcoming designers and schoolchildren not just taking part, but stealing the show. Twenty two local primary and secondary schools had created gardens as part of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.
I hope this campaign has real bite and tenacity: for example, I’d love to see more young people’s gardens at the RHS’s flagship show, Chelsea, even though space is at a premium. After all, that’s how children get into other hobbies: by having the chance to take part in world class events when they’re young.
See more pictures and information about The Sunset Garden on the RHS website. For more about the designer, visit Tamara Bridge’s website. This post on preraphaelitesisterhood.com What is a Pre-Raphaelite woman? gives a great overview of the painters’ models.