Our Chelsea vision

Interview with The M&G Garden 2021 designers Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg


Both Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg have designed Gold-medal winning Chelsea show gardens. This year’s will be their first joint show garden. How have they worked together to create the M&G Garden for the September show? 

The M&G Garden will bring beauty and nature to an urban environment. What inspired your pocket park design?

Charlotte: We were interested to see how Chelsea could be a platform for experimenting with public green space; we wanted to show how you can inject the smallest of green spaces into urban life.  

Hugo: It’s a shared space, an urban haven for wildlife and people using robust and resilient plants. Stone and industrial materials echo the past, yet become magical. It shows what might have gone before, and that you can carve out a green space anywhere.

Show gardens are usually the vision of one designer. How do you two work together on a project like this?

Hugo: We work well together, with different talents and skills. We design a better garden by questioning and learning from each other. The best ideas come out of collaboration: Harris Bugg Studio is a team.

Charlotte: We debate, we don’t argue! We went through the brief together, then each generated ideas. It helps that we are on the same wavelength and like similar things when it comes to the narrative, materials used and sense of place. 

What adaptations have you had to make to the design originally planned for showing in May?

Hugo: We already had all our plants and trees, but had to change our outlook. For May it would have been a garden of dappled light. Now, the canopy will be heavier, and light levels lower, so we’ve reconsidered how plants will look. Now, biscuity tones will come through seedheads and plants that have finished flowering.

Charlotte: The position of our trees - but we’ve not made drastic changes. Autumn tones will come from Nyssa; we still have Rosa glauca but colour will now come from its hips.

How will you use colour and water among your predominantly green palette?

Charlotte: Yellow and gold will come from Patrinia punctiflora, Bupleurum and Euphorbia to add light and life.

Hugo: There will also be shimmering silvery tones, for example from bog myrtle. Our silvered, weathered solid oak seats are formed from beautifully natural boulders of oak.  The water has a naturalistic form; the pond will shimmer and reflect light from the sky – and support wildlife.  

A 100m-long tubular metal sculpture weaves through the garden. What does it represent?

Hugo: It is a link to past industrial spaces, as are other materials such as the stones for paths. Andrew Mcmullan has reclaimed and reconditioned pipes to create a playful and beautiful sculpture. It weaves it through the garden, framing views and city images, and a spout brings in water.

Charlotte: The sculpture runs through the space, interacting with plants, and ties all the elements together.

What reaction are you hoping for from visitors when they see the garden?

Charlotte: What we hope is that people will see it as a real-life garden full of the beauty of autumn. From the magnificent Nyssa trees to the perennial planting, the garden fully embraces the shift in season.

Hugo: At a closer look, I want them to notice the repurposed materials, restored to look beautiful. I’d like people to come back and observe things you don’t notice all at once, those horticultural highlights and unexpected details: the pipework frames different views and those boulders are actually oak seats. 

The M&G Garden is a focal point of the show. What has it been like working with M&G?

Charlotte: We presented our vision for the garden to M&G and they embraced the idea of a pocket park wholeheartedly.

Hugo: M&G knows how Chelsea works. They’ve stuck with us during postponements, and have been a joy to work with.

Interview by Deborah Parker

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