James Basson – My Chelsea
Interview with the M&G Garden designer
South-of-France-based landscape designer and Chelsea regular, James Basson, has secured top show garden billing this year, hitting One Main Avenue with a garden for show sponsors, M&G. It’s inspired by a disused Maltese quarry and we’re intrigued…
Why the quarry?
We weren’t given a particular brief, and I’m very interested in quarries, especially old, abandoned quarries where nature has re-established itself. I find the idea of nature reclaiming such a man-made, stark environment very exciting.
So, as well as having an extraordinarily diverse landscape, Malta has got great quarries and these places support amazing micro-ecologies; astonishing for such small areas. Plus, our speciality is dry gardens in the South of France, which shares a Mediterranean climate with Malta, so it was a good way of avoiding becoming pigeon-holed in that ‘olive trees and lavender’ thing.
Do you think the garden manages to reflect something of the M&G ethos?
The M&G philosophy of long-term investment resonated with me. I drew a parallel between this and the way we approach sustainable landscaping. For instance, instead of putting in huge plants for short-term gain, we like to use lots of small plants that over the long term will thrive and endure without too much maintenance.
You specialise in sustainable landscapes. How important is it to get the environmental message across to visitors?
Drawing on Malta as an example: it’s one of the most densely populated countries in the world and water conservation is a high priority. We like to work with nature by making low-maintenance gardens, planting small and letting nature take its course. We use a high diversity of plants that are suited to the conditions and we think this is an environmentally sympathetic way of landscaping. Most people don’t have a fleet of gardeners these days so it’s fitting. I think we’re enjoying more natural gardens than perhaps we have in the recent past.
What are you most looking forward to?
Seeing this two-year dream become a reality. I get really excited about every single element: the stone, for instance, was looking a bit too pristine, so we found a way aqround that, which makes me happy. Seeing all the plants that have been scattered over Europe all together in one place is also very exciting.
I know it was your ambition to get to Number One Main Avenue. How does it feel to have arrived?
It’s a dream come true. After our first Hampton Court garden in 2000, we took a break and came back to Chelsea in 2012. Our target has always been that spot on the corner of Main Avenue. We don’t really do ‘corporate-style’ gardens, so for M&G to be daring enough to sponsor our garden, which steps away from that style, is absolutely fantastic.
Interview by Emma Reuss