RHS Chelsea Flower Show

23 – 27 May 2017

Andy Sturgeon – My Chelsea

Interview with The M&G Garden designer


Andy SturgeonAndy Sturgeon is well known for designing Chelsea show gardens. His first was in 2001 and this will be his ninth. As he creates The M&G Garden this year, we wanted to know what’s new…
Were you daunted by the prospect or excited to return to Main Avenue?
I’m looking forward to it – even more than for previous shows. Of course, the weather has caused some plants to flower early, but the burnt oak sculptures are already finished. They are laid out in a wood, and I visit it every week to see the views they create. But the big moment for me will be when the garden is finally completed.
This garden has a woodland, naturalistic feel. Is this a new direction for you from your previous show gardens?
It is still quite architectural, like my earlier gardens, but using natural materials. The oak structures will create different vistas, just as walls have in previous gardens, and I’m using stone to form platforms. So I’m using comparable elements to my earlier gardens, but planting more loosely this time.
What inspired you to design a garden that symbolises regeneration and a sense of optimism – especially in these uncertain times?
The dark oak sculptures bring out the fresh green of the woodland plants and hornbeam, that bright green you only get in spring. I wanted to reflect this, as it is the most optimistic time of year.
What lies behind the bold choices of burnt oak and ironstone?
I wanted a contrast between the black burnt oak and the green of the plants. Burnt oak, an old Japanese technique,  has not been used quite like this before in show gardens. I chose ironstone from the Cotswolds as I wanted materials that were reasonably local. 

You’ve chosen a range of unusual, structural plants, some new to show gardens. Which are your favourites?
Some of the plants may have been displayed before, but I wanted to show how they can be used in gardens. For example, aspidistras can be great dry shade plants: I like Aspidistra zongbayi ‘Uan Fat Lady’. Bramble-like Rubus has great leaves and will fruit; I will also be using arisaemas and Gunnera killipiana, which has a burgundy tone.
How are you using plants to add colour to the garden?
Greens will predominate, but jewel colours will come through drifts of plants such as camassias and woodland plants to add orange, yellow, blue and maroon.
How do you hope visitors will react to your design?
I want visitors to think ‘wow!’ when they first see it, then be drawn into the detail and engage with it – to look closely at individual plants and the water in the garden. In fact they could recreate our use of waterspouts at home, using just one to have water falling into a small pool.
This is your second Chelsea show garden for M&G. What has it been like working with them once again?
M&G are great to work with – they really understand what Chelsea means to people and give designers the freedom to be creative. I pitched my idea for the garden to them, explained I wanted it to be pioneering and optimistic, and they said, ‘Great! Let’s go…’.

Interview by Deborah Parker


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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.