Multi-medal winning designer Cleve West talks about the garden that drew him back to RHS Chelsea
If anyone deserves the keys to the Bull Ring Gate at Chelsea it’s Cleve West. Having designed seven gardens, won six Gold medals and been awarded Best in Show two years in succession (the only designer to do so), he earned his seven year break.
Now he’s chosen to return with arguably his most adventurous garden to date, but what was it about this particular challenge that lured him back?
“After 11 years of creating show gardens I’d decided I wouldn’t do another Chelsea garden unless it was for charity, so working with Centrepoint ticked a few important boxes for me. The garden is funded by Project Giving Back, which means the charity doesn’t have to sponsor the garden, which was another reason I wanted to do it.”
Plants aren’t neccessarily the focal point in this garden which is dominated by a large derelict building – based on the designer’s step-daughter’s Victorian town house in London. Cleve West explained: “The house has been destroyed and nature is slowly taking it over, with all the typical weeds you’d see on a site that’s been abandoned for several years. It’s nature’s way of healing and a good to have an excuse to get weeds into a show garden, when they’re generally banned!”
“A very visceral metaphor for young people facing homelessness”
Nature-first gardening is not just a theme of this garden. Much of the seven years since his last RHS Flower Show, Cleve West has spent working and writing about his allotment and vegan approach to sustainable environments. It’s an ethos, he believes we all need to embrace, as he said: “The only way we can really save ourselves is to acknowledge the fact we’re not the most important species in the world.”
See all the Show Gardens at RHS Chelsea 2023
Cleve describes The Centrepoint Garden as “a very visceral metaphor for young people facing homelessness” and he readily admits that his aim is to draw attention to the charity and stir up debate on the issue of homelessness. He is also looking forward to growing his relationship with the charity: “They’ve got an initiative called Independent Living where they’re building one-bedroom homes in London and Manchester, helping the youngsters find a job and renting these homes out to them at very affordable rates – never more than one-third of their wages. We’re already in talks about improving these areas with landscaping and planting.”
Despite his clear passion for the project, the designer admits to some nervousness. “I just want to do a good job that’s going to get a lot of publicity for Centrepoint. So, it’s going to be a Marmite garden in that people will either love it or hate it. As long as people are talking about it, that’s fine by me.”
Cleve West has designed several gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show. He writes for newspapers and magazines as well as running his garden design studio. Portrait of Cleve West by Chaz Oldham.
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