Design Concept The RBC ‘Blue Water Garden’ is a fully functioning ‘rain garden’ incorporating all the features of such gardens, which soak up, capture, store and utilize every drop of rain water that falls on the garden. This is a highly topical issue, relating to reducing or removing the amount of excess rainwater runoff that leaves hard surfaces, roofs and paved area, and contributes both to the problems of urban flooding, but also, crucially, to the lack of replenishment of ground water supplies: water runs off all the hard surfaces instead of infiltrating back into the ground. Rain garden features (including bio-swales) are specially designed features that encourage ‘bio-infiltration’ – the process by which planted areas encourage rain water to infiltrate back into the ground. Bioswales are strongly linear features that enable water to be transported around the garden, as well as infiltrating into the soil. They provide excellent opportunities for beautiful planting in the garden.
Left: a bioswale along a street in New Zealand. Right: bioswales alongside a main path in the London Olympic Park. Both collect water from the surrounding paths, roads and landscape
The garden is partly inspired by the Islamic 'Paradise Gardens' where water was celebrated as a hugely prescious resource in arid climates, and placed at the heart of the garden: with sparkling water channels, rills and reflecting pools, creating a cool and refreshing environment in the dryland landscape. Lush planting added to the atmosphere of peace and beauty. These were very formal gardens, designed with a main axis lined with water rills and canals, and views to grand pavilions, surrounded by beautiful planting. The best known examples are The Alhambra and Generaliffe at Granada in Spain.
Left: an ancient paradise garden in Iran with central rill. Right: The Alhambra at Grenada, Spain We have a modern take on this concept, celebrating the preciousness of water in a different way, substituting bio-swales for the formal rills and canals, and naturalistic plantings inspired by dramatic dry meadows from around the world to show that ecological and sustainable principles in garden design can work in even the most formal of settings.
The Garden Building The centre-piece and focus of the garden is the dramatic Trulio building that forms a garden pavilion and sheltered sitting area. The trulli buildings are characterized by their very distinctive and beautiful drystone roofs (very different from a traditional tiled roof). Trulli started out mainly as peasant buildings using the local stone, but many have now been converted for tourist accommodation. The traditional dry stone roofs are thick and heavy. Creating such a structure at Chelsea presents great problems and is a serious challenge, because of the weight of the stone required. We are therefore using modern techniques to reproduce the same visual effect, but in a way that requires a less thick stone roof, forming the building around a steel frame. The progress and the build of the Trulli building can be followed on the Landform Chelsea Flower Show Blog Traditional Trulli buildings in the Puglia region of Italy
The garden planting The planting in the garden is typical of my planting design style, which takes its initial inspiration from dramatic and breath-taking natural plant communities. The naturalistic approach is strongly colour-themed, and features taller ‘emergent’ plants (in the RBC Blue Water Garden these will be species lilies) coming through a mixed lower layer, to give the sense of a designed meadow.
Lilium martagon growing wild amongst wildflowers in dry meadow grassland. The planting in the RBC Blue Water Garden is inspired by these dramatic and beautiful hillsides.
The planting in the RBC Blue Water Garden is dominated by the large-scale use of species lilies. Lilies are typically seen in gardens in pots, or as individual plants in borders. However, in the wild, lilies are often found growing in beautiful large masses and groupings in meadows or on woodland edges. We want to show this different way of using lilies in naturalistic planting schemes. We are using the Martagon Lily (Lilium martagon) which grows in limestone meadows across central and southern Europe. In the wild it grows in huge numbers, often colouring whole hillsides and valleys pink and purple when in flower. We will recreate this natural effect, using the pink and white forms of the Martagon lily, growing amongst a meadow-like perennial mixture. More detail on the planting design concept can be found here
The lily bulbs are being grown by the British company DeJaeger, using their Dutch bulb growing specialists, to ensure that the lilies are in peak flowering condition for Chelsea. Summer flowering bulbs such as lilies can be valuable additions to naturalistic perennial schemes (e.g Cammassias, Galtonia, Species Gladiolus, Alliums) The RBC Blue Water Garden is in many ways a continuation of themes that I have worked with in previous show gardens at Chelsea, but is also a significant departure. Similar, because the garden takes a strongly ecological stance, showing how water conservation, rainwater management and biodiversity can be at the heart of the most exciting and interesting of gardens. But different because the garden has a much more formal layout than my previous gardens.
Full background to the garden can be found here (original design pack - some modification has occurred)