Postcards from Chelsea: part 4
One of the gardens which has stayed with me since the Chelsea Flower Show was one of the Fresh Gardens. These striking gardens are often quite modern in appearance. They are created around a concept, and can sometimes be quite challenging. The one which caught my eye on the Saturday of the build-up before the show opened, and one which certainly appealed to the RHS judges, was the ‘Mind Trap’ garden by Ian Price.
At Burgon & Ball, we like to think we know a little bit about metal, as we’ve been working with steel in Sheffield since 1730. Undeniably, the creative use of metal in a garden is always striking, the smooth lines and shiny glint never failing to create an arresting contrast with Nature’s handiwork around it. But for us in the Burgon & Ball team, the use of metal in garden adds an extra level of interest, and I was drawn to take a closer look.
Ian’s garden was very different to the bright and colourful planting elsewhere at the show. Dry grasses, thistles and a scary-looking poncirus with murderous thorns were interspersed with softer plants around the perimeter of the garden. Even here, though, plants that were bright and vibrant seemed somehow challenging, with some surprising jolts of colour. Was the colour welcome relief, or worrying edginess?
At the centre of the garden, was a single isolated block; a seat? Surrounding it, a seemingly deep and dark pool. And surrounding that, four walls, off-kilter and slanting, filled with jagged shapes and wire grilles. Are they comforting security, or imprisonment for the garden visitor?
Not an easy garden to spend time in, then… but one by which I was intrigued. Chatting to one of Ian’s team, and then to the garden’s designer himself, I learned the story behind the Mind Trap.
Ian designed the garden to represent his personal story of living with depression. He aimed to reassure others in the same position that they are not alone, and to break down the stigma of talking about the illness. First objective achieved, then.
Essentially, the garden is both a refuge and a prison. The visitor may not be comfortable sitting at the centre, with the walls pressing in, but are they brave enough to attempt the impossible, walking on water to escape? It emerges that the pool is only an inch deep, and the journey out can be easier than you think. On the way, though, there are twists and turns; sudden drops in the pathway and treacherous plants, including a prickly wire-netting bush; and a spiral rill which might pull you back down, like an unlucky throw in Snakes and Ladders. Ian showed me the scratches on his arms, the result of long days working with the difficult plants he’d selected; clearly, this garden was a labour of love for him.
Even once the visitor escapes the walls and reaches the softer planting at the garden’s edge, there are hidden dangers – thistles to catch you unawares, and edgy colours to unsettle. But these are plants which thrive in the sun… and there will be sunshine, is the garden’s powerful message. It might not be easy, but be brave enough to take that first step, and an astonishing journey will unfold. And there’s an unrecognisable life outside those walls.
This garden has an important theme and I was very deeply moved by it. The RHS judges also must have felt the same, and recognised also its superb execution, rewarding Ian with a gold medal at his first Chelsea.
Ian told me if his garden helped just one person, he’d be happy. I’m sure it helped many more than that during the week, and I was touched to read later that plants from the garden were sold off at the end of the show, raising funds for three charities which help people experiencing tough times.
Any Chelsea garden is the result of a huge team effort, and Ian explained that without the whole team understanding the message and believing in the garden, Mind Trap would have only existed on paper. idverde was the sponsor and contractor for this exceptional garden, and you can find out more on the background and build on the idverde website.
Congratulations to Ian Price on his gold medal for this haunting garden, and many thanks to him also for his bravery in bringing this challenging theme out into the Chelsea sunshine.