This is the first of two posts I am writing that relate to my visit earlier this week to the 2013 ‘Hampton Court Palace Flower Show’ – and I am devoting this first entry entirely to the gold-medal garden designed by Chris Beardshaw for McCarthy & Stone. The story behind this award-winning and thought-provoking creation celebrating ‘Later Life’ was not at all as I had anticipated, so I was more than fortunate to have had an opportunity to chat to Chris during the Show, on a searing hot day, when bright sunlight made photography difficult, bleaching colour from the spectacular planting.
I asked Chris about the brief he was given, and his thoughts on designing for ‘old people’ when he is nowhere near ‘retirement’ age. The usual concept is that gardening becomes well-nigh impossible for some and you may not even have the space for plants. Chris explained that the Hampton Court garden celebrates the wisdom of the ages by challenging preconceptions whilst honouring the experiences of the UK’s growing population of over-60s.
He was fortunate in experiencing the gardening wisdom of older people from an early age, and says: “From the age of four I became fascinated by plants after watching my first seeds germinate, and that initial tingle of excitement and enthusiasm is still as strong for me today. My love of plants and wonder at how they behave, perform and function together with how we interact with them is the driving force behind my work.” Older generations nurtured his interest, and he further remarked that today all too often families become separated and knowledge is lost to the young. (I fully understand his thinking, having had the benefit of long nature walks in the countryside with my grandmother during World War II, and regular gifts of books on plants from my great-grandfather.)
Chris sees his garden as a “theatre to provoke discussion.” The garden is in two parts, a large outer square is prelude to a secret circular sanctuary approached by three converging pathways. The outer meadow is filled with woodland trees and wildflowers, and a high dense hedge deliberately hiding the glorious inner garden from view. The areas are each symbolic, and the inner sanctum takes your breath away with its rich planting of summer flowers.
At its centre is a massive head sculpture representing the three sides to memory: personal, cognitive and habitual. This ‘head and heart’ side to the inner garden also reflected the personal audio snapshots to which visitors could listen, recorded by some remarkable people in their 80s and 90s who have certainly not grown old, demonstrating that life can be lived to the full – encapsulated by the fragrance of roses, rosemary and lavender.
(McCarthy & Stone, a UK builder of retirement homes and flats, have their own philosophy of “Life with just the good bits – everything we do is built around a belief that later life can be rich, rewarding and hugely fulfilling. We build and run beautiful developments but actually, the most valuable thing we offer is time.”Take a look at thisYouTube clip in which Chris guides you through the peaceful oasis of the garden.
And I guess I am an oddity, for it was the grassy meadow that brought me a personal inner calm, or maybe I was just re-living my untroubled childhood.
(It’s the first time I have included a YouTube video; I hope you enjoy the experience. Comments are always welcome so let me know what you think, and I will endeavour to source other gardening-related clips. Next week I will be posting other aspects of the Show.)