My Chelsea 2014 experience

My Chelsea 2014 experience

Matthew Childs looks back on his experience designing our 2014 Chelsea Flower show garden.

It was a blistering hot summer day at the Hampton Court Palace flower show in 2013 and I was midway through taking a gardening club around my show garden for Ecover. I’d been awarded a gold medal and best in show and I’d been flying high all week… it surely couldn’t get any better than this. At the back of the group I spotted two smartly dressed city types looking very out of place listening intently to my gardening patter.  Little did I know that these two individuals were from the Brewin Dolphin marketing team and held the golden ticket in their hands to the biggest opportunity I’ve had in my garden design career to date.

The ‘golden ticket’ was a chance to pitch for Brewin Dolphin’s main avenue Chelsea garden the following year. I think I must have been a wild card entry as I wasn’t given long, but I was going to give it my all. I presented a concept that was inspired by the energy of new life and new beginnings in spring – perfect for Chelsea time.  My concept was a hit and I got the gig.

For the next nine months I lived and breathed Chelsea.  My preparations for the garden saw me working with some of the country’s best horticulturalists and nurseries, artisans, sculptors, water feature specialists and the cream of the landscaping industry.  I travelled far and wide searching for trees throughout Europe and stone at the foot of Snowdonia.  My every move was followed by the BBC for their show coverage with cameras, soundmen and directors all in tow.  I still can’t quite believe the experience I had. 

When I think back to this time two years ago with only weeks to go until we were on site digging the first foundations, I remember the pressure I felt was enormous. If anyone tells you they aren’t going for gold when they design a show garden they are telling a big fat fib!  I wanted to do the best I could, not only for myself but my client and the amazing team of people around me.

20 intensive days of building and planting the garden was the most surreal experience ever. The Chelsea show ground during this build period is the most exhilarating place for a garden fanatic like myself.  Surrounded by passionate and skilled people and an explosion of the most wonderful plants everywhere you look… it is a gardener’s paradise.

After blood, sweat and a few tears the vision was made a reality.  I couldn’t have asked for any more, the team camaraderie and commitment had been a wonderful thing to be part of and we had all made a very beautiful space.

Spruced up in a new suit and shiny shoes, my first Chelsea press day arrived and the garden I had dreamed up in my head nearly a year before was adorned with celebrities and royalty, followed by a week of entertaining Brewin Dolphin’s clients on the garden and showing off our creation to the public.  The Chelsea week went by in a whirlwind.

The garden was awarded a silver gilt medal… not bad for my first Chelsea garden… and yes I would have loved that gold, but on reflection I think it was the best outcome for me at that stage in my career.  You see Brewin Dolphin had seen in me potential and they nurtured this by giving me the opportunity to rise to the challenge and create a garden on the world’s biggest gardening stage.  I learnt so much from the experience; it was a springboard for my career and a lesson that there is always more to learn… I’ve still got that Chelsea gold to aim for!