This May was a season of firsts. It was my first time attending the fabled Chelsea Flower Show in London. And it was Hartley-Botanic’s first time building a display garden on the Main Avenue. I met up on Press Day with Catherine MacDonald, the garden’s award-winning designer. She invited me to experience their magical woodland garden from the inside out.
Tucked up against a red brick wall, a glasshouse—Hartley’s new contemporary Opus—appeared to float on the surrounding waters of a koi pond. Inside, the glass floor gleamed, giving me the sensation that I was walking on water solidified. Large containers continued the watery theme with bog pitcher plants, including the first-time in public introduction, Sarracenia x courtii c.v. ‘Claire Soper’. Outside, the pond and the greenhouse were nestled into a woodland retreat of British native silver birches with a native understory planting. The garden was awarded a Silver-gilt medal. Stunning.
Here are my take-away ideas.
The inside/outside. Even if you’re not surrounded by water—although if I were ordering a greenhouse, that glass/water combination is irresistible—think in terms of what you can borrow from one area and echo in another. Paint a wall in neutral gray to reflect the patio stones you can see from that room. Or perhaps orange pillow cushions inside could match the cheery orange stems of a dogwood outside.
Architectural plants—Consider adding plants that carry the bold grace of those pitcher plants in the display greenhouse. Try the sturdy upright strappy leaves of mother in law’s tongue (Sansevieria)—they now offer them in different and interesting variegations. Although you need to keep them out of pets’ reach, the two-foot tall plants have a rock-solid reputation for easy care, even in darker corners. Repeat with more than one container for drama.
Wild in a Tiny Space – The woodland plantings around the greenhouse seemed to have far more depth than the space allowed. The secret was in the layering. You could do the same. Plant small trees with interesting bark that won’t outgrow their space, and then layer between them with suitable natives. Instead of placing the trees around the periphery, why not plant them alongside the path? From inside your house, you would be looking through slim trunks into your outdoor grove, creating an illusion of size, much the way the birches did in Catherine’s design at Chelsea.