Monday, March 31, 2014

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

With just 7 weeks until the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower show we have been speaking with Cleve West, who returns to Chelsea with a design for the M&G Garden. Cleves Garden is a contemporary version of an Islamic Paradise Garden.

M&G  Chelsea Flower Show Design for 2014
What was behind the idea and inspiration for an Islamic Garden?
The basic ingredients of the early paradise gardens (shade, water, food, scent) continue to influence our gardens today two thousand years and more since the first gardens were built.  I thought it was something worth celebrating. 

Do you think there may be more interest in Islamic gardens from the British public?
Perhaps, but I don’t think this will spark a trend for Islamic gardens in the UK.  English gardens have certainly been influenced by many cultures including those early Islamic enclosures but the current trends are more towards naturalistic gardens where nature is occasionally allowed to look as though it has the upper hand. The point of the garden is to celebrate something that has stood the test of time.

As part of the preparation for the design did you get to see some paradise gardens on location?
No.  The closest I have got are the Mughal gardens in India, the Taj Mahal and Humayan’s Tomb.  I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I haven’t even visited the Alhambra.  I hope to make amends soon.

It is unusual and particularly interesting to note you have carved the tree of life relief, were there any particular challenges in getting the design right and undertaking this?
The scale of the piece was interesting and I enjoyed making it.  I was going to show both the branches and the roots but thought that just the roots would make a more interesting statement and serve as a simple metaphor for the fact that the roots of the English garden go way back to the early paradise concept.  The objective was to make something subtle so that it didn’t detract too much attention from the fountain at the centre.  Engravings would almost certainly have featured on the walls of paradise gardens so I’m hoping this will capture the spirit of that bygone age in this contemporary interpretation. 

Cleves Garden from RHS Chelsea 2012
When you were last at Chelsea the Brewin Dolphin garden won gold and best show garden - does that put any extra pressure on getting the design right?
I suppose it does a bit in terms of getting a gold medal but I really don’t feel any pressure to get the Best in Show award.  The truth is that you want a gold medal as much for the sponsor and everyone involved with making the garden as for yourself.  Best in Show is the cherry on the cake if you win it, but you’d be daft to go to Chelsea with that as your main objective.

Are there any particular challenges in bringing the essence of Persia to West London?
There isn’t much room at Chelsea so I think scale is the biggest challenge.  Paradise gardens were much bigger so the objective is to capture the essence of the paradise concept much like some of the smaller Islamic courtyard gardens in North Africa and southern Spain.  I was also keen to avoid replicating anything that I’d seen and make it feel like the English garden had gently collided with the paradise concept.

Which other gardens do you think will be worth looking out for this year and what have been your favourite designs from previous years at Chelsea?
Sarah Price's Garden from 2012
I enjoyed Sarah Price’s garden for the Telegraph in 2012 and of course the gardens of Tom Stuart Smith, Christopher Bradley-Hole, Andy Sturgeon and Ulf Nordfjell have set a very high bench mark.

As for this year, I’ve always admired the work of Luciano Giubilei and look forward to seeing his garden for Laurent Perrier very much.  I’m also pleased to see some new faces at Chelsea too like Hugo Bugg and Matt Childs.  It makes a change from seeing dinosaurs like me every year.

Thanks Cleve for speaking to us, we are looking forward to Chelsea 2014, and to see the finished garden.

Mark and Gaz


  1. I think he's right that it won't spark a lot of people changing as what I think of as an English garden is already far prettier. Just my opinion of course.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Thanks for this informative peek at a different way of gardening.

  3. An interesting post indeed! It's interesting how the Islamic paradise garden influenced the Italian garden style and that of many of the Mediterranean countries. You're so lucky to live in the land of the Chelsea show!

    1. Can't wait for when the show starts Peter! :)

  4. ¡¡Interesting interview!! can´t wait to see your posts about this year´s Chelsea show!!

  5. I don't know what hoops you may have had to go through to get this interview but it's a very nice lead-in to all things Chelsea. I so wish we had something remotely like Chelsea in my corner of the world (it might turn more Americans into gardeners!) but, in the absence, I'm glad to be able to enjoy the event through your eyes.

    1. They were very accommodating and helpful Kris :) and who knows, maybe something similar to Chelsea will be organised in the US soon, like what happened in Australia, cross fingers!

  6. Have admired his past design work at Chelsea, wish I could see this year's show, only been once back in 2000. My tastes run more to the gardens with great hardscape rather than just pretty flowers or jungly foliage.

    1. Cleves's past work has been exquisite and expectations are high this year. Hopefully you can attend again soon, the hard landscaping showcased there are impeccable and inspiring.

  7. Interesting post I think it is correct to celebrate something that is indeed the root of all western gardens; I look forward to your reports about the show itself, sadly I won't be there this year.

  8. Intriguing, given all the anti Islamic prejudice around I hope none of it sneaks in to sour what should be a celebration of a fascinating garden culture. Can't believe it is so close to Chelsea time already.

    1. Time flies indeed Janet, it's almost Chelsea time again!


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