Destinations Magazine

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

By Alternativeeden @markngaz
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.

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

M&G  Chelsea Flower Show Design for 2014

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden
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?

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden
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 center.  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. 

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

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 favorite designs from previous years at Chelsea?

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

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

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