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Two sub-themes of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show: wildflowers and large rocks as features.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

May 29, 2016

Above, two shots of the gold-medal-winning display of the Alpine Garden Society featuring wildflowers. Below, two shots of “large rock balancing” courtesy of the Daily Telegraph.



According to an item in the May 26th issue of HortricultureWeek, written by Mathew Appleby, a display of alpines and woodland plants in the Great Pavilion at the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show saw The Alpine Garden Society (UK) awarded a Gold Medal by judges. Here is the story from HorticultureWeek.

“Designed by Dr Christopher (Kit) Grey-Wilson and created by Ray Drew with a team of nine volunteers, Out of the Woods told the story of the regeneration of a garden evolving in the round.

“Drawing on a trend identified at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show for naturalistic planting, the exhibit won praise for its attention to detail, overall design and planting.

“Grey-Wilson said he had focused on creating a classic alpine garden: ‘There is woodland, there is marsh, there is scree and rock and then, containers. It epitomises the huge versatility of alpines. I wanted also to show people what they can do in their own gardens.

“‘Alpines are not the exclusive little high mountain plants they are sometimes perceived to be. The plants we used in our display at Chelsea are readily available in most garden centres."

“Ray Drew who created the garden working with a team of nine volunteers said: ‘Unlike a commercial nursery with the scope to invest in producing plants to perfection for Chelsea, we have to work with what is in season and available.

“‘You have the four elements in the garden which Kit designed, with the old woodland regenerating, the pool bringing moist conditions and creating the stumpery and then the water fall into the trough leading to the container area before the rock garden flows back into the woodland.

“‘The idea was to create a seamless scheme and I hope that’s what we achieved. It’s a piece of theatre but it is also something that we hope will inspire visitors to say; I can do that.’

“Alpine Garden Society director Christine McGregor, said: ‘The exhibit was a fantastic effort by a very talented team of people. We were delighted to be awarded the Gold Medal and to see alpines and the plants they are associated with put in the spotlight at RHS Chelsea 2016.

“‘The display certainly inspired those who saw it and we are hoping that there will be many new members of the society but more importantly enthusiasts for these beautiful plants as a result.’”

Of course a Chelsea Flower Show always has more than one major theme, such as the aforementioned wild flowers. This year there was too a heavy emphasis on large rocks. What follows is a description of just some of the rock work at this year’s show as described by the newspaper Daily Telegraph whose garden won a gold medal as one of the best gardens in the show!

“For anyone who has just spent an agonising weekend clearing awkward stones to make way for a neat new patio, or laying an immaculate lawn, this will not come as welcome news. Instead of being painstakingly dug from flower beds, rocks and stones could soon be in demand as a must-have feature in British gardens—and the bigger the better.

“If this year’s Chelsea Flower Show can be taken as a sign of coming trends, decking and water features could soon be being ripped out everywhere to make way for rough-hewn rocks and boulders. It could mean an unlikely come-back for the traditional garden rockery—but in a new extreme form. Many of the main show gardens at Chelsea this year were dominated by displays of increasingly wild looking naturalistic planting interspersed with large rocks.

“It follows the triumph of the designer Dan Pearson whose dramatic rock-strewn recreation of the landscape of Chatsworth was named Best in Show last year. Twelve months on, many of the main show gardens involve boulders, dividing up planting or incorporated in paths, serving as seating areas or gates and even a dry river bed.

“A decidedly unscientific tally by the Telegraph, counted 85 large rocks and boulders in the main show gardens this year. Perhaps the most dramatic example was in a display created by the Welsh designer Dan Bristow, which centres around a wooden pergola with a five-tonne glacial boulder balancing precariously on the top (see photo).

‘“It does seem to be a theme—there’s an awful lot of rock going on,’ he remarked. ‘I generally work in back gardens in London which are terraced houses so it doesn’t lend itself to putting in two or five tonne boulders but I would love to.’

“He said the spate of dramatic rock gardens at this year’s event could filter through to domestic garden makeovers in due course. I see the Chelsea Flower Show as like London Fashion Week for plants and design,’ he said.

“It’s about testing ideas … I don’t want just to make something pretty. I see the whole point of design at Chelsea as not to reflect the trends but to influence and make them.’

“He said his interest in rocks and boulders stemmed from a five-month spell in East Asia. I saw how other cultures really revere them. In Chinese gardens they literally put them on pedestals and in Indian gardens they attribute deities to them. They are just beautiful.’

“But the biggest boulders at Chelsea this year this—two in fact—are a few metres away in the form of an 11-tonne, 5 m (17 ft.) tall ‘sculpture’ made from a giant piece of granite from Bodmin Moor balancing naturally on the tip of another. The structure, the largest of its kind in the world, is the work of Adrian Gray an artist who has been practising the art of balancing rocks on top of each other without any artificial connecting mechanism for 15 years.

‘There are a lot of boulders this year,’ he said. When Dan Pearson used them last year I was a little bit miffed because obviously boulders are my business—but actually it is great, it seems to be more important in people’s gardens now.’

Mr. Gray, whose creations for gardens sell for up to £7,000 each, touches one of his limestone specimens pointing out an orange line of iron pyrite, or ‘fool’s gold’. These stones are 250 million years old,’ he adds.

‘“People want their gardens to look natural, adding in a few rocks in the middle they become a focal point and I just think it is a natural style that people are going for.’


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