Nigel Dunnett and The Landscape Agency have teamed up for a second year running to design the Royal Bank Canada’s show garden entry,the RBC Blue Water Garden. The idea is based on one of the RBC’s environmental projects that they feel very passionately about, the Blue Water Project. GardenAdvice caught up with Nigel Dunnett to discuss the RBC Blue Water Garden and the theories behind it.
The Interview Nigel Dunnett speaks to GardenAdvice about his Chelsea flower show garden
1 – What is the concept behind the Blue Water Garden?
First and foremost I want to create gardens that are beautiful, exciting, and which give joy and value to the people who use them. I believe that gardens can create truly uplifting experiences, and it is my hope that the gardens make a positive contribution to the wider environment, whether this be in terms of promoting biodiversity and habitat, by conserving water, or by reducing energy usage. Incorporating these elements into a garden means that it has much more meaning than one that is designed purely for decoration and function alone.
The RBC Blue Water Garden for the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show incorporates much of this thinking. Unlike our previous Show Gardens, we wanted to make this one much more formal in character and style: almost traditional in its layout. The main objective is to show that it is possible to incorporate a range of environmentally positive features into a more formal and geometric garden.
2 – What are the main features?
The RBC Blue Water Garden is the first in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show’s history to incorporate ‘bioswales’ as a central feature. Instead of excess rainwater being sent straight to the drains and through invisible buried pipes, these linear structures channel the runoff, allowing it to circulate through the garden visibly.
With reflecting pools and dramatic naturalistic planting, the garden explores how ‘artful rainwater management’ can form the basis of even the most formal of modern gardens, in a changing climate where water once again is a precious and finite resource.
The plants, which use large numbers of lilies in informal naturalistic arrangements, are intended to demonstrate the potential of bold ideas in planting design, and includes a spectacular Turks Cap Lily meadow display.
The garden’s overall colour scheme and pavilion are inspired by the landscape and architecture of the Puglia region, Italy with its distinctive ‘Trulli’ buildings with their conical ‘dry stone’ roofs.
3 – What has been your inspiration for the design of this show garden?
Artful planting is at the heart of the garden. I am very much inspired by the way that plants grow in the wild, and by dramatic and beautiful natural flowering landscapes. This year we have taken our inspiration from Italy and the Southern Mediterranean. A central feature is the use of dramatic sweeps of wild lilies in the way that they grow in the wild in meadows of the Italian Alps. We have extended the Italian theme with the use of a central pavilion inspired by the striking Trulli buildings of Puglia in the Italian south. These buildings have extremely graceful conical drystone roofs. The whole garden is designed along very formal lines, inspired by the ancient Paradise Gardens of Southern Spain and Sicily, where, in an arid climate, water was celebrated as a valuable resource: formal canals, and pools, water jets and fountains place water at the heart of lushly planted gardens.
4 – How does the RBC Blue Water garden represent the sustainability of water management?
The RBC New Wild Garden for last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was very informal and relaxed, with reflecting pools that captured rainwater runoff from a garden studio, and then re-circulated it into the garden plants. There was a very strong and up-front emphasis on sustainability, biodiversity, and sustainable water management.
While the RBC Blue Water Garden for 2012 addresses all these issues, we want it to be recognized first and foremost for its beauty and for its distinctive design. We are again capturing excess rainwater runoff into collecting pools and using ‘rain garden’ features, but this time the design is much more formal. Instead of the traditional canals and rills of the old paradise gardens, we have formal ‘bioswales’ which are linear features designed to capture, store, move and release any rainwater runoff back to the ground. The plants, which use large numbers of lilies in informal naturalistic arrangements, are intended to demonstrate the potential of bold ideas in planting design.
5 – What has made you return to designing a project for the RBC?
I have a long-standing passion to help bring the principles of ‘water-sensitive design’ to the wider public. This aim aligns perfectly with the RBC Blue Water Project, which I think is an excellent and important programme to promote sustainable water use around the world. This is the third project that I have worked on together with RBC and I have found them very supportive sponsors.
6 – Can you talk us through a couple of the plants used in the Blue Water Garden, why you’ve used them and how it adds to the overall concept?
We have used beautiful multi-stemmed prunus serrula, which is a Japanese tree that we felt had the right graceful form that we were looking for.
The other main element in the planting are the lily meadows. My whole approach is about exploiting the drama of natural wildflower landscapes from around the world, in designed settings. And also to move away from the typical naturalistic planting design approach, which can be quite muted, to a consideration of bold colour effects.
We are using Lilium martagon, the Martagon Lily, which grows wild in Italian limestone meadows, and can often colour complete hillsides pink when it is in full flower. We are used to seeing lilies grown in pots, or as single plants in borders, but in the wild, species lilies often grow in huge masses and drifts along woodland edges or in meadows. I wanted to give a flavour of this, as an example of how to be bold with a single idea in planting design. We are using the pure pink/maroon species, together with some white flowered forms, and a few hybrids, but in large numbers throughout a naturalistic meadow-like matrix. This will fill up the majority of the planted space.
7 – What would be your advice to anyone wanting to translate similar themes into their own garden?
The most obvious starting point is with the roof of your house and other structures in the garden. Instead of letting water drain away, disconnect your downpipes and feed the rainwater into rain gardens and other features which will absorb a proportion of that runoff. Each feature can overflow into another, connected by linear channels or swales, with any remaining water collected in ponds or pools. Another idea would be to lay a green roof on your shed, garage, extension or porches. Greening up these surfaces not only improves the view, but it also turns such buildings and structures into attractive focal points and features in their own right. Other ideas might be to install storm water planters – above-ground containers that intercept water from building roofs, or using porous or permeable paving to reduce the quantity of surface runoff