Jon Housley and ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’

The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden: ‘500 years of Covent Garden’ in partnership with Capco, was sponsored by Capco Covent Garden and The Sir Simon Milton Foundation.  This Show Garden was designed by Lee Bestall  and built by Jon Housley, of JPH Landscapes.

Garden designer Lee Bestall, took inspiration from Covent Garden’s rich heritage and this area’s distinctive and alluring, iconic character, for his design for The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden: ‘500 years of Covent Garden’, which was built by Jon Housley, for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.  The RHS judges presented this Show Garden with a Silver Medal.

I was delighted to meet Jon Housley at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, where I explored The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden: ‘500 years of Covent Garden’ with Jon, and found out more about Jon’s experience of building a Show Garden, on Main Avenue at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – the world’s most prestigious Flower Show!

Jon Housley, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

Pumpkin Beth: So how did the build go?

Jon Housley: So basically, the thing that was screaming at me during the first 3 days’ building – I built the shed, and I then had to create the rear hedging; it wasn’t in our original design, because we only had to do a 2 meter hedge, and then they said, “You’ve got the Marquee behind you.”  So we suddenly had to create a 3m hedge – and we only had 2.4m hedging!  So I had to create a ‘chair’ –  I thought it up and designed it off-spec – Arnold Laver sponsored us for it – they’re our timber merchant.  I had to create a chair, open-fronted, but that didn’t work, so then we had to make it, basically like a letter ‘H’, and we had to tele-handle with a crane, each individual tree in one by one.  So this side we managed to put them in – the lads dragged them in to the corner, the next side we had to pick each one up, unloading them, and then we got the 17 tonne tele-handler – which is like a farm-style forklift truck, with a telescopic boom that goes out to 17 meters – into here and craned them in one-by-one.  So we literally parked it in the garden, boomed them out, the lads would grab them, move them into place, move them along….

So day 3, there’s hardly anything in the garden, and I’m thinking, “I need to build this garden!”  When we got here, they’d dug it down 200mm (8”) – they said it was level, so we had to build it back up by 300mm and then start construction.

The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden:’500 years of Covent Garden’ in partnership with Capco was sponsored by Capco Covent Garden and The Sir Simon Milton Foundation and designed by Lee Bestall. This Show Garden was built by JPH Landscapes.

PB: So you basically lost half of the first week?

JH: Yes, so we kind of knew about it, but we didn’t know how long it’d take.  We had the shed to build which wasn’t in the judging, the hedging wasn’t in the judging, but we had to build it and put it in.

So anyway, all of that that went on at the start of the build, and then there were three of my team here working on the garden, and the following day another five of my team, then we started to do what we do best – we started to kill it: footings and walls, the brickie came down and did the walls, the slabs went in.  I did the cobbles, I did the perimeter and I oversaw it all, I did the fork-lift driving.

Eliza Doolittle and students from the Sylvia Young Theatre School pose in The ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco.

PB: Was Lee looking over your shoulder with the tape measure when you did the cobbles?  (To be as authentic as possible, the cobbles in this Show Garden were placed exactly the same distance apart as the actual spacing between the cobbles in Covent Garden)

JH: No, Lee gets out the way.  He actually wasn’t here for the first 4-5 days.  He came for the first bit, just to see where we were putting the hedges in, and then disappeared, which was a good thing!  Once Lee returned he then began to get involved with what he loves doing and what he’s amazing at… taking control of the project and making the vision a reality.  Day by day Lee worked intensely with his team to bring this garden to life.

A beautiful apple tree, pictured in the Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden:’500 years of Covent Garden’ in partnership with Capco was sponsored by Capco Covent Garden and The Sir Simon Milton Foundation and designed by Lee Bestall. This Show Garden was built by JPH Landscapes.
Lupinus ‘Rachel de Thame’, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, designed by Lee Bestall for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

PB: It’s lovely that you’ve planted the roof of the shed though.  I like green roofs.

JH: We got a whole sedum roof, and that’s all to do with M&G Investments!  So basically on the Sunday night, before first day of the show, I got a phone call from the Show Manager Tom, at 10:30pm he told me, “M&G can see the shed from the back.”

I asked, “What?  Where the tap is?  Well I can’t bring any tools on, I can’t take anything out.  What am I supposed to do?”

He said, “Right, you’ve got to come in dressed normally on Monday morning.”  So Tom came in with the drill, and he delivered some hessian to me on Monday.  I screwed the hessian onto the shed, put the sheet on the back, then I fell off the side of the shed, cutting all of my back, and then I crept back out again!  I had to creep out, everyone was suited-and-booted, hospitality, press, celebrities…. This was 7am on Monday, Press Day!

PB: You poor thing!  Are you alright?

JH: I’m okay, I bounced!  I rolled into the champagne tent, and they were like, “Morning!  This normally happens at the end of the day, not at the beginning!”

PB: That’s so funny, but I hope you didn’t hurt yourself too badly!

The iron structures that feature in The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden:’500 years of Covent Garden’, are designed to reflect the distinctive arches of the Market Building that can be seen by visitors to Covent Garden today.
Digitalis ‘Dalmatian White’, pictured in The ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco.
A Chelsea pensioner pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco.

PB: After Chelsea Flower Show finishes, at the end of the week will you then have to dismantle this Show Garden and take it over to Covent Garden?

JH: Yes, so I was just talking to Jonathan Stockton – who built the furniture – he’s a brilliant joiner, this is his style, Jonathan designed this furniture especially for us, for the garden.  Jonathon’s going to build another set of furniture, that’s exactly the same as the furniture we have here, to bring to Covent Garden.  So basically Saturday night I’ll come to Chelsea, but I won’t be able to do much.  Sunday we’ll be stripping stuff.   All day Monday we’ll get everything in piles and we’ve got a grab coming to take the stuff we don’t want.  On Tuesday anything that we’re not going to re-use, will go to the Covent Garden store.  The rest of the stuff – the trees, Taxus baccata, the chairs and table, all come with us, and then everything else will got back to Hortus Loci  – the plants etc.

Jonathan Stockton designed and built the furniture for The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden:’500 years of Covent Garden’.

PB: Hello….

JH: Beth, This is Charlotte from Capco.  She’s the savour from Capco.  Charlotte’s side of the company, CapCo, has made all of this brilliant for us.

JH (to Charlotte): Basically, we built the level threshold here because we wanted to ensure that Beth could get onto the garden.

PB: Which was a marvellous decision – thank you!

A closer look at the Taxus baccata spheres, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, designed by Lee Bestall for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.
Garden designer Lee Bestall and contractor Jon Housley, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, which Lee and Jon created for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

JH: We were building raised beds for kids with wheelchairs at their school.  But we found that when the kids in wheelchairs came up to the flower-beds they couldn’t get in to reach the plants, with their feet in front of them, they couldn’t reach the actual plant, and if they sat with their sides to the raised beds, they couldn’t reach round, or  if they do it’s very uncomfortable for them.  So we designed an ‘A’-frame with a drop-down bucket, a hanging basket – it could be lowered down on a chain, planted with courgettes, beans, tomatoes, anything, then raised back up to do the next one.  So it looked like a set of swings, but with buckets and plants.

PB: That’s wonderful Jon, what a great idea!  Is the school near your home and work?

JH: I live in Sheffield – well, actually in Barnsley.  My yard is in the centre of Sheffield, that’s where I work.  From there, I’ve got a number of properties that we do work for, so we sub-contract student letting agencies in Sheffield.  Plus I have my work with Lee.

Capco Covent Garden, joined in partnership with the Westminster charity, The Sir Simon Milton Foundation, as sponsors of this special Show Garden, to share their celebration of the past five hundred years of history of Covent Garden, celebrating the character, history, and charm of this iconic area of London, with visitors to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.
Tiarella ‘Skyrocket’, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, designed by Lee Bestall for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.
Lupinus ‘Rachel de Thame’, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, designed by Lee Bestall for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

PB: So how did you and Lee Bestall meet?

JH: A phone call.  I went to a networking group, something I normally don’t do – I don’t do public speaking.  So I was talking to my mate Dean, and he said, “Lee, you have got to meet Jon, and Jon you have got to meet Lee – you two would just be amazing together!”

So Lee rang me, and I said, “I’m in Manchester working on a Cedar building I’m doing.”  And Lee said he’d come and see it.

When Lee saw the building, he said, “Alright, we need to work together!”  That was in 2010, and we’ve worked together ever since.

PB: That’s wonderful!  I know it sounds silly, but I like to know that Lee’s okay!

JH: Yeah, we’re like a rhino and a mouse – Lee’s on my shoulder and he’s saying, “That way!”  And we go charging off, with his cap flying!”

Garden designer Lee Bestall and contractor Jon Housley, pictured in the ‘500 Years of Covent Garden’ The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in Partnership with Capco, which Lee and Jon created for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

Other articles that may interest you…………..

To read my interview with Garden Designer Lee Bestall, and find out Lee’s experience of designing this Show Garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.

To see an overview of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.

To read my interview with Chris Beardshaw, please click here.

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