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.
Lee Bestall took inspiration from Covent Garden, with its rich floral heritage and charismatic character, for his design for The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden:’500 years of Covent Garden’ in partnership with Capco, which was created for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.
I first met Lee Bestall in 2015, where he designed an Artisan Garden for Welcome to Yorkshire, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I interviewed Lee again at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, where we chatted abut the Fresh Garden that he had designed for The Sir Simon Milton Foundation – The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Urban Connections Garden. So it was a real pleasure to see Lee again, this time at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, and learn more about the Show Garden he designed for the Sir Simon Milton Foundation in partnership with Capco.
Pumpkin Beth: The sun is really shining on your garden Lee!
Lee Bestall: Actually, in the evening, the garden has a lovely light about it. The sun sets just over there.
PB: This is my favourite of your Chelsea gardens so far – I really like the apple trees, they are beautiful!
LB: It’s the favourite of mine by a long way. This is more me. Well weirdly, it is and it isn’t – the planting is not generally the style that I would do, but it’s definitely more me than any of the other gardens I’ve done. I’ve loved every second of this – loved it!
PB: Are you still doing Feng Shui?
LB: Yes! Well, do you know what, I put in my fame and reputation section at home, to fire it up, you need to put a red candle in there. As we were moving stuff around the house I thought, do you know what, I’m going to put a box of matches, a red candle, and some firewood in there, really get it going, and I did that just before I came to Chelsea, and the media stuff has been amazing!
PB: Lee, it has been such a journey for you since I first met you on the Welcome to Yorkshire Artisan Garden, you designed for the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and now here we are, it’s 2017, and you’ve designed a Show Garden on Main Avenue – I am so happy for you Lee! Do you have a favourite area of this Show Garden?
LB: I love the apple trees. Actually, when I designed this Show Garden I asked my contractor to ensure that you could come onto the garden – so we did this level threshold specifically for you; last year I said to you, you’ve not been able to come onto either of my last two gardens, and so we raised the whole thing, so that the entrance is level. So I’ve asked him to ensure that you can come on the garden. He asked “Who is this person?” I told him, Pumpkin Beth.
PB: Really? Goodness, thank you, that’s so kind and, well, just brilliant! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get onto the gardens! So, the apple trees are your favourite of the plants in the garden – they’re mine too – do you have any planting combinations you particularly like?
LB: Do you know what, the shady bits – next year I want to do a full shade garden, because the atmosphere that’s created by the shade of that apple tree, I love it!
PB: I love shade gardens too, they are so evocative. I love your apple trees – Malus domestica is one of my favourite plants.
LB: I was somewhere in Florida, and the planting there was layered – there were nine layers of planting, with coconuts at the top, then bananas, then bamboo, then this, then that, then ferns, and then orchids – and it just… the feeling you get when you’re in that space is just incredible! So I thought I want to design a garden at Chelsea with that kind of depth of layering, and a serious number of plants.
PB: I dislike narrow flower beds – they should be wide and filled with plants!
PB: Who grew the plants for your garden?
LB: Hortus Loci.
PB: Did you see that picture of Jamie Butterworth in the middle of the sprinklers at the end of the Chelsea build? Such a great photo!
— Hortus Loci (@HortusLoci) May 21, 2017
LB: Yes, it was good, they’re very good at marketing. On the most stressful, wet, cold disgusting day of planting, they brought us a hamper for all our team, with the best chocolate brownie I’ve ever tasted, home-made lemonade, tarragon sausage rolls – just perfect timing. And they put straws and cups, and napkins, and you just thought – that’s good!
PB: Do you think you might use them again?
LB: Absolutely – based on that brownie alone!
PB: When did you get the go-ahead to design and build this Show Garden?
LB: We had an evening event where I met the sponsor for this garden, they asked, would you like to design a Show Garden at Chelsea next year? I said yes. Then I received a phone call in June last year, to ask if I would design a garden for them? And I asked “for Covent Garden?”- they said yes, and I said, “That is major!”
They then said “We want do Main Avenue!”, and I said “I’m not sure if I’m ready for it yet”… but they said “We think you are!” They had faith in me. I just said “I’d love to do it”, and there you go!
PB: Is the design that we see realised here at Chelsea, your first design for the garden?
LB: No, the first design that we did was a bit more literal in terms of Covent Garden – all the planting was on an angle – following the way that the fruit and veg is displayed on an angle at a market, so I designed all the planting on angles, then the RHS said no, because it’s not a sustainable way to grow plants, because the water would just drain off.
PB: Is there anyone who has helped you, that you like to thank or mention?
LB: I’d like to thank Jon Housley, he’s the contractor. He built my garden last year too.
PB: Lovely! Do you have a favourite garden here?
LB: Chris Beardshaw’s; it’s beautiful.
PB: What’s happening to your Show Garden after Chelsea Flower Show?
LB: The apple trees, the planters, and the furniture, are all going to Covent Garden. We’ve got twelve more planters to match, which are getting filled with the plants from the show – they are going to a pop-up bar for Premium, English, organic sparkling wine! Apparently I’m invited to the bar’s VIP opening, where I am giving a short speech!
PB: I love your apple trees, where did you find them? Do you know how old they are?
LB: The apple trees that you see here in the garden are thirty-five years old. I went on a three day long plant-hunting session to get them. They’re from Belgium. I saw the apple trees in a landscaper’s garden, they were retired apple trees, that had come from an orchard, where the house had been knocked down, the apple trees were destined for the skip. So the landscaper dug them up and moved them into his garden and stuck them in. The landscaper was really worried about lifting the trees, because of the risk the that they wouldn’t come into leaf. Despite the risk, we lifted the trees in November and brought them over to Reading, to Hortus Loci, and Hortus Loci have looked after them until the show – and when they came out in leaf and flower, they just said ‘They look amazing!’ And since the trees have been at the show, their leaves have tripled in size! The tree at the front has quite a lot of apples.
Other articles that may interest you………….
To read my interview with Jon Housley and learn of his experience of building The Sir Simon Milton Garden: 500 Years of Covent Garden, please click here.
To read my interview with Chris Beardshaw and find out more about The Morgan Stanley Garden, which Chris designed for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To read my interview with Lee Bestall and find out about the Fresh Garden he designed for The Sir Simon Milton Foundation at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, please click here.