I interviewed Surrey based Garden Designer David Neale, of NealeRichards Garden Design, for the November 2015 edition of Vantage Point Magazine. During this interview David Neale spoke about his hopes for the future, and his ambition to design and build a garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I am thrilled to discover that David’s dreams have now come true!
Beth Otway: I’m so excited for you David! When I last interviewed you, it was your ambition to design and build a garden, sponsored by a local, Surrey Company, for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and now you are doing just that: it’s like a dream come true!
David Neale: In our last discussion, we were talking about my hopes for the future, and to now finally have it, and to be actually designing and building a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for Silent Pool, I am so happy! It’s going to be an amazing experience, I cannot wait to see my design visions coming to reality for the show!
Beth: The Silent Pool gin bottle is so beautiful; the design is just lovely. From the first time I saw the bottle, a few years ago now, the beauty of the design has always stuck in my mind.
David: Yes, my wife and I have been drinking Silent Pool gin for a while now, it’s a lovely gin with subtle floral notes and a citrus freshness. We love the design of the wonderful Botanical print set onto the teal coloured bottle.
Beth: So, talk me through what happened – did you apply to the RHS first?
David: Yes. I felt that I couldn’t go to a potential sponsor without some kind of reassurance for the sponsor to show my commitment, so I wanted to be accepted by the RHS first.
I know Tom Harfleet, who used to be the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Manager. I bumped into Tom at the pub, the Percy Arms in Chilworth over the summer. Tom announced, “We’ve got a new category!” He then asked, “Why don’t you do it?” I told Tom that I had been thinking about it, but I didn’t think I had time to get the application in. Tom assured me that I had time, so I thought, ‘Right, I’ve just got to do it!’
So, I created a Show Garden Design, I applied to the RHS, and happily I was successful and accepted for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018!
Beth: How wonderful! I am so glad that Tom spurred you on. I’ve heard that things have recently changed, so this year for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018, there will be three different sized Show Garden categories, the smallest Show Gardens are the ‘Artisan Gardens’, next up and larger in size are the new Space to Grow’ gardens, these replace the old and now relegated Fresh Garden category. With the ‘Show Gardens’ as the largest of the three. So, which sized Show Garden have you designed?
David: When I created my first design for Chelsea 2018, I designed a garden for a 6 x 12m Space to grow garden category. When I was creating my design, I thought, ‘What’s this garden all about?’ – I thought a UK sourced garden, would be quite a good topic, with all the current focus on Brexit, and Xylella. I applied to the RHS and was successful. The RHS told me that they really liked my design and I was accepted for this category, but the Judging Panel’s comments were, “We’d really like you to do a bigger garden!” I thought, ‘Brilliant! …. But how are we, NealeRichards Garden Design going to afford this?’
So, I thought about which company I would most like to design this Chelsea Garden for. I really wanted to work with Silent Pool Distillers, as I live in a Surrey village, not far from the company. I had always really wanted to work with a Surrey based company anyway, but I also wanted to work with a company with whom we shared similar values. I created my design after undertaking some research on Silent Pool Distillers, I tried to embody elements from some of Silent Pool’s gin making processes, as well as their location and their ethos into my design. I showed one of the Company Founders, Ian McCulloch, my updated Garden Design visuals and explained the theme and the idea I wanted to achieve.
I was over the moon when Silent Pool agreed to be my sponsor for this garden!
Beth: How exciting! Have you had to change your original design many times?
David: Yes, I had initially designed the garden as a corner 10 x 10m plot, with a design that enabled the public to walk through the garden, as I thought that would have been lovely for the visitors, but I had to change it, as the public can’t go into the garden. Most Garden Designers design a corner-plot garden, but in reality, the RHS haven’t got corner plots for everyone! Garden Designer Kate Gould is my neighbour on one side, she has one corner plot. So, when I was allocated my plot, which is next to Kate, I had to redesign the garden to enable it sit onto the site I was given, so the garden doesn’t have public access.
David: I created an original design, then the RHS asked me to make it bigger, so I redesigned the garden. Then, when I found out that I was not on a corner plot, I was told that I had to put another wall in!
Originally, my idea was that you walked through the garden, as part of a larger garden space, which would have been fantastic! Then I was told, “No, you’ve got another boundary.” I was conscious that the garden wouldn’t have had a path flowing round through the garden with this extra boundary in place, so I’ve had to put another pathway in, to return visitors round through the garden and back, so I’ve had to lose some planting and I had to add some paving, which also adds more cost. Oh, and an extra wall too! It’s a 10m long wall. In an ideal world you’d all have individual gardens with corner plots, which might be an interesting way for the RHS to do it, but they just have to try and make the most of the space they’ve got, and they’re limited with what they have. I understand that.
Beth: I guess in future, if they wanted, the RHS could change their layout, to create more corner plots. They could then allocate the unused spaces to the trade stands in between the gardens, which might be better for the trade stands too, but that would be a big change! The new Space to Grow Gardens are a new introduction this year. I wonder if there will be any other big changes at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
David: The RHS have announced that Tom Stuart-Smith is designing a centrepiece in the Great Pavilion, it will be up against the statue where Hilliers normally are. Tom’s building it to celebrate the new RHS Garden Bridgewater. Tom Stuart-Smith is re-designing this new RHS Garden, and so this Show Feature will promote that.
Beth: Super, I look forward to seeing that! How have you incorporated Silent Pool into your design?
David: It’s a garden I have designed for a professional couple, the garden is a space to relax and unwind in and enjoy a glass or two of gin! The Silent Pool Gin Garden features a raised pool that ebbs into a lower reflective pool, which is inspired by the pools at the Silent Pool Distillers’ base within the Surrey hills. The company really liked the fact that it goes back to this.
Beth: Have you used any of Silent Pool’s ingredients as plants in the garden?
One of Silent Pool’s slogans is ‘Intricately Realised’. The design on their bottle, with that beautiful floral pattern denotes the 24 botanicals that go into the making of their gin. They use chamomile, angelica… so I’m going to have some chamomile and Angelica archangelica grown for the garden. Orris root, which is iris root goes into Silent Pool gin, so hence Iris fulva will feature in the planting.
I’m also getting Iris ‘Silver Edge’ grown for the garden, I was going to use Iris ‘Perry’s Blue’, but getting blue plants is a challenge; there’s blue, there’s purple, there’s a violet colour – but to actually get a true blue is quite difficult.
Beth: Yes, so often ‘blue’ is purple in reality. The Silent Pool teal colour is lovely, it’s beautiful, but that’s just not a colour you find in nature.
David: Yes, luckily Silent Pool are fully aware of that. I explained that the closest thing I can get to their colour is something like a Mechonopsis, but even that’s not it. I am trying to get some anyway – I have asked Van Arnhem Nursery, in Godalming, to grow some Mechonopsis for me.
Beth: Good idea, they are great at Van Arnhem!
David: I’ve got some Camassias coming too, from a specialist grower, Stella at Hare Spring Cottage Plants!
Beth: Oh, Stella, she’s brilliant!
David: Yes, Stella grew Camassia for Chris Beardshaw. She’s growing me about thirty Camassia for me, they’re just at that right time for flowering at Chelsea.
Beth: That’s wonderful! It’s so good to purchase plants from specialist nurseries.
David: Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants are growing about 60-70% of the plants for me. I may use one or two other independent growers if I can find the right plants. Then Van Arnhem Nursery in Godalming will be growing the rest, and the trees are coming from Deepdale trees.
As well as blue flowered planting the other colour Silent Pool wanted in the garden is copper, as their detail is copper and obviously the ‘still helmets are copper. So, to bring in the copper, I’m using, and I will try to get them to flower on time, Iris fulva, which is a Louisiana iris. It isn’t seen often in Show Gardens. You’ll see these Irises growing in the water.
Beth: I am excited to see your plants and I am really looking forward to seeing your water feature too!
David: The Silent Pool Gin Garden is 10m x 10m, but about 28m-squared of it is water, so there’s over 10,000 litres of water! UK-sourced pebbles of different sizes will cover the bottom of the water features. So many times, you see a Show Garden where people just put black dye in, and I hate it! The dye picks up all the dust, and it looks dead. I really want to create reflections from the trees and planting above, but I also want to use the clearness of the water to create more depth and give interest to the space.
Beth: I totally agree with you – I hate it too, I prefer to see natural untreated water.
Beth: Will you use Silent Pool’s design pattern in the garden?
David: So, what I’m doing is that I’m going to get part of the Silent Pool Design blown up in scale and cut into copper panelling, on that pattern of the 24 botanicals they’ve also got part of the story – pictures of what happened at Silent Pool – the myth. There’s the myth of the lady of the lake, and the young Prince who watched this lady as she bathed. The Prince made advances towards the lady, as he came towards her, she moved backwards into the deep water, she cries out in fear, her brother hears her cries, he goes in to try and rescue her, but by the time he reaches her, she has drowned and the Prince has fled. The brother, who has exhausted himself then drowns as well. The father arrives, he’s devastated to find he has lost both of his children. The father finds a feather or a hat left behind, the hat had a crest on it, he went on to become King John the First. That’s the story, so on their bottle there’s a picture of a lady in the lake, and a picture of a guy on horseback. The pattern is repeated as well – Silent Pool produce large gin glasses to match, which feature the same pattern.
I’m blowing up a section of that design up, to try and get it made up into copper laser-cut panels, which are going to be mounted on to the wall, as an extra relief and a feature. So, the plants and the design behind are in layers, and you get to see different details as you walk around the garden. Different parts of the garden will provide visitors with different views.
In the botanics that Silent Pool use, there’s also quite a few citrus ingredients that go in to make the gin. To reflect this, we’re talking to a sculptor called Giles Rayner about creating a copper-peel sculpture. So rather than having the citrus as plants in the garden, which wouldn’t work in this design – the plants aren’t hardy in the UK, and there’s nowhere to overwinter them in this urban garden. So, instead we’re trying to get Giles to build a copper sculpture in a citrus design.
Beth: It’s wonderful that you’re creating a UK sourced garden, with all of your plants and materials being sourced from sustainable UK sources and suppliers. I think that’s a great idea! When I saw the design, I wondered if your boardwalks were inspired by the wooden boardwalks at the Thursley National Nature Reserve?
David: Yes, that’s where I used to live. We used to live on a fish farm that backed onto Thursley nature reserve, so I know that area really well. It’s magical, a really special environment. I wanted to create the same magical feeling of being surrounded by the wonder of nature in this urban, Chelsea garden!
Beth: What other materials have you sourced outside of Surrey?
David: I’ve also sourced Portland Stone from Albion – there’s probably only two suppliers of Portland stone these days, Albion being the main one. The Economist building in London, that was beautifully clad with their stone.
Beth: Is Portland Stone the beautiful stone with the fossils in it?
David: Yes, it’s a fantastic rich and textural stone, it’s UK sourced, and well-managed. Our family holidays down to Dorset have also influenced the garden, two of the materials are from Dorset, the Portland Stone sawn paving and the random Purbeck walling. So, although it’s a predominantly Surrey sourced garden, I’ve described it as a UK-sourced garden.
Beth: Do you know how many Show Gardens there will be at Chelsea this year?
David: I think we’re up to about thirty Show Gardens this year – there’s 15 men and 15 women. RHS Director General Sue Biggs was making the comment that in terms of equality in horticulture, we’ve finally done it!
Beth: That’s fantastic!
Beth: Do you know many of the other Garden Designers at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
David: Yes, Sarah Price, who we’ve worked with before, is doing a garden this year too, with M&G.
Beth: Oh goodness, you’re not building another Show Garden for Sarah this year, are you?
David: Oh, no. We built Sarah’s garden, the Bejewelled Garden for QVC a few years ago.
Beth: I loved that Show Garden – the lime green and purple planting was lovely! So, you’re only going to build your own Show Garden this year?
David: Yes. It’s important for us to concentrate on this garden alone, as there is a lot of detailing which we need to perfect, and over 10 tonnes of Purbeck stone to lay in a short timeframe.
Beth: What’s your garden at home like. Does the design you’ve created for Silent Pool reflect any part of your home garden?
David: Our garden is functional in a way because it’s very child friendly – we’ve got two kids. I built a tree-house for them, they love it! I’ve built a man-cave – a massive shed, which is in two parts! The garden gets the afternoon sun, it’s so nice to go into the garden and just sit down and relax at the end of the day, well in my mind it is, although we are usually busy working or looking after our children! I enjoy trialling new plant combinations in the garden, so things are often changing!
Beth: Oh, wow a treehouse! Amazing, and how exciting for your children! Which part of your design for the Silent Pool Gin Garden excites you the most?
David: There’s so many parts to this Chelsea garden that I am just so looking forward to building and installing! I think these copper, laser cut panels should be really interesting, and the Purbeck Wall, it’s a really nice stone to use, I am looking forward to seeing how it enhances the planting. I’ve also used ‘Design Clad’ which is this relatively new product, it’s made of porcelain and comes in a number of different finishes. I have opted for a finish which has the appearance of rusted cor-ten steel, because I’m trying to give the garden a slightly earthy feel, to relate the garden to the sponsor. I think the earthy cor-ten rusted steel effect with the copper will look and relate really well together, and also it’ll contrast very well with the stone walling – very bitty, blocky, random stone, and then having this weathered clad oak and pristine sawn Portland stone, which will be a really good backdrop to the herbaceous planting in front because it’s dark; you know how they always say, base your borders, it’s nice to have a dark backdrop, say a yew hedge with a 3m or 5m wide border in front of it looks fantastic – it really sets the planting off in front. I’m hoping this will do the same thing!
Beth: It sounds great! What about seating?
David: So, I’ve got a company making a couple of seats – two loungers for the garden. I’ve used the seating as an opportunity to get the colour of Silent Pool’s bottle into the garden. So, I am having these Perspex loungers especially commissioned, I have asked the company to stencil out some of the botanics, part of Silent Pool’s bottle’s design, which I think will be a nice touch.
Beth: So, when do you start building the Silent Pool Gin Garden at Chelsea?
David: I’m there from the 4th of May 2018. The large Show Gardens go in first, and then we go in, together with the others who are building Space to Grow Gardens. Then, the smaller Artisan Gardens go in last; each Show Garden category has a different amount of time to complete their build.
Beth: Do you have an area of the garden that you’re most looking forward to building, planting, or putting together?
David: I think that the area where there’s a raised infinity-edge pool, will be great to build! There’s a rill, which encompasses the garden, the rill runs around the garden and collects the rest of the water. One-and-a-bit sides fall down and cascade into the main body of water, but around it all is this rill. It’s quite a complicated part to work on, in the details, there’s a 50mm gap running around it, so there’s quite a lot of detail in one small area there, and there are a number of height changes here too. Our paving throughout the garden is all flat, it goes down to a meter width for one part of the pathway.
David: I think the main idea of the garden is the fact that it’s designed for a professional couple, this is an urban garden, we’re trying to bring across the fact that everyone lives really busy stressful lives and we all need somewhere to go to relax, and possibly sit down… and drink gin!
Beth: It sounds beautiful! I cannot wait to see your garden at Chelsea David! One last question, have Silent Pool given you any gin?
David: Nothing yet!
To see photographs of the Silent Pool Gin Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018, please click here.
This interview was first published in the March 2018 edition of the Vantage Point Magazine newsletter.
Other articles that may interest you……..
To see photographs from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To read my article about David Neale, please click here.
To see photographs from the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017, please click here.