Emma Reuss talks to designer Cleve West about his Exmoor-inspired show garden design
Back-to-back Best Show Garden Awards at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 and 2012, together with six Gold medals since 2006, give Cleve West MSGD top-seed status this year. The last garden he built for M&G in 2014 did not achieve the top prize, but this will have no bearing on his sponsor’s confidence in him.
Cleve’s teenage years were spent running around the Exmoor National Park, where his parents owned a hotel, and the memories from that period are the inspiration for his garden. Recreating Exmoor is not viable, so he has come up with a contemporary reinterpretation, using traditional materials such as sandstone, both rough-hewn and sawn, and oak for the boundaries and structural planting. Water and shade-tolerant woodland planting complete the scene.
“I’m intrigued about how early experiences can shape ideas,” he explains. “The Telegraph Garden 2011 (the one with the columns) was subconsciously influenced by memory, so I wondered how it would work if I did it consciously. I thought back to a moment when I was blown away by some ancient oak woodland near Porlock where I lived. I wondered whether I could pay homage to it within a more contemporary or conceptual context.”
The trees have a substantial spread so there might be problems when it comes to composing the views through the space. Some of the detailing will be decided on site, so there is an element of the unknown, which, according to Cleve, is “good for the appetite but not for the nerves”.
Despite his successes at the show, he is approaching the garden as if it’s his first. “This garden has its own set of challenges and I’ve enjoyed knocking ideas around with Steve Swatton and his team.” It helps that he has the same team that has built his past two Chelsea gardens. “We are all aiming to create something that has interesting hard landscaping detail, great planting and a tangible atmosphere.”
Cleve’s Chelsea show garden team:
SPONSOR: M&G Investments
CONTRACTOR: Swatton Landscape www.swattonlandscape.com
PLANTS: Hortus Loci www.hortusloci.co.uk
STONE: Lichen Garden Antiques www.lichengardenantiques.com
WATER TECHNICIAN: Bamber Wallis Designs www.bamberwallisart.com
OAK BOUNDARY: S Siggs and Sons firstname.lastname@example.org