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Video interviews with Best in Show winning garden designers

From Australia to the South of France to the UK, we've managed to speak to a number of garden designers who have won Best in Show at Chelsea over the past decade, giving their thoughts on winning Best in Show, the changes in garden design over the years and how it might evolve in future. 

Cleve West

Cleve talks about how lockdown might affect and influence themes of future gardens and ask the question - who should we be gardening for?

Scroll down further to read our interview with Cleve about winning Best in Show in 2011 and 2012.

Cleve West Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show from Shoot Gardening on Vimeo.

Read more about Cleve's winning gardens and download plant lists by clicking on the following links:

The Daily Telegraph Garden 2011

The Brewin Dolphin Garden 2012

Phillip Johnson

Talking to us from a campfire at his home in Australia, Phillip recalls his Best in Show experience at Chelsea in 2013, the importance of connecting back to nature and his current projects. 

Phillip Johnson Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show 2013 from Shoot Gardening on Vimeo.

Read more about Phillip's winning Australia garden and download his plant list by clicking on the following link:

The Trailfinders Australia Garden 2013

James Basson

Talking to us from his shed in the south of France, James talks about his memories of the Best in Show Maltese Quarry Garden in 2017, his obsession with quarries and what he'll miss from not going to Chelsea this year.

James Basson Chelsea Flower Show from Shoot Gardening on Vimeo.

Read more about James' winning Maltese garden and download his plant list by clicking on the following link:

The M&G Maltese Quarry Garden 2017

Sarah Eberle

Sarah talks about women designers at Chelsea, the parallels between lockdown and her Best in Show Life on Mars Garden from 2007 and how Chelsea Flower Show might evolve over the next decade.

Scroll down further to read the full interview with Sarah.

Sarah Eberle Chelsea Flower Show from Shoot Gardening on Vimeo.

Read more about Sarah's Life on Mars garden and download her plant list by clicking on the following link:

600 Days Life on Mars Garden with Bradstone 2007

Dan Pearson

Dan won Best in Show in 2015 for the Chatsworth Laurent Perrier Garden. 

Dan Pearson by Emli Bendixen

Dan Pearson. Credit: Emli Bendixen

Shoot: What do you remember about the garden in 2015? What made it 'Best in Show'?

DP: The garden had its own gravity and a sense of place that transported you into it and away from the hubbub of the show. I think it did this because it was bold and delicate in equal measure and that everyone who worked on it poured in so much love and devotion. You could feel that too and that was transferrable to the audience who were moved and taken somewhere when they were drawn into it.

Shoot: How do you think garden design has changed over the last 10 years?

DP: I think it has quietened for the better as people have embraced naturalism wholeheartedly. Although this has now become a common language, it is being used well and it is good for the environment that this is what appears to be here to stay.

Shoot: How do you think Chelsea Flower Show has changed over the last 10 years?

DP: The show has become less plant focused and more driven by the sponsors. This is a balance that could be adjusted to celebrate the grower once again. As designers we would not have such remarkable choice in our industry if it were not for these remarkable nursery people.  

Shoot: What will you miss about Chelsea not happening this year?

DP: Kevock Garden Plants displays in the tent. Their plantsmanship and composition.  However, I feel very lucky, for once in this week of spring-changing-to-summer, to be spending more time in my garden at home!

Read more about Dan's Chatsworth garden and download his plant list by clicking on the following link:

The Laurent Perrier Chatsworth Garden 2015


Extended interviews with Cleve West and Sarah Eberle

Cleve West, Winner of Best in Show 2011 and 2012


Shoot: What memories do you have about the gardens that won Best in Show at Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 and 2012?

CW: Both gardens The Telegraph Garden 2011 and Brewin Dolphin in 2012 stand out as being pleasurable experiences!

The first garden was particularly close to my heart and carried an extra level of poignancy as my mum died just before I got the commission. I did the design and it got approved by The Telegraph but it was only after Chelsea Flower Show that I was looking through some holiday snaps from Libya and saw a picture that I’d taken of my Mum at the Roman ruins of Ptolemais near Benghazi in Libya and all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I realised that I’d subconsciously recreated a scene from that holiday as a little memorial to her.

It was a perfect spring and a perfect build working with Crocus – we had great fun! I had parsnips from my allotment, sculpture from Serge Bottagisio and Agnes Decoux in the South of France and David Wilson did the dry stone walling so it was a very modern garden but also steeped in tradition.

It was a style of gardening that I’m fond of – gravelly, dry, drought-tolerant gardens.

It was a really nice experience working with Chris and Toby Marchant from Orchard Dene Nurseries and we actually finished three days early which was really embarrassing because normally everyone works up to the last minute! We didn’t want to upset the other garden designers and their teams so we kept knocking things down and rebuilding them to pass the time!

Getting Best in Show was an unexpected real bonus – we were delighted.

The Brewin Dolphin garden was great too. I’d always wanted to work with Steve Swatton of Swatton Landscape and had a really good laugh with him. We also worked with Darren Jones from Lichen Garden Antiques who supplied all the stone and ornaments and Bamber Wallis who has been our go-to water technician over the years.

It was another dream team! Everything fell into place at the right time. We had a slight worry with a beech hedge as it was a cooler spring and it wasn’t quite out on judging day. It lent quite a nice rusty hue to the garden but we were really worried as there’s nothing you can do with a hedge. It was a bit of a surprise to get Best in Show as Sarah Price had done a beautiful garden and I thought she would get it.

Shoot: How do you think garden design has changed over the last 10 years?

CW: The focus has moved to more natural ways of gardening and trying to evoke nature. We take a lot from gardens – wellbeing, fitness, healing etc. – but we garden for us, not for nature. Even things like bee hotels look like brightly coloured houses and designed to please us!

Thomas Church’s mantra was that gardens are for people. I’m starting to think the opposite is true. Everything that lives in the garden has as much right to be there as we do. We know so much now about the damage we’re doing so we have to look at the ways we produce plants, the plastic we use, the compost, the transport. There has to be a more environmental way of creating beautiful gardens.

Shoot: How has Chelsea Flower Show changed over the last 10 years?

CW: I know that the RHS are trying to get designers to reuse as much as possible along the way to combat the hours that go into them, the materials, the energy and the overall carbon footprint. People need to see gardens being reused and sustainably built. The ideas that are expressed at Chelsea have to be a benefit to biodiversity in the long run. People need to get the message of building gardens in a better, smaller, more sustainable way.

In fact, I have just written a book ‘The Garden of Vegan’ published by Pimpernel Press. It concerns what we take from the garden but neglect to give back and explains how a shift to a plant-based lifestyle will give us the best chance of a healthy, just and sustainable future.

Shoot: What will you miss about Chelsea Flower Show not taking place this year?

CW: It’s a great shame it’s not taking place. It’s such a celebration of this time of year – late April and May is just such a beautiful time to enjoy and Chelsea Flower Show really accentuates that. I really enjoy the shows and I’ll miss the buzz and the camaraderie – it’s often the only time of the year I get to catch up with people from across the industry. 


Sarah Eberle, Winner of Best in Show 2007


Shoot: What memories do you have about winning Best in Show at Chelsea Flower Show in 2007?

SE: The press generally says I’m the only female to win Best in Show on Main Avenue but that’s not strictly true. Julie Toll won the last Wilkinson Sword award (as it was called then) for her seaside garden in 1993.

I was hoping to win it last year.  I thought I had a garden that was good enough to win it. I don’t mean that with ill intent as you have to accept the results on the day but it was a garden that I always thought had the potential to win best in show. In my view, if the trees had been fully in leaf, I’d like to think it would have won but the trees were critical for my story and not being fully leafed is what knocked off points.

In 2007, gardens were marked differently and I got 97/100 which at that time was the highest scoring garden ever. The theme was an extra-terrestrial space garden based on Mars. Back in those days, Chelsea was still quite traditional and looking back, I was surprised that the RHS had the faith to accept it as a garden for Chelsea – it was quite risky. All the science was in the realm of possibility at that time but I kind of lost track of the impact of what I was doing. It was only when we were building it that I began to realise how powerful the garden was.

Shoot: What was the inspiration for the Mars theme?

SE: I only do Chelsea when I’m approached by a sponsor but it was coming up to the Millennium and I wanted to design a garden based on space. I’ve always been interested in space travel and astronomy so it seemed like a good idea. I went to see the curator of the British Science Museum who said that Mars was going to be the place for terraforming. Then another architect friend introduced me to someone at the European Space Agency. So I went to Holland, totally expecting to be patronised but spoke to 8 top scientists who were absolutely fascinating! They were working on exactly the same project linked to the psychological effects of long term stays in space

It was called 600 days as it takes 600 days to get to Mars, do your six months and come back again. The idea was that if you’re an astronaut and you’re eating powdered food, if you had this bit of space, what would you grow as a luxury? Everything that was there had to be of scientific possibility. The making of the garden was a project in itself. We went through the kind of feelings that an astronaut or a scientist would feel if they themselves were doing it – almost similar to the psychological effects of the current lockdown situation.

Every plant was bio-mapped and apart from that, it had to be either edible or medicinal. It was very strict. It was all about scientific need so it didn’t include any other flowers apart from some marigolds which were these huge bowls of orange colour that made an immense impact.

One of the most fascinating things was when we first brought in the marigolds. There had been no colour or flowers in the garden at that point so when they arrived, it was incredible to witness the excitement amongst the whole team when they saw so much colour. In another bowl we’d put some watercress. On day 1, it was below the rim, by day 2 it was at the rim and by day 4 it was over the top of the rim - and the rate of growth became a big event every day when the team arrived on site.

All the walls were clay earth rammed walls – a first at Chelsea. When I’d originally discussed this with an architect, he said ‘you haven’t got a hope in hell!’ but we did it in 5 days using all colours of clay.

The whole project was fascinating as there was a lot of making it up as you go along but we were delighted that it made the front page of the Times and the Telegraph (for which you’d normally have to be either a prime minister or a serial killer!) who referred to it as ‘a garden on Mars with marigolds!’

Shoot: How do you think Chelsea will evolve in the next ten years?

SE Currently 70% of gardens go on to a charity or a final home. That will just become a standard requirement. It’s good for gardens to have another life and avoid waste. There may be a general consensus not to spend so much money but you have to bear in mind that building these gardens in real life wouldn’t cost nearly as much. The Chelsea expenditure is much more as it’s concentrated into 19 days, 16 hour days, accommodation, working in London etc

My resilience garden last year was all reused. We used crushed concrete and crushed bricks. We bought the timber sleepers on eBay (probably the only garden at Chelsea ever to do so!). The silo was off a farm. The rocks were reused from two other Chelsea gardens. I had a vision of how it would be but then I had to use what I could find in my back yard which made it much harder. We need to stretch our minds more than our purses. It’s definitely about human and environmental sustainability; we tend to look at one or the other but the two must work hand in hand.

The public and professionals alike are becoming far more sympathetic of a light touch. Garden design is becoming much more horti-based or plant based rather than huge aesthetic statements with machine-made, high-end accessories. It’s about understanding materials. The visual impact is more subtle but in terms of places to be they are far nicer places to be and they draw you back to being touched by the gardens.

Shoot: What do you think about Women Designers at Chelsea?

SE: It’s interesting that no women have won Best in Show in the last decade. Partly there are fewer women at Chelsea. My question is why? I like to feel that these women may have a better life balance and spend more time with their families. If you exhibit at Chelsea you basically have to abandon your family and for a lot of women, Chelsea is hugely demanding and quite testosterone fuelled!

I’ve made personal sacrifices during my career. As women we tend to be nurturers. We nurture our landscapes, we nurture our families. We tend to not be as young in this industry when it gets to exhibiting and maybe we have a lot on our plate. Having said that, I think a lot of the gardens that women have designed at Chelsea could have won but didn’t and at the end of the day I believe everyone makes their own successes and failures.

Shoot: What exciting projects are you working on just now?

SE: Well I’m a guest judge on the Big Flower Fight coming up on Netflix on 18 May – that was huge fun! My Chelsea garden is going through to next year – the Psalm 23 Garden for the Bible Society and I’m writing a couple of books.

I’m thinking about semi-retirement but I’m trying to be slightly retrospective over the experience I’ve had over the last 45 years and use that knowledge to help us move forward, rather than just be a rollercoaster of producing loads and loads of garden plans. I love working with my clients too and I’m hoping that everything else I do will be of benefit to them as well.

The one thing I haven’t been able to do is to really garden for myself so I’m looking to build one in lower Normandy that combines human and environmental sustainability feeding off what I did on the resilience garden and other projects. We tend to look at one of the other but it’s so important to work with the climate, with the environment and make life improvements for people in general. It will be experimental; a training garden.

I’m a bit of an optimist but I really feel this is an opportunity to reassess - this model we have for society is just not sustainable.