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Chelsea Flower Show
Hampton Court Flower Show

When first approached to design and build a show garden featuring the Gothic Folly for the Chicago Garden and Flower Show on a space 100 feet by 40, we envisaged the possibility of building a Cathedral. This would have been much too ambitious but the idea of recreating a ruin similar in style to Glastonbury Abbey was far more feasible. By building corners and remnants of a once much larger building we could create an illusion of the grandeur of Mediaeval Gothic architecture.


Steve Slight, our head mason and stone carver, arrived in Chicago eight days before the opening and set out on a carefully planned schedule to complete all the building work in five days. With the help of Matt Stempky and his crew (another Matt and Eduardo) from Stempky Gardens, Michigan, and Matt Ivanovics from our old friends Frieden Landscapes in Cleveland, I was confident the target would be hit. At least there would be no shortage of Matt's!


Needless to say when I arrived in the windy city on the evening of the fifth day the Abbey Ruins were complete. We headed off to eat safe in the knowledge that when the plant material arrived in the morning we would be ready to concentrate 100% on the horticultural side of the exhibit. We were to work to a planting scheme designed by Andrew McIndoe of Hillier Garden Centres for the next two days before the man himself arrived on the last day of the garden build to add the finishing touches.


When the first delivery arrived it was clear that somewhere along the line Andy's explicit instructions to force the plants ready for the show had been lost - the hostas where not even showing the first shoots of growth in their barren pots. Local nursery, Ted's Greenhouse, rushed to our assistance with what material they could spare while a second truck was dispatched from California. Then the severe Midwest snow struck. The truck was three days late, arriving 24 hours before Mayor Daley's Gala night opening.


This scratch team (including Steve who missed the photo) were involved in one of the most amazing show days I have ever experienced. Andy was magnificent, redesigning the planting plan on the hoof, and as our heads were dropping at 5.30pm on the last day the replacement truck from California arrived. We worked into the evening, John Cullen from Celtic Gardens stayed up all night tidying and watering, and an early start the next morning saw the finishing touches added just before the Judges arrived.


To try to recreate a flavour of Chelsea indoors in March in Chicago, with temperatures outside hitting minus 10ÂșC plus wind chill, was reckless you might think! Combine that with the problems of planning from 3500 miles away and the ensuing problems with the plant material and you might wonder if we managed at all. As the only garden to win two Special Judges awards and the visiting public all proclaiming ours to be the Best in Show you'd have thought even Toothache Man might have allowed himself a grin!

Tim Redwood, March 2003

Redwood Stone, The Stoneworks, West Horrington, Wells, Somerset BA5 3EH, England   Tel 01749 677777
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