For Our Sins

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The theme for the Conceptual Garden category of show gardens at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show was The Seven Deadly Sins. Perhaps a surprising choice for garden design but certainly intentionally provocative. As it turned out it also seemed rather tricky. There is a conceptual contradiction in designing gardens on a theme which is meant to be something negative and to be avoided, but I suppose that logic would apply to portrayals in other art forms too, whereas we do not just expect positive messages.

In order to give a flavour of the game of guessing the sin I will show the images first and then give the interpretation.

OK, hot, fiery, flame-like, wreaths of smoke, boiling over, hell? This is an Eruption of Unhealed Anger, designed by Nilufer Danis and yes it is Wrath.

“The theme of this garden is wrath or anger. The design depicts uncontrolled feelings of anger as emotional pressure, self-destructiveness, violence and instability.

Inspiration came from a volcano and its explosive eruption. The focal point of the garden is a raised central feature, reminiscent of an eruptive volcano, which represents destructive emotional eruption, instability and an explosion of anger. A freestanding graphic feature wall and a red-painted dead tree sculpture reinforce the concept of anger, complemented by lighting, smoke and smells.”

I like the colour scheme and the shots of bright contrast of the Kniphofia particularly. It evokes a landscape more than a garden but works for me. However it was rather reminiscent of one of last year’s conceptual gardens. It got a Gold medal.

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Easy one? Colour symbolism gave it away for me – yes it is Envy.

Titled The Grass Is Always Greener Designed by Marcus Green (!)

“This installation explores the sin of envy and demonstrates that feeling envious can lead to dissatisfaction and the failure to appreciate the advantages that one already has.

The garden depicts a beautiful meadow, encased by an oak surround, with natural materials encasing the unmown and expressive loose planting of grasses and flowers.  In the centre of the design, raised on a pedestal out of reach and encased by a green Perspex wall, is the clipped perfection of the ideal lawn, made from artificial grass.   The artificial lawn represents a level of perfection that the meadow planting can never achieve, despite its natural beauty.”

Good simple design, catchy title, but it is impossible to see the clipped, artificial grass inside the green perspex. This got a Silver medal.

 

Another pretty obvious one – Gluttony, designed by Katerina Rafaj and titled E no. 123.

“Gluttony is one of the deadly sins that we so often and willingly forget about. The garden represents this sin in an abstract, artistic and playful manner.

The design highlights the huge amount of food that is being consumed and wasted every day in the UK and other western countries through the use of eye-catching oversized sculptures. These remind us of our enormous and unnecessary levels of food consumption while millions of people around the world, including children, are starving.”

Scale as greed, no sorry, gluttony. Very pop art, but I love the sardine can waterlily pond. Another Gold medal winner.

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Well, this is Greed. The Dichotomy (Greed) Designed by Sara Jane Rothwell & JoanMa Roig

“The deadly sin of greed condemns the eternal for the temporary, yet one man cannot be rich without another being deprived. This garden depicts a confessionary to express the duality between judge and sinner, whilst simultaneously presenting the viewer with a dilemma.

Concentric squares of clipped box hedge depict the controlled, rigid eternal garden, whilst the temporary garden is in the final stages of greed; nutrient-depleted soil has encouraged wildflowers to grow. The mesh partition suggests a blurred connection between the two gardens.

The design invites the viewer to consider the analogy between judge and sinner. Does only one side represent greed? Both gardens are intended to be viewed through the mesh partition, and also whilst kneeling submissively at the extended prie-dieu.”

This did not work for me. It has a more theological and conceptual bent, which just did not come across. A Silver-gilt medal.

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Hot, hot, hot, red, red, red – enter here for some voyeurism. Lust – really! Designed by Rachel Parker Soden.

“’Flowers are essentially tarts, prostitutes for the bees.’ Uncle Monty, Withnail & I (1987)

This garden depicts the sin of lust.  The central feature of the garden is a glass room, which is approached by crossing a canal along cobbled paths.  The glasshouse glows, showcasing provocative plants that represent lust in an anthropomorphic fashion.

The garden has been designed to explore the relationship between our appreciation of the beauty of plants and the function of flowers to propagate their own species, by re-contextualising the garden as a brothel in its own red light district and the show visitor as a voyeur on the sex lives of plants.”

Yes, OK, Withnail & I quote. Yes plants have sex lives, but I never saw bees as visiting prostitutes. Clever but not subtle, although the actual planting is very good as is the design. Only a Silver medal.

My sister, who accompanied me got this straight away – obviously more classically educated! This is Sloth but is grandly titled Quarry of Silences and designed by Sheena Seeks.

“The theme of this garden is sloth.  As individuals we start out in life with more or less the same tools, physically and intellectually. Each spade (a tool) represents a person.  We all climb the hill in pursuit of a goal in life (represented by a golden stone). Some slide down the slippery slope into sloth and end up in the graveyard of lost dreams and ambitions.

The garden features a large sand cone at its centre. 150 spades climb up one side of the cone to reach the gold stone at the top. A black basalt and slate cone slope has three graves at the bottom.  Each of the graves has a shovel within it, with one grave holding a brain, one a heart and one a pair of boots to represent the mind, soul and body.”

As this got a Gold medal and Best Conceptual Garden award it was obviously widely praised. I like it – clever, visual, striking, beautiful detail but it hits home a bit hard – am I in the graveyard of lost dreams and ambitions?

So what’s left? Pride. For me the best is last – The Stonewall Garden: Breaking Down the Walls of Pride, designed by Amanda Miller.

“This garden has been inspired by the designer’s own experiences and the difficulties faced as a young gay person growing up in a small country town in Australia.

The design represents a journey from the constraints of old-fashioned beliefs and people blinded by pride to a life of freedom. The journey is highlighted by breaking through the walls of pride that segregate two communities. It begins at the rear of the garden in a dark environment of suppressed planting and ends in a free, thriving and colourful landscape.”

 I like the movement through the garden through one broken wall after another. It is a complex journey beautifully portrayed and symbolised by the planting. There were some unusual plants too, especially the different clovers and the insects loved it. The only jarring element is the slightly crude purple figure at the front. A worthwhile Gold medal.
Quotes are from the designers’ statements on the RHS web site.
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