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The Chelsea Flower Show - Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden

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The Chelsea Flower Show means different things to different people; for some it’s all about the horticultural displays from all over the world in the Great Pavilion, for others it’s the show gardens or even the smaller more accessible Artisan ones, but one thing unites everyone: new and unusual plants, and plants never before seen at the Show.

Jonathan SnowJonathan SnowJonathan SnowWest London based garden designer Jonathan Snow has always dreamed of creating a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show but was acutely aware that entry to the ‘Main Avenue Club’ was normally preceded by years of cutting ones teeth at other shows, and in smaller categories. Undeterred he submitted his very first application, secured an established Chelsea sponsor in Trailfinders, and an experienced contractor in Mark Richardson’s Stewart Landscape Construction, and lined up some of the best tree and plant nurseries in the UK and Europe to help source and grow his plants. His design was accepted and allocated a much coveted Main Avenue location. Now it’s time to make the dream a reality and aim for a coveted RHS Chelsea Flower Show medal “I’m trying to concentrate on delivering my vision for the garden and making sure I choose the right plants and materials. If I manage that, then I have a chance of doing well”, says Jonathan, refusing to be drawn on what colour medal he is aiming for.

Jonathan’s inspiration for his Trailfinders Garden is the Winelands of the Western Cape of South Africa. The area not only produces world class wines but attracts visitors from all over the world who come to sample the wines, soak up the old world charm of the Cape Dutch architecture and enjoy some of the best scenery, wildlife and food on the planet. It’s rather fitting that the sponsor of the garden is the UK’s leading independent tour operator, Trailfinders, as they tailor-make holidays to South Africa for thousands each year.

Homestead gardenHomestead gardenHomestead gardenThe architecture of the charming Cape Dutch homesteads, with pretty verandahs and neatly manicured parterre gardens situated in the wonderfully evocative vineyards of the Cape Foldvalleys made quite the impact on Jonathan. It is this landscape, with the characteristic ‘Fynbos’ planting that he is seeking to represent with his Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden.

The garden will comprise of four distinct areas:

Homestead garden - Some plants used will be cultivated forms, or relatives, of Fynbos plants.Other native South African species will feature, alongside more traditional cottage garden plants and roses, as is customary in such gardens. The intention of the homestead garden planting is to provide a fresh but relatable contrast to the harsh, scrubby Fynbos landscape.

VineyardVineyardVineyardVineyard - Vines with roses traditionally planted at the end of each row to provide early warning of disease, and a pretty cover crop of annuals sown between the rows of vines to act as a ‘green manure’. This type of planting also attracts beneficial insects.

Fynbos Landscape - Mountain Fynbos comprising members of the proteoid, restioid, ericoid and geophyte groups, which grow in the slopes above the vineyards which are too steep to be cultivated.

Post fire Fynbos landscape - Fire is an integral part of the lifecycle of fynbos. It removes old growth, returns much needed nutrients to the soil, and the smoke and heat allow seeds to germinate. This section of the garden will represent recovery after a recent fire. Bulbs, resprouters, reseeders and fire ephemerals or annuals all take advantage of the increase in light levels and recently enriched soil to grow, in the absence of competition from older and larger plants. The result is a scorched landscape gradually being replaced by colourful bulbs, fresh annual seedlings and resprouting plants

Post fire Fynbos landscapePost fire Fynbos landscapePost fire Fynbos landscapeThe much loved National plant of South Africa, the Protea, will feature in the landscape, as will ericas and restios that are the key components of fynbos vegetation. Agapanthus, pelargoniums, gladioli and kniphofias will also feature in the landscape, and will be repeated in the homestead garden.

Designer Jonathan Snow’s inspiration for the garden came after a visit to South Africa. He has returned many times to walk in the fynbos with a local botanist who shared his knowledge about this vegetation which is seriously under threat from invasive non-native species, urbanisation and agriculture. It is Jonathan’s hope this garden will go some way to raising awareness of the smallest but most botanically diverse of the world’s six plant kingdoms.

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