At RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013, Chris Beardshaw is currently exhibiting the Arthritis Research UK Garden, the Gold Medal winning entry for the charity of the same name. The garden explores the journey of someone who has been diagnosed with arthritis, and is a triumph of conceptual garden design. I was hoping to interview Chris while at Chelsea on Press Day. As if by testament to his popularity he was fully booked for the whole day! Luckily I was given just a few minutes to talk with him at the end of the interviews. Both wearing dark blue jeans and matching blue pin striped blazers, I was at first concerned we would look comical together. If he noticed he was too polite to comment. He greeted me with a warm smile. As I thanked him for his time he reassured me that it was his pleasure. Chronically aware of the TV camera’s still pointing at us from his last interviews, I could feel time ticking away, so I asked my first question.
- Your concept for the Arthritis Research UK Garden works with a personal journey of someone who has been diagnosed with arthritis. What was it like working with a concept that is so close to your own experience?
(Chris nods). I think when ever you’re dealing with a very personal storyline you’re either in danger of it becoming so personal that it becomes egotistical, it becomes just a rather selfish expression, of which the relevance is perhaps missed by other people or it drives you forwards and demonstrates the fluidity of the whole design process. For me it was the latter. It was great for me to be able to understand from first hand experience the emotional roller coaster of being diagnosed with arthritis, which is what this garden is all about. And so to be able to interview the client, the client base, which is essentially clinicians, physicians, consultants, anyone suffering with arthritis, which was all drawn together. To talk to them about, not only how they feel, but also about how they respond to various treatments, and what lies in the future, started to bolt on to that linear design process that I was able to add, having been diagnosed with arthritis when I was a young teenager. I mean, you can imagine what that’s like. To be different, or to have something different about you at a time what you really don’t want to be different in any way. But I was able to use all that, to bring it together, to express the journey in this garden.
- I notice that the veiled garden is set at the back with the yew hedge partially obscuring view of it. I was wondering if this featured in the concept? As an outsider, someone who doesn’t have arthritis, we are, perhaps, not fully aware of what its like to be in that place.
(Chris smiles broadly) That’s very astute! With the yew hedge and sculpture in front hinting at what’s behind, the full meaning is not communicated immediately. Of course when we meet people we don’t always know about the conditions they might have or what’s going on. It’s the same for someone with arthritis.
- Many of our readers are students. What advice would you have to a young designer who is thinking about designing for Chelsea?
If anybody is going to design a garden for Chelsea it’s a difficult decision to make. You are responsible for communicating the client’s message and the weight of that burden can be heavy. It’s very hard work, of course, and involves months of planning. Gardens and landscapes, and historic landscapes, aren’t seen as art in this country. If this (gesticulates to the Arthritis Research UK Garden) were a piece of furniture or a painting it would be protected and placed behind a piece of glass where people can see it. But because they’re landscapes and gardens they aren’t protected in that way. That’s why education is so important and is where students can play a role in raising awareness that landscapes and gardens are important and worth protecting.Unfortunately this is where my time ran out. I could hear people behind me packing up the literature talk to Chris. I thanked him again for his time. He smiled broadly, said “Not at all!” and shook my hand. From interviewing Chris Beardshaw, and reading the interpretation literature regarding the Arthritis Research UK Garden I gained an understanding for why Chris is so popular in his broadcasting and design work. He is an example of a rare type of garden designer. One that is gifted in all three key areas of garden design: conceptual understanding and interpretation, spatial design, and horticultural knowledge and experience. Interview conducted by Ashley Penn Enjoy what you’ve read! Support us and pick up one of our awesome T-shirts and hoodies today, Click the link Published in