King of Chelsea

Mark Gregory and team deciding the best place to prune a Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii' into show garden perfection

Fate dealt me a very kind hand when the seating was decided for the Garden Media Guild Awards lunch last December because I found myself seated next to Mark Gregory. He proved to be delightful company and whilst he was enthusing about the magic of the build at Chelsea, he issued an invitation for me to come along and see for myself. I couldn't believe my luck as this was a dream come true.

Mark wasn't at all fazed when I phoned him a couple of weeks ago to make the final arrangements for my visit despite being in a trench. He also kindly met me at the Garden Gate on the day itself to give me my pass (see left) and Hi Viz jacket - not only necessary requirements for gaining access but also a cunning disguise, allowing me to blend in effortlessly with everyone there - even though he was in the middle of unloading a delivery off a lorry at the time.

I was particularly keen to see his show garden as his previous two for The Children's Society in the Urban Garden category were particular favourites of mine. Mark's designs are high quality, practical gardens providing neat solutions for the needs of a family. This year's challenge was to design a garden which would be used by teenagers: the charity's research shows this group value a safe space where they can hang out with their mates and family.

At the build the key elements were there: a plunge pool, a fantastic garden building, plenty of seating, a pizza oven and a fire pit. Quality with the hardscaping wasn't being compromised, even though Mark had another challenge set by his sponsor: build a show garden for the same cost as one for the [smaller] urban garden category. As you can see the main structural shrubs and trees (Acer campestre) were already in place and the team were deciding where the rest of the planting should go.

Mark had enlisted the expertise of Adam Frost (another gold medal winning designer) to help him with the planting palette and execution of this part of the design. There was quite a bit of head scratching and moving around of plants going on each time I visited and Mark seemed worried they weren't getting it right. When I left at 7pm he still wasn't happy, but had wisely decided to leave the decision making to the next morning when his mind would be fresh.

Of course they got it right in the end and the garden won a well deserved gold, the third in a row. Mark was a very chuffed man when I met up with him again last Tuesday. It was clear talking to him during the build he'd taken great care with the design: a practical usable garden, which makes good use of the space and with very different vistas opening up at different viewpoints. I also liked the smell of woodsmoke from the pizza oven when I was there on show day - it gave a very homely atmosphere to that part of the show ground!

I managed to completely surprise Patient Gardener by admiring this Aquilegia: grass combination. In fact I think it provides the solution for my Aquilegia patch, where I've been looking to extend the interest in that part of the garden. Perhaps her plan cooked up with An Artist's Garden to get me more interested in grasses is working! I've now earmarked some of the grasses Karen gave me at Malvern for planting out in that area.

It turned out that Mark is a double triple gold medal winner at Chelsea this year. His company was the contractor for building the Best Courtyard Garden, Music on the Moors...

... and also James Wong and David Cubero's The Tourism Malaysia show garden. Mark's company specialises in top quality hardscaping and he's notched up 22 years and almost 50 gardens at Chelsea. It was clear talking to Mark that being involved with 3 gardens at Chelsea this year wasn't a problem (I'm sure having the above garden right opposite his own show garden also helped), he's obviously an excellent project manager who has extremely good teams of people working for him.

No wonder he's the king of Chelsea this year. Thank you Mark, for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to see behind the scenes and for being so generous with your time both before and during the show. This wide-eyed blogger had a fantastic time and lots to write about as a result :D


  1. What a great insight into a wonderful designer. Many thanks.

  2. dear mark: wow! (& congratulations)
    the aquilegia combination fascinates w/movement..

  3. Lucky you! What a great way to see Chelsea.

  4. Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes visit with us. It was much improved by your excellent photography. I just wish I could see some of those photos larger. Any way you could arrange that?

  5. Hermes - thanks :)

    Petoskystone - yes the grasses do give life and movement don't they. Patient Gardener will be even more surprised now I've said that!

    ArtShades - yes I'm very lucky indeed :)

    Apel - welcome! No that is very annoying re not being able to enlarge my photos as you should be able to. There seems to be something peculiar with the way Blogger is displaying pictures at the moment. I'd noticed previously that it initially loads them as formatted (aligned centrally in this case), but then quickly reloads them aligned to the left. I've done some experiments and the pictures are clickable (and thus can be enlarged) if you can quickly catch them when loaded correctly, but the reloading seems to switch off this ability.

    I've already raised an issue with Blogger about the load problem and will add this second problem to it.

  6. My goodness, VP, the fates were with you on that seating arrangement last winter for sure! Thanks for illuminating what goes on behind the scenes for the winning Chelsea displays. The amount of organizational skill in addition to plantsmanship and design boggles the mind. Mark certainly has it down pat! :-)

  7. You lucky gardener! How exciting the back stage view has been and how marvelous to see it all completed. I so appreciate your sharing it with us~xxgail ps grasses add a lot to a garden and there are so many different one. Have you looked at sedges?

  8. Frances - I'm very lucky indeed :)

    Gail - I've used Carex in pots before and spend ages looking at what insects live in the wild version out in Mallorca!

    Hugs to you both


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