Friday, 19 September, 2014

Published May 24, 2014
The Gardener's Plot
Every garden that multiple award-winner Chris Beardshaw designs tells a story. By Rachel Loi
BT 20140524 RACCHRIS241GLY 1101370

Above: Mr Beardshaw's entry for the 2013 Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show won the the Gold and People's Choice Award.

  • 1 of 2
BT 20140524 RACCHRIS241GLY 1101370
BT 20140524 RACCHRIS24LPPN 1101369

WHEN you were four years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? A superhero? An astronaut? A fireman? For Chris Beardshaw, his dream has always been to work with plants. And fortunately, that's exactly what he ended up doing as a career.

"I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else with my life," says the 45-year-old UK national.

It's a good thing he turned out to have green fingers, and made a name for himself as a garden designer, clinching over 20 awards in the last 14 years. This includes the Gold and People's Choice Award at the 2013 Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show.

And this August, Mr Beardshaw will be in town to compete with over 30 local and international garden designers for the top awards at the Singapore Garden Festival (SGF).

As a garden designer, Mr Beardshaw does not believe in sticking to a particular style - instead he makes sure he comes up with what he calls a "narrative" of the process.

He explains: "It gives you a point to check back to every time you have to make a decision. Say, if you have to decide on the paving, and the texture, colour and size, what's going to inform that decision is the narrative. If an abstract idea bears no relation to the narrative nor complements it, then at least your decision will be clear."

For the upcoming SGF, Beardshaw reveals that his narrative will focus on the effects of urban development on the environment and how nature responds to it.

"We often underestimate how resilient and valuable plant material is," he says. "If you leave a plot of land empty for a while, weeds come in and it becomes what we call 'overgrown' and chaotic. But it's actually a very orchestrated, deliberate process that nature goes through to recolonise the space."

Through this garden, he hopes that festival-goers will recognise what plants are capable of doing, fall in love with them, and not be afraid to use them (and possibly kill them) in their own gardens at home.

"I think we've all killed a plant before," says Mr Beardshaw with a chuckle. "But that's part of having a garden and people shouldn't get frustrated when it happens. I've killed a lot of things, but I've also grown a lot of things."

He fondly recalls his first time growing a plant when his late grandmother gave him a packet of Cress seeds and a little watering can on his fourth birthday.

"There were like 200 seeds in a packet, and being somewhat heavy-handed as a child I just tipped the whole packet over, and almost all of them germinated. So at the time I thought it was a sign that I was good at this!

"It was only later in life that I realised Cress is like a weed - if you hold some seeds long enough the moisture in your hand will make them germinate. It was actually impossible for them not to grow," he adds laughing.

But his youthful illusion worked out for the best of course, because he discovered his passion for plants, which led to him spending a lot of time in nearby nurseries and in his own garden at home.

Asked what constitutes a "good garden", Mr Beardshaw immediately answers that it's something personal to the one who owns it.

He elaborates: "A garden is a 4D representation of paradise - your paradise. And everyone's notion of paradise is so different. Think about creating a space where you could spend eternity, therefore only include things you hold most dear. If you include anything else, it becomes superfluous and cluttered. So it's really as straightforward as that - a piece of your paradise."

And for those who already have an idea of what kind of garden they like, but are looking for practical ways to improve them, Mr Beardshaw had one useful tip to share.

"If you haven't really refined your collection of plants yet, try visiting a nursery once every month. And each time, buy something different that you like which is in flower. Because that means you will have at least one plant flowering in your garden every month in the year. And it means you have a constant sense of stimulation, because flowers are what most people are stimulated by. So this is a very simple tool to try," he advises.