What a way to launch a garden design career

Chelsea Flower Show 2019 is just weeks away. It’s the gardening event of the year, offering designers, nurseries and associated horticultural interests the opportunity to showcase their wares to the world.

Saturday, 20th April 2019, 4:33 pm
Sean Murray, who won the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

In keeping with flower show tradition, there is a strong competitive element, but even exhibiting at Chelsea can be enough to launch a career, as local landscape garden designer Sean Murray discovered in 2015.

Four years ago, BBC Television, in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), announced a competition for would-be garden designers and Sean applied for the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge.

We watched, cheering on the quietly spoken fellow from Ashington, who grew in stature as it progressed. The challenge was run on an elimination basis, with Sean proclaimed the winner by presenter Joe Swift.

The prize – showcasing his own garden on Main Avenue Chelsea, where all the big-gun designers compete, not to mention discussing his creation with The Queen.

What makes a winner? In this case someone who has 40 years’ experience in professional gardening, knows his plants and has designed layouts for the NHS and Prison Service, amongst others.

Being an international floral demonstrator with NAFAS qualifications helps, along with innovative ideas. Most of all, it’s the ability to listen and keep calm under pressure.

Recycled local materials appear in his creations, and when a few spent gun shells were highlighted next to a drystone wall in the Northumberland Garden he created on TV, I guessed they represented Hadrian’s Wall and the Otterburn Ranges.

Wrong! It celebrated 19th century garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, who allegedly fired seeds high against Lindisfarne Castle wall fissures to encourage plant colonisation. Such inspirational inclusions impress judges.

Acquaintance with Sean began with a plan he produced for our Alnwick Garden Town Development Group, relating to the Column Field. He also attended a fund-raising event for the project. Later, he relived his Chelsea experience to our garden club.

Sean is hosting a one-day masterclass at Adderstone House, with Annie Guilfoyle, who runs The Art & Craft of Garden Design at Great Dixter and is course consultant at West Dean College.

They will describe their approach to design and planting, and the workshop will include examining, analysing and sketching areas of the garden. There will be a home-cooked organic lunch from the vegetable garden and refreshments. Email [email protected]