THE JOURNAL FOR THE SOCIETY OF GARDEN DESIGNERS

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016: first-time designer Sam Ovens


Jodie Jones finds out how the build up to RHS Chelsea has been for new designer Sam Ovens


Last autumn, Sam Ovens got a call from Cloudy Bay asking if he would be interested in designing their garden at Chelsea this year. “It was a massive surprise,” says Sam. The brief was to create a garden that offered a secluded retreat from the manmade world into the natural environment. “And that’s pretty much what I do all the time,” says Sam. “You worry how it will affect your brand if your sponsor has different values from you, so I know I have been tremendously fortunate.”

The downside has been an incredibly tight schedule. With less than half a year to turn a sketch into a garden, Sam has found the process almost overwhelming at times. “It ramped up around February, when I was having to sign off on decisions, and the pressure was on to source the key plants. My trees were the biggest worry – I have five in the garden. I quickly found a perfect Pinus nigra, which was one focal point, but it took a lot longer to source the other four.”


Sam made a decision to keep this garden pared back. “Good design is as much about what you leave out as what you put in, so every element has to be perfect.” Fortunately for Sam, his contractor for the project is David Dodd of The Outdoor Room, who has built 18 RHS medal-winning gardens, so he knows the build is in safe hands. “In many ways it’s like designing any other garden,” says Sam. “But then again, Chelsea sits on a pedestal that sets it apart. I’m not feeling the pressure yet, but the minute I step inside those gates I suspect the reality will hit hard.”