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Garden Tour: Waves, Wildflowers and ‘Cliffs’ Conjure up the Coast

Authentic wildflowers and local stone are key to this extraordinary garden, which recreates a stroll along the shore

Houzz Contributor. I’ve been writing for interiors magazines for over 10 years and… More

Named Welcome to Yorkshire and sponsored by the same organisation, this garden, shown off at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, celebrates the coastal beauty of the county. Painstakingly constructed using locally sourced materials, it features chalky ‘cliffs’, blooming wildflowers, an old fishing boat and even a crumbling ‘ruin’, complete with a trompe l’oeil of rolling hills beyond. Designer Tracy Foster also managed to recreate the sound – and sight – of lapping waves in a garden that perfectly captures the relaxing appeal of this quintessentially English landscape.

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Garden at a Glance
Show RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017
Garden designer Tracy Foster
Built by Landform Consultants
Sponsored by Welcome to Yorkshire
Prize awarded Silver Medal

Photos by Chris Snook

Every garden that makes it to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been months in the preparation. But this extraordinary feat of recreating a slice of Yorkshire countryside and transporting pebbles, chalk, stones and sand more than 200 miles, required more preparation than most. “I’ve got a science background,” says designer Tracy Foster, “and doing the research was key – which things look really nice next to other things in nature, how the rocks are laid down and that kind of thing. It was a fine excuse to go to the coast lots and lots of times.”

One element of the garden that wasn’t directly lifted from the Yorkshire landscape was the crumbling abbey at the back of the garden. “The ruin’s a bit of fantasy. We’ve got loads of ruined abbeys in Yorkshire – Bolton, Whitby, Kirkstall, all with certain similarities – so it’s a bit of a reference to that.” The stone used to build the ruin, however, is entirely authentic and came from a quarry near Holmfirth. “They had the skills to make the architectural details there.”

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Not your average water feature, the ‘sea’ element of the garden had its own challenges. “I really wanted to have waves – they’re one of the hypnotic attractions of being at the coast – but it’s a really difficult movement to recreate. Conventional things like pumps, fountains and nozzles don’t do it at all,” says Foster. “In the end, we used one of the buoys on a pulley system. That was enough to just gently displace the water onto the shore. I was really pleased with that.”

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The pink thrift (Ameria maritima) nestled among the chalk stones is typical of the plants you’d see on one of Yorkshire’s coastal paths.

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A wide range of wildflowers, including cow parsley and ox-eye daisies, are packed into the garden. “I was led by what grows in the area and it is quite a peculiar soil type with chalk, so it was a reasonably limited plant palette, but enough to be really quite interesting,” says Foster. Her choice was also dictated by the fact that the Chelsea Flower Show takes place in May. “I concentrated on things that I knew would be looking interesting at that time of year, but it’s also good to have things in that have a seedpod or are still in bud because they add texture – especially if they’ve got large leaves or something like that.”

See the garden sponsored by Welcome to Yorkshire in 2016

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The moored rowing boat seems to be waiting for a local fisherman. The well-loved vessel was loaned to Foster by Scarborough council, who had been displaying it in one of the flowerbeds on the promenade. During the planning stages, Foster had a tip-off that someone was throwing some lobster pots out into a skip in Scarborough. “I went down there and got them out – probably one of the smelliest jobs I’ve ever done in my life, but sometimes you have to do these things.”

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All of the stones in the garden were brought down from Yorkshire, including these large white pebbles, which came from Flamborough beach. “We collected them with the Welcome to Yorkshire team – loads of the team were turfed out of the office to help us and a lot of school children came, too.” The stones are now all back in their rightful place. “They’re very unusual chalk pebbles and a lot of wildlife live among them, bore holes into them, and so on. They’re part of the ecosystem, so they had to go back.”

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A lot of the wildflowers came from British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk, but Foster used other nurseries too. “Wildflowers aren’t very happy about being coaxed, held back or pushed forward. They just do what they do when they do it,” says Foster. “So it was important to have a bit of contingency by growing them in advance at as many different locations as was practical around the UK. We also used a bit of wildflower turf with grass content, which could just be laid.”

Find out how to help wildflowers thrive in your own garden

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The sand was brought down from the beach at Scarborough. Seaweed was also gathered and transported to Chelsea. “I just gathered stuff that had washed up to the high-tide mark, dried it and when I wanted to introduce it to the water feature I rehydrated it,” says Foster.

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Foster made a bench from reclaimed wood, creating something that’s in keeping with the weathered boat.
“It was the first thing I’ve ever made in carpentry,” she says.

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The chalk wall is designed to resemble cliffs and is the same stone as the cliffs at Flamborough Head. It proved very difficult to find chalk in large pieces, as most quarries grind it off the chalk face as part of the mining process.

“It was pretty time-consuming. We saw quite a few chalk quarries and one was willing to allow a team of us in for a short space of time to hand remove blocks of chalk. Between us we managed to bag up four or five tons of hard chalk.” Foster is delighted with the end result. “The ‘cliffs’ worked out really well. The planting along there, the stone – I just love that part of the garden.”

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Further from the water’s edge, the plants become less coastal, featuring dog roses, foxgloves and red campion. At the back, towards the trompe l’oeil painting of farmland, there are a some more fitting plants. “We put in a few agricultural escapees, so we had oilseed rape flowers, some poppies and wheat just along the sides of the path.”

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Red valerian gives a strong hit of colour among the other wildflowers.

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On the chalky ‘clifftops’ by the water’s edge white and pink campion (in the foreground) mixes with pink thrift (in the background).

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Foster enlisted the help of a skilled dry-stone wall expert Richard Clegg to create the cliff effect. The plants tumble over the edge as if they have been there for years.

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The trompe l’oeil is by
Yorkshire artist Julie Cope. “It was a way to show some of the gentle agricultural land that’s just behind the coast and introduce the idea of the food that the county produces.”

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Foster has created a tranquil scene which combines woodland, farmland and a stunning coastline. “I guess it’s almost like a piece of theatre.”

What impresses you most about this garden? Tell us in the Comments below.

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