What happens to kitchen design when the grip of conventional cabinetry is loosened? Johnny Grey Studios designed a garden kitchen that was on display at the end of May during the Chelsea Flower Show.
The concept behind this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, held at the Royal Hospital in London, was ‘increasing people’s connection with their gardens’. I exhibited with Alitex, the classy conservatory and greenhouse makers who commissioned our garden kitchen. JGS designer Leila Ferraby and I used materials that would withstand outdoor temperatures and moisture levels: stainless steel, granite, solid maple, coconut palm and ceramic tiles.
Inside rooms are often out of sync with the best garden views and key windows don’t always offer chances to view favourite scenes or plants. Kitchens and living rooms, not surprisingly, are designed with interior priorities such as maximizing size, circulation, or, traditionally, making a fireplace work. According to research, the average British person spends 80% of their time inside, while the evolutionary expectation of our bodies is the reverse. In our search for well-being it makes sense to rediscover living habits that allow us to be outside for longer. Hence my relatively new ambition to take the kitchen outdoors as far as possible.
As our stand was on the main avenue I had a lot of time to contemplate the show gardens. They had in common a desire to create a sanctuary, a place to escape the world and renew ourselves. Our hard wired need for nature aside, it has taken me a while to work this out as a key motivation for gardening, going beyond the beauty of plants and the alluring verdancy of nature’s offerings to a fulfilling and sustaining pathway to contentment. All the show gardens had outdoor covered space to increase opportunities to feel close to plants.
Professor Nigel Dunnett gets my prize for his garden for the Royal Bank of Canada. Inspired by William Robinson, the father of wild gardening movement from the nineteenth century. His garden had a foreground of wild flowers laid out in front of a shipping container, which was adapted into a garden room, its roof covered by plants. Nearby was a seating circle surrounded by birches, with woodland ground planting. Circular pools were fed by sustainable capture and re-use of water, and insects supported by his ‘bug hotel’ in the dry stone walls. From within the container, everything works to cocoon you in a beautiful garden that is both wild and contemporary.
Tom Hobbin’s Cornish Memories Garden was a linear design stemming from a modern pergola at one end. Wooden oval columns and curved, machined roof timbers supported an oval sheet-glass roof surrounded by dogwoods, rhododendrons and virburnum. Elegant water rills offering gentle background music for contemplation led into a natural swimming pool, which is based on coastal rock pools and planted with oxygenators to look like seaweed.
Luciano Giubbilei, an old friend I have worked with in the past, created magical planting in his garden for Laurent Perrier.
I could sit for hours and watch the light changing as it percolates through the canopies of the Persian ironwood trees, throwing shadows over the Peter Randall Page sculpted boulders. Bringing order to nature, one of Luciano’s themes, is one that they share together. On the BBC Luciano says ‘you can create the same atmosphere at a table as you can do in a garden’ - if he had not been a garden designer he would apparently have been a chef.
None of the Chelsea designs specifically develop my idea that it is possible to be outdoors for more of our lives, if we do what we do inside outside – cooking, eating, sitting before or after the meal (although I suspect this needs a fireplace). Provided with the right kind of outdoor space, we could be watching the garden and the sky instead of the television.