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Tea for 2000 Garden...

The Chelsea Flower Show in London attracts thousands of gardeners every year. This year’s Tea for 2000 Garden, created by Andy McIndoe, director of Hilliers Garden Centres, added a sumptuous oriental appeal, as he explains.

In planning the Hilliers’ garden for the Chelsea Flower Show 2000, the idea of tea gradually surfaced as a suitable and relevant theme. The celebration of the new millennium had prompted many people to take a more spiritual view of our world and to think more carefully about how we live our lives. The brewing and drinking of tea, with its Zen Buddhist links and recognized restorative and calming powers, seemed to fit naturally into this more gentle approach. And so the idea of building a teahouse, set peacefully in a tea garden reflecting oriental philosophies and incorporating exotic plants, colors, textures and artifacts, began to take shape. The varied but complementary strands of British tea drinking, Chinese and Japanese culture, the vibrant colors and images of the ancient silk and spice trading routes intertwined to inspire us in the creation of a sumptuous and luxurious garden. What we created with Tea For 2000 was a contemporary tea garden for the 21st century -a garden for all seasons with bold colorful structure, a teahouse for shelter, pergolas for shade, and water for reflection and movement.


The garden offers plenty of places to sit and enjoy a cup of tea.

The first impressions of the garden were of startlingly vibrant color - strong pinky reds, deep moody plums, luscious bronzes, and bright blues, and more than a hint of the Orient all enticed the visitors in. The lavish and varied blooms and foliage echoed the hues of the glossy oriental silk cushions scattered on the elegant bamboo couches inside the teahouse, painted in “Darjeeling Red” - a strong burgundy paint color created specially for Hilliers. I chose this rich sensuous color for the pergola and teahouse to enhance the wild silk colors of rhododendrons, camellias, ceanothus, and roses that made up the rich tapestry of blooms. It is a color that complements just about everything in the plant world - glorious with green, ravishing with blue and gray, striking with yellow and cream, and a natural partner for red-purple foliage. It worked wonderfully in the Tea for 2000 Garden. The blue note of the plum was brought out in sapphire blue glazed ceramic pots, post finials, and crushed recycled glass. The red element picked up the glaze of Shiwan brick-glazed pots. Tea chests, used as planters at the base of the pergola uprights, added an element of humor, and pink and gray granite from China added weight and focal interest.


A Zensi Gata lantern is buried among Japanese Maple and Vibernum.

The design created an illusion of space in a small area - an objective that those of us with small modern gardens and busy lives can relate to. It is important to make time for the calming reflective moments - perhaps over a cup of tea alone or with friends - and the garden offered plenty of places to sit.

The garden was designed to be three dimensional - the pergola and tall shrubs gave height and made use of every level. Built-in seats were carpeted with tactile and fragrant mint and chamomile. Roses, jasmine, honeysuckle, and wisteria garlanded the pergolas and filled the summer air with scent day and night. Azaleas, lilacs, roses, and lilies added their sweet perfume to the spicy aromatic fragrance of mint, so popular in glasses of Moroccan and Turkish mint tea, and bergamot, the easily recognized flavor of Earl Grey. This was garden aromatherapy at its best and added a subtle link to the world of tea.

A tea garden must, of course, contain camellias, even if the actual tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a little tender for cultivation in British gardens and locations with a similar climate. Camellias are superb plants to grow in containers or in the open ground in sheltered, shady situations. Plant them near the house, as these perfect porcelain blooms need to be enjoyed as they brave early inclement weather. Avoid sites where they catch the early morning sun, otherwise your blooms will turn brown as early rays thaw the frozen buds.

Foliage was as important as the flowers in designing this tea garden. Japanese maples, varieties of Acer palmatum, are always stars at the Chelsea show, and this year, with their graceful oriental air, they had a major role to play.

In designing the tea garden, it was important that boundaries and walls created a safe, secure, and intimate atmosphere in which to relax and unwind. From the dense vertical stems of bamboo to the large bushy shrubs such as elaeagnus and bold solid mounds of rhododendrons, the plants created those boundaries. And trimmed Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ extended the boundaries vertically, the ‘box’ shapes echoing the form of the tea chests.


Granite domes imported from Guangdong and Fujian in China add a unique artistic touch

I love permanently planted pots and these were a feature of Tea for 2000. Again with the tea theme in mind, I chose oriental glazed pots whose color and shape were as important as that of the plants they contained. In a small garden area such as this, plants in pots can be moved, regrouped, and varied according to the season, to create an ever-changing landscape. I use tulips in spring, fragrant lilies in summer, and a pot or two of these floral ingredients is all that is needed to turn a group of foliage plants in pots into a garden feature.

And just as in a traditional Japanese tea garden, the visual effect of moving water and its gentle trickling sound added an important dimension to the garden. Amongst the plants and in the formal areas of water, we placed traditional granite lanterns and water bowls, used in Japan to offer guests fresh running water for cleansing the hands and mouth before a tea ceremony. Water ran smoothly along canals and emerged in gentle bubbles over granite balls. A gray granite Zensi Gata lantern lent an eye-catching contrast to the graceful star-like leaves of the Japanese maple and the full white flower heads of Vibernum. It’s a long way from Chelsea to Guangdong and Fujian, where the stone originates, but the soft, fluid lines of these traditional pieces followed the oriental theme and reminded the visitor of the importance of tea in the lives of different peoples around the world.

The formal areas of water added an illusion of space and the teahouse was reached across granite stepping stones, again creating an atmosphere of security and intimacy. It became almost a floating hideaway, concealed and sheltered from the outside world. A perfect place in which to sit and relax and enjoy the view across the water through the arbors to the lanterns beyond. A perfect place in which to drink tea.

For more information, please contact: Andy McIndoe, Hilliers Garden Centre Headquarters, Ampfield House, Ampfield, Near Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 9BQ, UK. Fax: (44)(0)1794 367830.

After qualifying with a BSc Honours Degree in Horticulture from Bath University, Andy McIndoe’s early training was with Birmingham City Amenities and Recreation Department. This was followed by a period working in Germany for Bruns, a major export nursery. Returning to England, Andy worked in Bristol before moving to Hillier’s flagship Winchester Garden Centre.

Tea & Coffee - September/October 2000


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