Chelsea Flower Show 2018

April, 2018

Preparing for the Chelsea Flower Show 2018


No blame for not reading all of this. I have brilliant advisors, who make commendable efforts to get me to post more frequently but no more than a paragraph being the maximum that today’s embattled attention span can manage. This is not my way; so prepare yourself for a lengthy essay on how I prepared for my Chelsea Flower Show stand for 2018.


Chelsea Flower Show is host to my main exhibit of the year. I put tremendous effort into my display and the hard work has paid off; in 2013 I received the Director General’s award for the Best Tradestand and in 2017 I received the coveted judges’ award for the Best Tradestand.


I started to plan the 2018 stand in May of the previous year, and building began shortly afterwards. Having been promoted to the illustrious Main Avenue with show gardens on one side and the very best tradestands on the other, and having received the highest award for my stand in 2017, I felt the need to improve on my previous year's exhibit. The original concept was to show my work within a forest hill scape, planted with thousands of bluebells. The complexity of the exhibit threw up so many challenges - read on to discover some of them!


The Sculptures

The animals made for this year fall in with my forest theme; two grizzles interact with a natural rock stream. Eagles and owls twist and turn on the skyline. My signature thoroughbreds gallop at breakneck speed around the nearside corner of the stand...


...and two huge destriers, Marengo and Copenhagen, make the entrance beneath which visitors will walk. Why Marengo and Copenhagen? You will have to google that one! An Emperor stag guards the access to three giant mushrooms.  Roe deer, fighting fallow bucks, foals, hares, puppies and a fat sow can be found among the flowers.



The centrepiece is my Young Pegasus. With a wingspan of 5m and an overall weight of 2.5 tons this sculpture is monumental in its scale. The engineering of the internal structure is designed and tested to more than stand up to the worst that the envrionment can throw at it. Large bolts are welded onto this thick stainless steel frame and drilled into the long dead, hard as nails driftwood. Pegasus stands on 1.5 tons of wonderfully shaped marble. Even the marble has an internal stainless steel structure to keep the sculpture secure!



The structure of the hill

...had to be prefabricated from thick iron tubing. Rising to a maximum height of 380cm towards the back of the stand, it had to hold 5 tons of sculpture at strategic places, 3 tons of natural rock stream, 2 tons of panels and planting material and 1 ton of trees at the very top. To complicate matters further, I wanted to keep the underside of the structure free of braces and relatively dry so that I could use this space as a private display area for the maquettes.


The Planting Panels

...had to be custom made to form the natural rolls of a hill. On the top side of each panel I stitched planting runners for Jon Bishop, my landscaper, to fill with bluebells and other forest plants. I covered the underside with a waterproofing membrane to keep the space below relatively dry. To the sides where one panel met another a gutter allows water to drain down. The 37 panels interlock, forming a seamless hill scape.



Since the total height of the hill reached almost 4m, provision had to be made for a planters’ scaffolding which would allow the landscapers to safely plant at the very top of the hill. Provision also had to be made to install trees into the planting panels. Usually exhibitors placed the trees behind the display proper as this was a much easier option than fitting the trees into the display. I wanted my trees to look as if they were one with the hill.



The materials used for the planting panels reflected my thrust to make as much use as possible of discarded materials. The waterproof skin was made of “Tata” branded old sacking material. I used old jute sacks for the planting pockets which I dyed green. I made use of construction steel rods bought from the scrap yard for the structure of the panels.


The Rock Stream

... breaks down into 8 components one overlaying on another. With this base in place, I positioned quarried rocks along each side to give the impression of a natural stream. I carved a lot of stone from the underside of each rock to reduce the weight. I also welded a structure into the stone so that it fit snuggly into its respective place. I incorporated 6 wiers into the design of the stream to allow the water to gurgle over the top of the rocks. 2 pumps at the bottom pond feed the cistern located at the head of the stream. The waterfall was short listed as Chelsea Flower Show’s product of the year!


The Private Gallery below the hill

... is accessible through a pair of arched wrought iron doors which I found in a scrap yard almost 10 years ago. I fell in love with them due to the old style riveting of the joints instead of the more modern welding. I kept the original peeled paint coat on the iron. I used old pallet wood for the floor which I sanded and distress painted. I clad the walls with fibre panels.


The Pathway

Last year’s stand was subjected to a huge footfall. By the end of the 3rd day almost all the meadow grass was trampled. This was partly due to my stepping stones path; they were too small for people to pass one another. This year I decided to have a pathway which was a meter wide to allow 3 people to pass at a squeeze. I wanted to have the pathway look like the remains of a Roman cobbled path and spent months playing with cement shapes and dyes before settling on 35 different shapes and 4 colours. I cast over 3,000 cobles and glued them to a substrate. I sourced natural rubber latex from a plantation in Davao and found a natural dried fibre material which I glued using the latex into the gaps between the cobbles to look a little like moss.




The Sheltered Area usually a Gazebo or Temple which I custom build for each exhibition. This year I decided to be a little unorthodox and make 3 giant mushrooms instead.  I built 6 swivel chairs made to look like tree trunks and a superb bar table to hold the champagne and glasses! On top of the foremost mushroom I built an owl with 2m wingspan coming in to catch prey.



Each component took its toll in terms of problems, false starts and obstacles encountered along the way. Written above is the final process figured out after months of trials. Keep in mind that I build every last component I use in my own workshop. This is both a blessing and a curse. For a creative person, having so much exposure to so many interesting projects at one time is heaven. On the negative side there are times over the last year when the project just seemed plain  overwhelming. In spite of 10 months of planning and building, for some reason the climax of the year always seems to be the last night of loading the shipping container in my workshop. For some reason it ends with 36 hours of straight work which comes at the end of a string of weeks of sleep deprived long hours at the workshop.




The Chelsea Flower Show starts this year on Tuesday 22 May and runs through to Saturday 26 May. Please do let me know if you would like a catalogue of the sculptures.


Hope to see you there!



James Doran Webb