Rebecca Wallersteiner takes a closer look at the tranquil ‘The Seedlip Garden’ by Dr Catherine MacDonald – a celebration of Modern and Apothecary – a Gold Medal Winner at The Chelsea Flower Show 2017
Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food – Hippocrates
Designed by green-fingered Dr Catherine MacDonald, who returned for her second year at The Chelsea Flower Show, ‘The Seedlip Garden,’ (built by Landform Consultants) celebrated the 17th century apothecary origins of modern day approaches to distillation. It combined 17th century apothecary with the modern laboratory, featuring old fashioned copper pipework, copper detailing laboratory style benches and a planting palette influenced by a large number of the plants listed in the influential 1651 book The Art of Distillation.
The garden’s planting palette was influenced by the botanicals used in alchemy and 17th century apothecary comprising species relevant to both modern and ancient herbal medicine. Set in symbolic oak housing with copper detailing, ‘old meets new’ laboratory-style benches showcased these respective eras.
Highlights of this apothecary’s dream garden included a quartet of hops climbing up corner posts, together with fragrant herbs such as fennel, sage and rosemary, referencing the use of these plants in the distillation of non-alcoholic drinks and herbal medicines. At the front of the garden the modern bench featured a pestle and mortar and glass flasks below a set of images taken under a microscope. Through the garden winded a path that represents path of a copper condenser coil, a key element in the distillation process both in the 17th century and today.
Apart from the plants, herbs and flowers listed in the 17th century book, the garden also contained species important to modern or herbal medicine such as Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’ and Artemisia abrotanum, Baptisia ‘Cherries Jubilee’. Orange-flowered Geums, and iris, along with lemon trees are designed to draw attention to the properties that the fragrances of herbs and flowers can have to instantly lift our moods and help us unwind. To appeal to our sense of touch Dr MacDonald chose feathery bronzy coloured ferns and delicate grasses.
Use of plants with a limited colour palette enhanced the extensive use of copper including orange flowered Geums, euphorbia and iris, along with the bronzy coloured ferns. The garden overflowed with carefully chosen subtle colour and carefully-coordinated planting set in an outdoor apothecary. Curves, squares and symmetry throughout the garden enhanced a sense of calm and peacefulness. The beauty, structure and subtle greens of the grasses, ferns and shrubs particularly came alive in subdued afternoon light
A central abstract copper sculpture depicted the 350-year-old journey from book to bottle that inspired Seedlip’s founder to develop the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits in his basic kitchen in the woods. Copper pipework and channels carried water through the garden, in tribute to their importance in the process of distillation.
Coppery colours predominated in both the planting and the use of materials. Copper piping and sculptures added height to the garden rising up from plantings of perennials. Orange flowered Geum predominated alongside bronze fronds of Dryopteris in a highly effective copper colour scheme.
Around the garden visitors could see beautiful sculptures made from copper piping floating above the soft planting while the central structure incorporated the alchemy symbol for copper. Impressive fruiting lemon trees planted in the garden served as focal points. Beside the garden in a glass case was the book The Art of Distillation written in 1651 which inspired Seedlip and his garden.
A seasoned Flower Show exhibitor, Dr MacDonald’s gardens have been admired by thousands of visitors and won many prizes. Given the beauty and detail of her latest ‘Artisan’ Garden for RHS Chelsea, it comes as little surprise to discover that the judges awarded it a Gold Medal. Dr MacDonald’s first show garden at Chelsea, ‘The Hartley Botanic Garden’ was awarded a Silver-Gilt.