I got an email the other day pointing out, very politely, that ‘minimalism meets the Villa d’Este’ isn’t an entirely accurate way to describe Tom Hoblyn’s Chelsea garden for first-time sponsors Arthritis Research UK. In fact the word ‘minimalist’ – as used in the Chelsea press launch the other day – wasn’t to be taken literally at all.
Well, that’s a relief. My mind was quite boggled with the idea that anything associated with the gloriously baroque Villa d’Este
could be anything but a car crash of monumental proportions.
So to redress the balance, so to speak, I thought I’d do a quick close-up on what we can expect from Tom’s garden next year.
In Tom’s words: ‘I have long harboured an obsession for the Italian Renaissance gardens. The fascinating theory of controlling nature, the divine proportions and perfect symmetry, majestically portrayed against decadent architecture, truly captures my imagination.’
It couldn’t be Italianate if it didn’t have vast and extraordinary water features: the Villa d’Este, of course, is home to the Hundred Fountains (and around 499 other water features), while the Villa Lante
– another inspiration behind this garden – has chains, rills and a Fountain of the Deluge which is just as impressive as it sounds.
So there are three water features here, described as ‘spectacular’, among formal Mediterranean planting: and that’s all I’m telling you. Actually – that’s all they’re telling me. I think we’ll have to wait a month or two before there are any more details than that – but it’s a big improvement on the minimalist thing.
Tom is a familiar – if self-effacing – presence at Chelsea, with a gold and two silver-gilt medals to his name: I adored his sinuous redwood sculpture for Foreign and Colonial Investments in 2009, even though the judges only thought it worthy of a silver (it lives on – it was recreated in a client’s Suffolk garden after the show).
He’s well known for his affinity with nature: his own garden is, in his own words ‘unkempt’, and it’s telling that in his description of it he talks more about the wildlife and wildflowers than he does about the biodynamic veg garden or the 40 trained fruit trees and ‘a few flower beds around the house’ – stuffed, of course, with bits of old Chelsea gardens.
In between Chelseas he’s regenerating the Grade II* listed Hillersdon House
, a ‘gardenesque’ 19th-century Devon estate, and restoring 44 acres at Great Westwood, the Georgian former hunting lodge of Edward and Mrs Simpson in Hertfordshire (there’s an Italianate garden there, too). It’s telling that as well as hanging out with the aristocracy, he’s also involved in a community project at a Hindu temple in West Bengal. You can follow his progress on all the above at his shiny new blog for The Guardian