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‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’: Matthew Childs’ moving depiction of his journey from injury in the 7/7 bombing through to jacking in his job in advertising and starting a new life as a garden designer. It was the deserved winner of Best Conceptual Garden.

Walking through the industrial boards-and-corrugated iron structure, you start in a dark and dank tunnel lined with hummocks of Asplenium scolopendrium and moss: the parallels with the Underground are unnerving, and the ceiling was dripping when I was there so I started thinking of other claustrophobic, underground places like coalmines.

As you walk through, the gaps widen and the light creeps in: the old, worn, stained sleepers give way to new oak and the planting lightens to dancing Gaura lindheimeri and pretty Astrantia ‘Roma’ and ‘Buckland’ amid airy grasses. Thoughtful, detailed, lovely.

The Coral Desert, by Antonia Young (Silver-gilt)
I loved this, with its clever juxtapositions (the driest plants in the world – cacti and succulents – made to look just like underwater coral) drawing attention to the plight of the coral reefs. And the ceiling was a two-inch transparent tray of rippling water. How cool is that?

I admit I make a beeline for the Conceptual Gardens at Hampton Court. More challenging (and often better-executed) than the big show gardens, they’re edgy, interesting, thought-provoking.

They always break the rules: they make me perpetually re-think what I mean by the word ‘garden’. I’ve seen conceptual gardens that are upside down, under the ground, under water and inside boxes. Most don’t look like ‘gardens’ at all: and that’s why they’re so inspiring.

I’ve always thought that the fact that conceptual gardens are so popular is a tribute to the gardening public. It’s easy to think ‘most’ people who say they like gardening are just boringly traditional and set in their ways, growing veg in straight lines and lining their clipped lawns with bright pink rhododendrons.

And some are. But many – I would even venture to say ‘most’ – of those who take the trouble to go to a flower show are far more interesting, and interested than that. That’s hundreds of thousands of people who relish a challenge and want to garden in a more intelligent, creative way.

There are now conceptual spin-offs at Tatton Park and Chelsea: and they are attracting more crowds and more discussion than anything else.

So perhaps it’s not surprising the mainstream designers want a slice of the action: ideas first seen in conceptual gardens are slowly, surely creeping in to the mainstream and sparking other little flashes of inspiration. It keeps design alive, new, inspiring, moving forward: and that can be nothing but good.

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