Lilly Gomm: Chelsea made me take a sledgehammer to my garden path
The landscape architect and garden designer shares her horticultural heroes and more ahead of her Sanctuary garden at Chelsea Flower Show
Garden designer and landscape architect Lilly Gomm will be creating the sanctuary garden A Swiss Sanctuary at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Originally due to be shown in 2020, but postponed due to the pandemic, it will be open for all to see next week at this year's Show.
Below we shine a spotlight on the designer, and discover a bit more about her garden.
First plant love? The one that stands out for me is growing runner beans as a kid. My dad would grow runner beans, potatoes and cherry tomatoes, but I always remember every summer being very small and standing in between runner beans canes and picking out the best beans.
Have you always been a gardener? I studied architecture, and was convinced I was going to be an architect, but spent a lot of time staring out the window and being more interested in what was going on outside. It was then that I started to see horticulture as a career option, I don’t think it was ever mentioned to me at school. Then one day I realised I could do what I loved for a living, and I switched careers.
Horticultural heroes? I was fortunate that before lockdown I had moved reasonably close to Great Dixter, so every fortnight for about six months I would go and spend a day there. Fergus Garrett's enthusiasm for planting in that garden is infectious. But also the new generation of gardeners, such as Charlie Harpur and Coralie Thomas. There’s a lot of exciting talent coming through.
Tips for every gardener? Learn from what you see and if it isn’t successful, question why, and see what elements can be improved. It’s a lifelong pursuit, there’s always the next season that will come and a new experiment. Allow yourself the time to focus on one area at a time and learn a few variety of each species rather than attempting to take in a whole A-Z plant file.
Most valuable training? I have done an RHS course, but I think the real training and knowledge I fall back on is my years as a gardener. Seeing what works, what doesn't and the different maintenance techniques on different gardens was so important.
Best thing about Chelsea Flower Show? As a visitor it’s being in one place and seeing lots of combinations and inspiration you can take home. The first time I was at the Chelsea Flower Show I got home and took a sledgehammer to the garden path, I was enlivened with the urge to create something different.
Favourite plant in your Chelsea garden? It probably has the longest plant list I’ve ever had for a show garden. It’s only ten by ten metres. I can't wait to showcase the alpines. They'll have the front spot where people can see them, because they are quite small.
Describe your garden: The idea is that someone's been to Switzerland and they've tried to interpret and recreate the elements in their back garden. It's about taking inspiration from travel and not attempting to recreate a Swiss landscape, I think that would be impossible to do in a show garden. Instead it's about how you can be inspired abroad and come back and look at different varieties and cultivars that give a similar aesthetic and recreate a highly personal space for you at home. It shows the different regions of Switzerland and the different planting types.
What do you hope that people will take away from visiting your garden at Chelsea? I hope they learn a bit more about Switzerland – at the start of this process I had no idea about the planting types, so sharing that will be brilliant. But also how to have fun combining plants in your own garden. I think this garden will show that you can take inspiration and have a go at home.
RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place 24-28 May 2022
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