Posted on 09 July 2010
The only trouble in paradise for Hampton Court Palace Flower Show gold medallist Tom Harfleet of Chilworth is that he was caught on camera crying by the BBC – twice.
They were tears, he says, of “pure joy” that the garden the former Merrist Wood student designed in collaboration with his artist brother Paul was such a success, winning not only an RHS gold medal but also “Best in Show” in the Conceptual Gardens category. Two other former Merrist Wood students – one now a tutor there – won silver medals.
Amazingly, the “Pansy Project” garden was the first Tom, 25, has designed since studying at Guildford College’s Merrist Wood Campus in 2002, where his mother Barbara was also a student. Perhaps even more astonishingly the brothers never fell out once during the creation of the garden, although tensions traditionally run high for competitors in the build up to the big RHS flower shows.
Tom, who has been mostly been working in landscape construction for BNE Landscapes, owned by another former Merrist Wood student Ed Henson, since college, said the secret was in the preparation. “We had a tight brief with a solid concept behind it and we gave ourselves over two months to build the garden off site so by the time we got on site it was like putting it together from Ikea packs. It also meant that the garden looked really established by the first day of the show. ”
The Pansy Project garden is part of an ongoing conceptual artwork that memorialises homophobic hate crimes, from verbal abuse to murders, inspired by Paul Harfleet’s own experience of homophobia. It features a “confrontational concrete structure” that references the pavements of cities, where the The Pansy Project’s activity usually takes place. The dramatic “shattered” form reflects the disruptive nature of these crimes. The slabs of concrete are placed at extreme gradients and under-planted with 4,000 pansies referencing the derogatory slang term for gay men. Judges were impressed by the powerful message packed by the garden and praised its simple but perfect execution.
Merrist Wood garden design tutor Anita Smith, a primary school teacher until she retrained a few years ago, also triumphed at the show, winning a silver medal in the Sustainable Gardens category. Her garden, co-sponsored by Merrist Wood, was inspired by a line of T S Eliot’s poetry “The end is where we start from” and was built with the help of her students on the Foundation Degree in Garden Design.
The garden features an oak tree standing in pastureland where the grasses ripple in the wind, beneath which are a series of carved oak sculptures created by Witley artist Ruth Wheeler, depicting the life cycle of an oak. There is an area of wild flowers symbolising a stream and a fallen branch is carved with the quote from the poem.
“The elements work together to symbolise that endings often become new beginnings for us, that things go full circle,” says Anita. “I am so pleased that the garden looks just as I imagined it and the students have been able to trace its progress from a drawing to reality, absorbing the atmosphere of the show and giving them valuable experience that will help if they exhibit themselves in the future.”
Jayne Thomas, another former Merrist Wood student, won silver for her “Shakespeare Comedy Garden” in the Small Gardens category. Based on the bard’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, it is planted in Elizabethan style with plants typical of the English mixed woodland referenced in the play.