An interview with Paul Stone
We caught up with Paul Stone, designer of the headline ‘A Garden Fit for a King’ Show Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2023.
Paul Stone is an award-winning garden designer based in Cornwall where he helped create the acclaimed Eden Project gardens. Paul has won awards at Chelsea and Hampton Court, and three Platinum Awards and Best in Show at BBC Gardeners’ World Live, including for The Nostalgia Garden, which celebrated BBC Gardeners’ World’s 50th Anniversary in 2017.
Paul has designed the headline Show Garden for BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2023, A Garden Fit for a King, which marks the Coronation of HM The King Charles III. The Show Garden is inspired by the gardens and Arboretum at Highgrove in Gloucestershire, and celebrates His Majesty’s passion for gardening and the environment.
Paul Stone’s A Garden Fit for a King will be at BBC Gardeners’ World Live at the Birmingham NEC from 15th-18th June 2023.
Paul, this is no ordinary show garden you’re creating! Is this the most significant/ambitious design you’ve ever worked on and what can you tell us about it?
At 15m x 15m, A Garden Fit for a King will larger than most Chelsea Main Avenue Show Gardens. However, this Show Garden’s ethos seeks to be all about plants and people living simply and harmoniously, side by side. As a result of this theme, the content is deliberately simplistic and designed to leave a low carbon footprint in its creation at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2023. The display is inspired by Highgrove’s gardening ambitions and projects but does not set out to copy any feature in the gardens there. Instead, I have mixed Highgrove elements into one scene that tells the story of an approach to gardening and living that is all about investment in the environment, the love of plants, and the resulting benefits to us all at so many levels.
HRH The King is well-known for being a keen, hands-on gardener at Highgrove and a knowledgeable plantsman. To what extent has he been involved in or has inspired the Show Garden’s design and how will his ethos for organic, sustainable gardening be reflected?
I’ve met the then Prince Charles on a number of occasions and his commitment and love of gardening is without question. I felt the biggest tribute I could give in celebration of his Coronation would be to concentrate and credit his specific contribution to his renovation of the Highgrove Gardens and the resulting impact on the gardening community. Back in 1980, the then Prince Charles voiced and demonstrated his passion for naturalist and environmentally-friendly gardening. Also, for using the land to the benefit of people, wildlife and plants at a time when sustainability was not on the agenda for most agricultural and horticultural projects and activities. He received a lot of criticism from many quarters with vested interests in land management. There was also an attempt to ridicule his open avocation that it was all round a good thing to talk to flowers, to hug and shake hands with a tree, and whisper good luck to a tree when you planted it. Any true gardener will recognize this connection with people and plants. History has shown that by standing up and speaking honestly about such things, HRH The King has made a brave and big contribution to education and public perception of how an individual has responsibility to themselves and the world around them.
The standout feature of A Garden Fit for a King will be that everything in it has a connected purpose and design. Habitats for sun and shade, dry and damp, trees and wildflowers, all combining for a setting that is good for the soul but also for the living things that support and are supported within. I have heard HRH The King say that a very important thing about Highgrove, about what he does there and what I believe him to be recommending to us all – is to trust in Nature. It’s important to me that A Garden Fit for a King delivers this message.
Woodland is another of The King’s passions and Highgrove’s own Arboretum is a haven for biodiversity. Can we expect to see trees feature prominently in your Show Garden?
The Woodland ecosystem is another of the King’s passions. A Garden Fit for a King gives a nod to that with a range of classic native woodland trees on display including Cherry and Beech but is also inspired by the Highgrove Arboretum collection. It is a feature of the Highgrove Garden planting style that there is attention to detail with added value for ornamental interest and effect. At Highgrove, the Arboretum contains many non-native species and in our display, Magnolia and Japanese Maple are typical of what you will see at Highgrove, mixed into the planting matrix. My resource of trees is from Hillier specialist tree nursery and I assure some fine specimens will be on display in this garden!
The Wildflower Meadow at Highgrove was created by HRH The King Charles III in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of HM The Queen’s Coronation. It features more than 70 plant varieties and we understand that some of those same plants will feature in A Garden Fit for a King. Can you tell us more?
The award winning wildflower meadows at Highgrove commemorating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary are recognised in our display. They are of course a fundamental element of sustainable, environmentally-friendly gardening. A Garden Fit for A King will have a carpet of annual and perennial wildflowers and grasses in profusion. Beneath the trees in dry shady areas, Campanula, Digitalis, Geranium and Lamium are included. In open sunny spots, Achillea, Knautia, and Hawkweed will be amongst the perennials. Most of these plants will come from British Wildflower Plants Ltd of Norfolk. The annuals Cornflower, Echium, Corn Marigold, Ox eye Daisy will be amongst many old favourites on display. The annuals are being grown in 500 trays and will be delivered to the NEC by specialist nursery Kernock Plants Ltd in Cornwall and delivered by articulated lorry one week before the show opens on 15th June. It’s all about pollination, bees, insects and regeneration of the land. Requiring no chemicals, fertilizer or insecticides, the land is enriched with its own cycle and enhanced by sympathetic maintenance that mostly involves cutting down vegetation once or twice a year and removing the arisings to maintain low soil fertility. Around the boggy Reed bed Withy, more specialist wildflowers like Hemp Agrimony and the reed Phragmites will appear in the function of sewage water filtration treatment, turning ammonia to nitrates just like at Highgrove. Centrally there is a winding grass lawn pathway and open space but this will also include species of wildflower that don’t mind being mown regularly like vetch, yarrow and Daisy.
Made in Birmingham Garden designed by Paul Stone at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2018
HRH has been a vocal critic of modern architecture. Can you tell us why it was important to you to include a Bothy in your design?
Just as in gardening, HRH The King has had his well-publicised views on architecture under scrutiny in the past. His spiritual crusade against huge blank impersonal buildings – “monstrous carbuncles”- has been another part of his contribution to public perception. In A Garden Fit for a King, I have included a simple traditional Bothy building within the landscape. This lovely garden feature is greatly inspired by the manufacturers’ website which states: “Designers and builders of special spaces for special places. A harmonious fusion between landscape and architecture drives our antecedent heritage style, whilst being super kind to the environment.” The Bothy is made entirely from natural stone and timber. Visitors will be able to go inside and see its fully-furnished bedroom, kitchen and lounge. This garden building is unique in that it is available to the public in pre-built kit form. It will be delivered to the show ready-made and craned into position! No on-site building, no waste and everything removed back to the showroom at the end of BBC Gardeners’ World Live. We hope it meets with HRH’s approval!
The Archers inspired floral feature by Paul Stone at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2022
Paul, you are well-known for your inclusive approach when building gardens, often involving others from the gardening community. Are any particularly groups or organisations involved in the creation of this special Coronation garden?
Alongside my specialist team, I am hoping that I will meet up again with some old friends and collaborators who have assisted me in the past and achieved great work and high award Show Gardens. Wildflower expert Paul Pulford from the charity Providence Road Homeless Association will be in charge of that part of the project. Paul has worked with me at two Chelsea Flower Shows and in 2016 at BBC Gardeners’ World Live when we planted a meadow in front of a narrow boat canal scene. He and I were both involved in the creation of the roof garden on the Queen Elizabeth Hall Southbank London where today he continues to help other excluded people get benefit from gardening and horticulture with his London-based Grounded Ecotherapy gardening team. Also Liz Brace from Knowle who has assisted me on two gardens with help from her Flowers from the Farm connections. I am also hoping that the Solihull Mind gardening team that worked on my 2018 Show Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live will join the planting team this time round. BBC Gardeners’ World Live is special at enabling me to give opportunity to individuals who really get inspiration and personal wellbeing from contributing to the creation of such a project.
What practical ideas or elements can visitors to BBC Gardeners’ World Live take home after visiting A Garden Fit for a King and replicate easily in their own gardens?
Just as I find car maintenance unfathomable, I appreciate that gardening is a big challenge in its complexity. I am looking to inspire just by using beautiful plants in great combination. I want people to challenge what a ‘weed’ actually is and consider that any plant large or small can be an important contributor to an ecosystem. I would like people to experiment with wildflowers which are easy to establish and then learn how to maintain long term which is trickier. My suppliers, British Wild Flower Plants, Kernock Plants, Pictorial Meadows Ltd and Hillier Nurseries will be able to help on that. I would like people to consider that perfect mown grass lawns are not a great idea in these changing times and that there is an opportunity to contribute to the environment in most outdoor spaces – with a bottom line motto and belief – to trust in Nature – and invest in it. Some lucky people may wish to own the beautiful Bothy and the supplier, Bonnie Boltholes Ltd, would be delighted to help with that. Seeing plants working to a clear purpose like the reed bed filtration system may also inspire some and we will have a composting system on display. I hope that the combination of all the aspects and contents of the Show Garden will promote the idea of gardening without artificial, manmade products and will promote organic, sustainable research and practice.