Designer Diary – John Cullen (USA)

One of the criteria for exhibiting a garden at an event is to develop a brief; a description of the garden, its story. Each designer strives to find the right words to tell this story which is more than merely noting the selection of the materials and plants. The story is about putting into words the inspiration behind the design and everything that’s included in the garden.

Designers strive to make their garden read as mellifluously in print as in plant. What evokes emotion in great gardens is the passion put into the construction and the narrative that supports it.

Goethe commented on poetry saying that it is like a stained glass window which appears dull and lifeless and without shape on the outside, but upon entry its full splendour is revealed.  Similarly, I believe that when one reads the narrative of a show garden, the full splendour of the garden can only then be revealed. With the brief in hand, the garden guest can enter into the garden and more fully appreciate each choice of plant and stone.  If the designer does not understand why he does what he does, I don’t think that the final result will be as beautiful, or leave as lasting an impression upon the guest.

I have done well in garden shows when I have sought to connect my designs to things in my life that are precious and that matter to me. When I design a garden that honours my faith or family I have received high honours and I have been able to persevere during adversity, which is a given in show gardening.  When one knows why they do what they do the result will be more passionate.

The story behind my garden

When I was asked at the Gardening World Cup what the inspiration was for my garden ‘Come

Together’ I responded, ‘a happy marriage.’ Truly, my love of my wife has inspired me to strive to do great things. The entire concept of my garden began in striving to represent this happy union in design.

The footprint of my garden is two massive stone rings, one bordering a sunken garden and the other a pond. The two rings, while very different, are ‘married’ (united) at the centre of the garden. An iron arch, equal in a proportion to the stone rings, passes over this center ‘common ground’ and emphasizes its significance. This arch, representing love, like a link in a chain, symbolically holds the two sides together.

I know my wife appreciates this recognition that somehow our marriage is represented in a garden.  My children (Deirdre 10, Aidan 8, Katherine 6 and Ronan 3) also know the story behind the garden and have enjoyed watching me design and develop the garden.

Striving for perfection

As personal as my garden was, I was required to work with a Japanese garden building crew to construct the garden. I have worked in Asia, Europe and the States and have simply not come across a crew so committed to the details of the garden.  At one point, I instructed the crew through my translator that the stonework below the waterline in the pond did not have to be as detailed and finished as that above the water, noting that water would help hide any imperfections and quick work was necessary. They listened politely and then went about doing masterful stonework under the waterline. My crew from Tomonaga Company would not compromise. There was a seamlessness to my garden that was a result of the pride my crew had in doing what they do.

This is what judge Andy Sturgeon noted about my garden:

“John’s garden had a magical elegance to it. When we were judging we were quite happy in his garden and it was a while before we left. His garden called to be enjoyed. The design and planting were a big part of the peaceful atmosphere that was evoked. The stonework and water feature were amazing and quite complex. Everything in the garden was right and worked for the overall effect.”

While, like most designers I will state that I am not bothered by the subjective opinion of the judges, I truly am. Certainly, there were things about my garden that the judges felt could have been improved, but any designer knows that gardens, like people, are a work in progress.  Even a gold-medal garden leaves room for improvement, but we designers are just mad enough to keep trying for a perfection which we know we won’t ever quite achieve.


Jonathan Denby Receiving a Special Award at the 2011 Gardening World CupDesigner Diary: Jonathan Denby

Good news. Although, as I had expected Kazuyuki Ishihara won People’s Choice (not surprising as he is the Japanese equivalent of Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh rolled into one), the organisers have recognised my efforts by giving me a special prize, which they have called the “Special Hospitality Award”. Here’s a photo of me receiving the award on the steps of the Royal Palace, standing next to Ishihara and the winner in the Courtyard section.

I was given the award to recognise how popular my Lake District cottage garden has been with the Japanese public; my efforts to overcome the problems caused by the snail, which meant I received a bronze medal instead of a silver medal; and the fact that the organisers have been so impressed with the warm welcome which every visitor gets whenVisitors to Jonathan Denby's Garden they come to my garden.

The 2011 Gardening World CupDesigner Diary: Sarah Eberle

This is a photo taken by me of my garden yesterday afternoon (Thursday). It’s amazing how show gardens attract wildlife and so soon. The plant is Eupatorium purpureum Variegated (I cannot remember the exact variety) and the butterflies are just beautiful and not at all shy.

Designer Diary Jim Fogarty (Australia)

We were taken to Nagasaki yesterday after our gardens were completed. We visited the Peace Park which is close to the hypocentre where the atomic bomb was dropped at the end of the Second World War. We also visited our monument from last year and which explains why the Gardening World Cup exists. A sombre day.  John Cullen (USA) is seen here with me.

2011 Gardening World CupDesigner Diary; Jonathan Denby

The Awards Ceremony

We’ve just had a most splendid awards ceremony, in the open air, in bright sunshine on the steps of the Royal Palace.

As with last year on the show gardens , there were four golds, four silvers and two bronzes.

Four Gold Medals:

Jim Fogarty – Best in Show (Australia)

Lim in Chong (Inch) – Best Design and Best Interpretation of the Peace Theme (Malaysia)

John Cullen (USA)

Ryoji Fujiwara – Best construction (Japan)

Four Silver Medals:

David Davidson (South Africa)

Jo Thompson (from Britian but representing Italy)

Sarah Eberle (Britain)

Kazuyuki Ishihara (Japan)

Two Bronze Medals:

Jonathan Denby (Britain)

Nico Wisssing (Netherland)

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Men Working with Chopsticks

Men Working on Mosses with Chopsticks

Gardening World Cup 2011 from Japan

More Chopstick Work

Another Chopstick Gardener

Building the Garden

Three O'clock on the Final Day of Build Up, No More Plants Available!

Water Feature

Perspective at the base of the garden

Gold Medal Winner for Best Design and Best Interpretation of Peace ThemeDesigner Diary: Lim In Chong

The name of my garden in Japanese is ‘washinboutei’ which means a peace, faith and hope garden.

The middle garden is the faith garden and is a direct response to the tragedy in northern Japan earlier this year. The wall is steel and painted red using a red undercoat. The faith garden symbolizes anguish in the face of tragedy; the steel is hard and cold and the red signifies blood. There is a black painted moon.

The top of the wall has sharp points. The plants are sombre purple and black, the tree is drowned and weeping. However the path that has disappeared under the black water is still there. And if you have faith you will be able to walk on it.

I tried it today. You truly cannot see the path which is just a few millimetres under water. It looks like you are actually walking on water!

Designer Photo Diary: Jo Thompson

We were lucky enough to be taken out by our contractors Nakamura.

This is Taka (foreman and son of Mr Nakamura, on the left, who is the owner of the company). Mr N is not working as he is out in his paddy field harvesting rice during the day.

My starter came complete with hot stone (top right) on which to cook the fish/meat. I wasn’t sure which it was but it was very good!

Fully refreshed, it was time for a bit of water feature testing at Huis Ten Bosch.

Simon’s got it working – just look; it’s hypnotic. I would like to finish planting and filling the pool today as heavy rains are forecast for Wednesday, which is our last day.

Came back to my garden to find an Australian Gentleman had been up to his usual tricks. I am going to get a didgeridoo and stick it in his pavilion tomorrow.

Designer Diary: Jonathan Denby

Considering all that has happened in these eventful few days, today has not been bad at all (Tuesday).

I’ve been able to spend more than twelve hours on the garden, doing the planting (the last two hours under floodlights). The highlight of the day was the arrival of a van full of absolutely gorgeous roses, supplied by my friend in Sasebo. All the other gardeners were very jealous. We’ve got about half of the flowers planted and will start on the veg patch tomorrow, which will be easier, except that they’ve forecast rain, which is annoying.

However, there was one other shock in store for me! I finally got round to unwrapping Mr McGregor and found that his face had gone blotchy and his beard had compacted into almost nothing. Katie Robinson from the North West Evening Mail came to the rescue. She dabbed his face with cotton wool and got rid of most of the marks. He’s now stretched out on the spare bed in my room, looking rather ghoulish. In fact I got the shock of my life when his head suddenly fell to one side.

Here’s a photo of the garden at 8am this morning and 8.30 pm tonight.

Jonathan Denby's Garden in the MornJonathan Denby's Garden in the Eve