Swatton Landscape Blog

Paradise Garden – Chelsea flower show 2014

Posted on 22/08/14, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

It was back to Chelsea for my ninth year and back working with Cleve West, this time on his paradise garden sponsored by M&G Investments.

An initial conversation about this garden first took place about 2 years prior just as the dust, or perhaps more accurately, the mud was settling from our last Chelsea venture. It’s a tricky time to discuss a main avenue return when you're still reeling from the exhaustion of the last build. The only break in the work load is a few hours sleep, over priced beer and Battersea’s finest curry. However it wasn’t long before Mr West had our full attention with a new concept filled with some very interesting detailing and material prospects.


Cleve wanted to look at using Bath stone to create the central fountain and also as a background for an idea for a carving involving tree roots that would be positioned within the yew hedge line. All of this sounded fantastic, however it was when he said he wanted to explore the use of flint within the garden things became even more interesting.


Over the months that followed we developed the concept and tuned the proportions and details to suit the materials. I believe the use of flint at Chelsea has been very limited but Cleve wanted to look into using it not only as a walling material but also as a natural faced cobble paving. We also started to develop the idea of working the flint to make up the feature inlay shells on the fountain. Devonshire Chert was finally chosen as it lent itself really well to all three uses with fantastic textures and colours that complimented the Bath stone more than our local Sussex flint.


Selecting Chert cobbles with their natural face for the sunken area floor.


Chert/flint as its found and extracted from the ground. Natures hidden treasure


The shell inlays being made up. Saturdays became shell days for Robot and myself, tricky but a rewarding task. 


Water testing at Bamber's workshop, an engineer’s play area! Also one of the nicest and knowledgeable guys you will meet in this business. 


There comes a day when its just time to get on with it. Months and months of planning and finally we're let loose on our 22m x 10m plot. You never know what chelsea will throw at you but preparation and the right team is key to everything. We had both plus a dry site to start with! That was nature just luring us into a false sense of security!


Hedge trench excavated and the external screen is underway. Spot Robot finding a moment for some impromptu shovel guitar moves. Nice!



We begin placing the 5 individual carved stones that Cleve has been working on in Darren’s yard. From memory I think he chose to stay in the office that day. We designed a steel support structure for each piece that was then bolted down to a ground anchored RSJ.


Hedging is going in, however the weather has turned and things have become a little more interesting. At the same time as pushing on with our schedule we have to try to minimise mess created by the machines.


The pre-fabricated pond is in position and this sets the geometry and setting out for the rest of the garden. Suspicions are soon confirmed that the tolerances in building to an octagon are virtually 0mm when working with pre-cut stone units. We do love a challenge.


Most of our wet work was positioned in the centre of the site around the fountain and it was absolutely essential that we had dry conditions in order to stay on schedule. Forward planning and the investment of our bespoke canopy was our saviour as we watched from beneath the shelter as the rain poured down for the next three or four days.



The canopy is off and we push on with the final stages of the sunken terrace and the last layers of the fountain.


To be successful at Chelsea you need an excellent team that can adapt and apply themselves to anything. I’m very lucky as the guys that work with me on these projects possess fantastic skills and have an understanding of how materials work. It sometimes frustrates me that the public don’t see the amount of hours and sheer hard work the team put in, but essentially we do it for our own challenge and it’s a unique way of showcasing what we can do.

The Team – ‘The Robot’, Dan, Max, Steve, Will, Dave, and Brad (not in shot)

The Chelsea build

Posted on 27/06/13, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

The dust has well and truly settled from the Chelsea show but I've dug out a few photos of the build. I think we all knew it was going to be quite a technical build, however all the months of planning really paid off as everything went pretty much to plan. From a construction point of view the mountain build-up was the biggest hurdle and it was essential our block retaining walls were built as early as possible in order that we could start creating the foundation for the Pietra Serena steps. We decided on a integrated circular support wall that would sit directly beneath the 3.5 tonne pavilion to take the weight and reduce any risk of movement that could damage our stone.


Our pond was formed with a butyl box welded liner which we laid within a concrete base and block wall structure. Although the willows have already been planted the external wall is still incomplete which means we can still have a peek at progress next door. Not that we're at all competitive!


The mountain levels are being built up with crushed concrete and the inner walls to the pond are under way. The junction where the pond wall stone meets the curved steps is critical and becomes the key setting out point for the rest of the mountain stonework. We thought it best to check this a few times before continuing!


We planned a steady method of constructing the mountain with emphasis on retaining the step offset measurements and flash gap dimensions. If you stray even a few millimetres with something like this you can soon run into problems with compound errors so constant checking is the key. Our stone suction pad is a 'must have' piece of kit for something like this. Moving the stones in place with this hanging off the digger arm ensures concentration all round.



pietra-serena-steps chelsea

Im a huge fan of this clever angled jointing pattern Jinny designed into the top stone terrace.


Possibly one of our more challanging days laying the huge Pietra Serena inlay stones that make up the hearts and crown. Cold rewarding beers were consumed at the end of that day.


One of the last major construction tasks was erecting the pavilion. This is the telehandler at full reach with the D3 team doing a fine job.


Planting is well under way as Jinny and Scott complete the area around the hearts and crown.


Flint inspiration

Posted on 22/04/13, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

I've lived in Chichester, West Sussex for most of my life and I'd like to think I know the area pretty well, however while over on the Halnaker side of the Goodwood estate I stumbled upon this beautiful gate arch. I've never really noticed it before as it sits back from the main road and it doesn't appear to be overly used. The main thing that struck me was the crispness of the structure and in particular the corners considering these appear to have been created from knapped and field flints. Inspiring work.