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Interview with Designer of the East Village Show Garden at 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

East Village Garden
Sponsored by Delancey
Designed by Balston Agius Ltd
Michael Balston & Marie-Louise Agius

Last time Michael Balston showed at Chelsea in 1999, he went home with the Best Show Garden award. This year, his company Balston Agius is back with a garden for East Village, the legacy development of the Olympics Athletes Village in Stratford. We talked to Marie Louise Agius, co-designer of the garden, to find out more.

How much of the physical aspects of the East Village development is reflected in your design?

It seemed natural to use representative elements of East Village and its surroundings, for instance the water running through the garden reflects the meandering progress of the River Lea through the area – in fact the whole garden is a series of curving shapes, seen from above it forms a leaf pattern, which echoes the landscaping at the Olympic Park. There is also a chevron-shaped deck area that juts into the garden, allowing the public to view it as if they were on a balcony in one of the flats.

Interview with Marie-Louise Agius

The site has quite a surprising horticultural history hasn't it?

Yes, in the 1960s it had the largest concentration of glasshouses in the world and supplied Covent Garden with fruit, vegetables and plants, and we've referenced the glasshouses with the helical glass seat at the end of the garden. Another horticultural link is that Dr Fothergill, philanthropist and one of the foremost 18th century plant collectors, kept one of the best botanical collections of the day at nearby Upton.

What was the sponsors' brief?

They wanted us to embody the ethos of the East Village and convey some of their key messages – one of which is that you can combine large-scale development with good horticulture. The green spaces thread their way in from outside into the substantial areas between the buildings. The area is the size of St James's Park, which means they have the space to do it.

So this is your first Chelsea – are you feeling the pressure yet?

Actually I'm loving it! Obviously I'm waiting for the inevitable googlies to come in from left field, but I'm a stupidly organised individual, so we're keeping pretty much on top of things. It's racing along terrifyingly quickly, which is slightly upsetting because I don't really want it to be over. It's just such an exciting thing to do and it's a massive privilege to be involved so I don't care how hard I have to work because you know when it's finished you couldn't have done any more and you can be proud of your achievement and hopefully do the sponsors proud as well.

Is there anything in your garden that we might not have seen at Chelsea recently?

I want to show that shrubs can be used interestingly. They've been quite scarce at Chelsea in recent years, perhaps because nurseries tend not to grow them to Chelsea-related sizes. Luckily, we're able to bring in some stonking shrubs, one of which is a Rhododendron macabeanum, possibly four metres high – it's huge. We can only do it because I'm a director and trustee of Exbury Gardens.

What do you think East Village hope to gain from sponsoring a show garden at Chelsea?

The development is just about ready for habitation, so not only is the timing of Chelsea just right, but the platform is perfect for introducing it to visitors. They want to convey the idea that East London is a serious living alternative to West London and that it is an amazing space that everyone should come and see. They have created a design for living and they want to celebrate it.

Source: RHS CHelsea Flower Show - Interview with Designer of the East Village Show Garden at 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show