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Home > Archive > Russell Page Archive: RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Russell Page Archive: RHS Chelsea Flower Show

A stunning French kitchen garden, with an exquisite selection of specially-trained apple and pear trees, won Russell Page a gold medal at the 1958 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

  • RHS Show, Chelsea

    RP/1/1/55/1

    January 1957

    55 x 73.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 22 January 1957, marked ‘R.H S. Show Chelsea, 1957, Vilmorin - Paris, scale 1/4 inch = 1 foot'. The plan shows the separate areas of formal beds, with larger ones for vegetables and smaller ones for flowers, all contained by clipped hedges.

  • RHS Show, Chelsea

    RP/1/1/55/2

    January 1957

    73 x 81 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated January 1957, marked ‘Sketch plan for garden, R.H.S. Show, Chelsea Hospital, scale 1/4 inch = 1 foot'. A three-dimensional version of RP/1/1/55/1, showing not only the flower and vegetable beds but also the trained and espaliered fruit trees and the square garden house situated in the corner of the plot.

  • Royal Horticultural Society Show, Chelsea

    RP/4/3/4 (1 of 3)

    1958

    A black-and-white photograph of the garden designed by Russell Page on behalf of Vilmorin-Andrieux for the RHS Show, Chelsea.

  • Royal Horticultural Society Show, Chelsea

    RP/4/3/4 (2 of 3)

    1958

    A black-and-white photograph showing visitors looking at the garden designed by Russell Page on behalf of Vilmorin-Andrieux for the RHS Show, Chelsea.

  • Royal Horticultural Society Show, Chelsea

    RP/4/3/4 (3 of 3)

    1958

    A black-and-white photograph of the garden designed by Russell Page on behalf of Vilmorin-Andrieux for the RHS Show, Chelsea.

  • Royal Horticultural Society Show, Chelsea

    RP/4/3/7

    1958

    50 x 73.5 cm

    A black-and-white photograph of the garden designed by Russell Page on behalf of Vilmorin-Andrieux for the RHS Show, Chelsea.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, England

1957 to 1958

Archive of Garden Design ref: RP/1/1/55

Russell Page’s design for a show garden, which recreated a French-style kitchen garden, resplendent with carefully trained fruit trees, was described by Vita Sackville-West as ‘one of the prettiest, gayest, and most amusing things ever to be presented at Chelsea’. Hers was not the only enthusiastic response. It was picked out in reviews of the 1958 Chelsea Flower Show by several journalists. Sacheverell Sitwell deemed it ‘probably the most interesting of the outdoor exhibits’, while Ernestine Carter praised the garden’s ‘exquisite precision and delicate formality’.

The garden was entered by the Parisian seed house Vilmorin-Andrieux, with whom Page had collaborated closely since after the Second World War (the work itself was executed on their behalf by William Wood and Sons of Taplow). Representing France, the theme of a potager was perfect. Two large formal box-edged beds were filled with lettuces, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, leeks, onions strawberries and herbs, while smaller beds contained flowers: marigolds, salvias and petunias. The truly remarkable aspect of the design, however, was the fruit trees. Grown against a wall were gridiron-trained pear and apples trees, with low espaliers beneath. Others, rising out of the beds, were trained in the shape of an urn or a goblet. The idea for the concept came courtesy of Roy Hay, then editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle, whom Vilmorin-Andrieux had asked for advice. The company’s initial response to his suggestion was that Hay wished to ruin the firm (Elliott, 86). Not only was the firm not ruined but the garden was awarded a gold medal.

There are only two drawings of the Chelsea garden in the Russell Page Archive collection, both dated January 1957 (the year before it was included in the RHS show). Together with contemporary photographs and accounts in the press, however, they provide an excellent record of a much-admired project.

Literature

Carter, Ernestine. “Any Woman’s Heaven.” The Sunday Times, 25 May 1958, p. 22.

Elliott, Brent. RHS Chelsea Flower Show: the first 100 years: 1913-2013. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2014.

Page, Russell. The Education of a Gardener. Harvill, 1994.

Sackville-West, Vita. “Chelsea Novelties.” The Observer, [May] 1958, p. 21 PAG/2/5/3

Sitwell, Sacheverell. “Chelsea’s Cannonade of Flowers.” The Sunday Times, 25 May 1958, p. 22.

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

WOOD/1: Research archive of Denis Wood, including photographs and writing relating to Denis Wood’s research, publications and gardening.

WOOD/2: papers of William Wood and Son Limited.

Related material elsewhere

Photographic material and press cuttings relating to the Vilmorin garden designed by Russell Page for the Chelsea Flower Show, RHS Lindley Library reference collection (PAG/2/5/3).