You can take a caravan anywhere…

imageThe Caravan Club’s first Chelsea garden takes us back to a golden age of camping, country lanes and the Coronation – but with contemporary planting and a modern, low-impact message.

Seizing the opportunity presented by two huge national events in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, the Government has launched a £5 million advertising campaign, featuring Stephen Fry and Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, among others, to encourage people to stay in Britain for their holidays.

All of this means it is potentially a great year for that most British of holiday habitats: the caravan. Jeremy Clarkson may not like it, but caravanning is in danger of becoming cool. As well as embodying those fashionable-once-more British virtues of simplicity, austerity and forbearance in the face of the weather, a caravan is a terrific way to get close to Britain’s great outdoors, without leaving creature comforts at home.

The Caravan Club has taken the step of sponsoring a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time, to showcase the flora and fauna that are out there for everyone in Britain to enjoy for next to nothing.

The garden is being designed by Jo Thompson, a Chelsea veteran with a gold medal and a Best in Show (Urban Garden) to her name, as well as a silver medal from last year’s Gardening World Cup in Japan.

This pedigree made her a natural choice for the Caravan Club, despite being a newcomer to camping and caravanning herself, as she readily admits

“I’d always thought that a holiday should involve a plane and a beach somewhere,” she concedes, “but last year thought I’d try it out. I took the children to Vintage Vacations on the Isle of Wight, and we had the most brilliant time.

“When you’re a parent, the only thing that matters is that the children have a good time, and then you can relax. And the caravans we stayed in, old Airstreams, were very cool, too. They’re low maintenance, and apart from a bit of petrol, don’t enlarge your carbon footprint.”

At the centre of her show garden will be, unsurprisingly, a caravan. The traditional Airstream models were too big, so Thompson has chosen a smaller model, a Fifties design by Fisher called “Doris”, as the centrepiece. Fifties memorabilia will decorate the van, with inspiration drawn from old books and photographs depicting camping trips from the time of the Queen’s accession to the throne. Though Thompson is coy on the details, one suspects there will be at least a nod to the Jubilee celebrations.

Still, she is keen to point out that the garden isn’t just a staid monument to past glories. The naturalistic planting will be firmly contemporary. Five native birches – Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’ – will hold the eye. Scattered loosely around will be salvias, irises and pink and cream roses. Clumps of cow parsley will evoke rural lanes and classic country gardens. Adding to the low-impact feel, Thompson says that many of the plants are being grown within a few miles of her home in Kent. Next to Doris will be a kennel, the shape of which will echo the caravan.

“It’s not a pastiche,” she says. “It could be a modern garden, but with this slightly vintage feel.

“I hope it will be an inspiration to people to take bits of it and put them at home. There won’t be red, white and blue everywhere, but it will evoke that sense of what it means to be on holiday in Britain in the summertime.”

As well as her own effort, Thompson says she’s looking forward to seeing what Sarah Price conjures up for her Telegraph garden, and how Cleve West follows his Best in Show triumph last year. “Also Tony Smith’s garden in the Fresh section [a new category this year]. Two years ago it was completely beautiful, so I can’t wait to see what he does this year.”

With Britain in full celebratory mode, and gardening the most British of art forms, no doubt other Chelsea designers will have their own take on our heritage. But they’ll do well to find something that looks forwards, as well as backwards, quite as succinctly as the caravan.

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