While it's not an invitation to dine with the Queen of England, the chance to exhibit at the Royal Horticultural Society's Spring Flower Show in Chelsea is almost as rare for Americans. For an American to take home a medal on this well-manicured British turf is unheard of. And for that American to win a medal with a landscape that includes dying leaves, the old saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," just took on new meaning.
Last week, landscape architect Warren Klink, ASLA, from Hamilton, Ohio, won a Bronze Medal at Chelsea for his prairie-inspired landscape. The lowest of the four ranks of awards, Klink felt the prize meant the judges failed to grasp the idea behind his massive stands of uncut ornamental grasses. He returned the medal to an RHS official, despite pleas from the Society.
"I have a lifelong dream to get people accustomed to the fact that it isn't all a manicured garden," Klink said. "If we planned our environment—if we thought of ourselves as guests - we could live here quite handsomely," he says with conviction. "Without people earth would heal in a thousand years. If we all were more versant in the natural process, we could go with the flow. Now we are paddling upstream."
The version of the Urban Prairie Garden Klink created for Chelsea featured masses of unmowed native little bluestem prairie grasses, exotic-looking native switchgrass and a patch of buffalo grass from Texas. Also included were 15 small elm trees donated by River Edge Farms. A 3,000-lb. statue of a bear completed the tableau. The Chelsea exhibit was constructed in eight days, a leisurely pace by garden-show standards. A local landscaper, Neil Lucas of Knoll Gardens and Nursery of Wimborne, Dorset, assisted Klink in England. Lucas actually grew some of the plants at his nursery prior to the show, reducing some of Klink's overseas shipping charges.
Klink is the principal of Urban Thickets Landscapes, a four-person design/build/maintain firm located in Hamilton, Ohio. His path to the prestigious RHS show stretches back to the early 1990s. Although "never a fan of calling a weed a weed," during regular cycling trips in the countryside he began admiring plants like verbascum thapsus, a biennial with six-foot-tall flower spikes that multiplies beside the road. Klink's "Urban Restoration Garden," featuring a weed garden was the talk of the Cincinnati show in 1995 and ultimately was honored with a Perennial Plant Association prize.
A veteran of the competitive Cincinnati Flower Show, last year his "Urban Prairie Garden" not only won a gold medal but also captured the Cincinnati Park Department's special award. The only North American flower and garden show endorsed by the RHS, Cincinnati is a worthy proving ground for Chelsea.
At Cincinnati, the judges commended Klink's 2000 prairie garden for its "use of plants for conservation and plant material native to the area." Although it relied heavily on plant materials like Nepeta or "catmint" and Gallardia for flower accents, Klink stresses that his Urban Prairie Garden was "purely whimsical." He didn't aim to accurately represent the prairie, but rather wanted to create "a feeling that celebrates America's one-million-square-mile heritage."
Klink returns to the U.S. this week. For more information on Klink's preparation for Chelsea, visit LAND Online,
or contact Beth Young at the American Society of Landscape Architects. Details about the 2001 RHS Chelsea Flower Show can be found at
Founded in 1899, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is the national professional association representing 13,500 members nationwide. Landscape architecture is a comprehensive discipline of land analysis, planning, design, management, preservation and rehabilitation. ASLA promotes the landscape architecture profession and advances the practice through advocacy, education, communication and fellowship. For more information, visit ASLA Online at www.asla.org.
Warren Klink pictured in his 2000 Urban Prairie Garden at the Cincinnati Flower Show. A version of this exhibit was displayed at the Royal Horticultural Society's 2001 Chelsea Flower Show last week in England.