Singapore landscape designers eye Chelsea Flower Show prize

Award-winning duo John Tan (left) and Raymond Toh (right) at the Gardening World Cup in Japan last year.
Award-winning duo John Tan (left) and Raymond Toh (right) at the Gardening World Cup in Japan last year.PHOTO: JOHN TAN

Landscape designers John Tan and Raymond Toh will put on a display at Chelsea Flower Show's show garden category

After scoring wins with their show gardens at Asian flower shows over the last couple of years, two local landscape designers are gunning for the biggest prize in the garden world.

In May next year, Mr John Tan, 54, and Mr Raymond Toh, 53, will head to London to take part in the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show, where they will compete in the show garden category.

This is one of a few competitive categories at the show, which include floral displays. The Chelsea Flower Show is the most closely watched by the industry for trends and interesting features.

This is the first time that Singaporeans have been selected to create a show garden, though Singaporeans have taken part in other categories before.

Earlier this year, Ms Brenda Lee- Monteiro, floral designer and founder of Fiore Dorato, won the Silver-Gilt Flora award for a floral arrangement exhibit, while high-society florist Harijanto Setiawan, who runs Boenga, clinched the same award the year before.

Mr Tan, who runs Esmond Landscape and Horticultural in Neo Tiew Crescent with Mr Toh, says: "Going to Chelsea is something Raymond and I have always wanted to do, and it puts Singapore on the gardening world map as well.

"Our design skills are on a par with international designers, so this is an opportunity to show them," adds Mr Tan who, together with Mr Toh, won the Gold Award and Best of Show in the international show gardens category at last year's Gardening World Cup in Japan.

In London, they will be up against award-winning international designers such as British landscape duo Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam, founders and directors of Wilson McWilliam Studio, which won the Gold and Best of Show prizes in the landscape gardens category at this year's Singapore Garden Festival. There will be 15 show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Paying homage to Singapore's greenscape, Mr Tan's design is titled The Hidden Beauty Of Kranji With Esmond & Uniseal. He is partnering Uniseal, a local waterproofing and vertical greenery company which will provide vertical greenery for the garden. Mr Tan expects the garden to cost about $600,000, much of which would be self-funded, though he hopes to get more sponsors on board.

Bringing a bit of the Singapore countryside to London, the design features tropical plants, in particular, a large variety of orchids such as the Dendrobium Singapore Girl and the Dendrobium Tay Swee Keng Orchid slider.

These will be shipped to London from orchid growers in Kranji. Mr Tan will also visit Holland to get 5m-tall coconut trees that are grown in a greenhouse. There will also be a waterfall element in the design.

This concept was actually not Mr Tan's initial vision for his Chelsea garden.

After submitting a design that featured more earthy and natural colours, the Royal Horticultural Society selection panel felt it better to show off Singapore with more exotic tropical plants and the country's orchid varieties.

Mr Tan, who won Best of Show at the 2010 Singapore Garden Festival with his treehouse-in-a-garden design, says: "Working with colour is something outside my comfort zone. But as I wanted to showcase my work, I made the changes they suggested and took inspiration from Kranji, where I work."

The father of two daughters aged 17 and 15 adds: "My friends question why I want to do this as I've already established myself in the industry, but this is my one and only chance to do it. It's a huge financial burden, but creating a show garden at Chelsea is on every designer's bucket list."

As he and Mr Toh have scored big wins with their previous show gardens, they hope to extend their success to the biggest gardening stage in the world.

Mr Tan says: "I go into every show with the conviction to do my very best to win. I know what's required of me, but my creation needs to be truly outstanding for people not to say that a prize is given to me because of certain privileges."

natashaz@sph.com.sg