TBSHS old boy Alistair Bayford's double success at Chelsea Flower Show
A former Bishop's Stortford schoolboy won two of the most prestigious awards at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with his “personal” design.
Alistair Bayford’s 'Family Monsters' design was named best in show in the artisan section and picked up a prestigious gold medal at the world-renowned show – and it got a royal seal of approval when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited his exhibit.
Alistair, 36, grew up in Much Hadham. He attended the village school, St Andrew's C of E Primary, and went on to The Bishop’s Stortford High School.
He designed his award-winning garden in partnership with his employer idverde – the UK's largest landscaping and grounds maintenance service provider, where he works as operations director for London and the South East – and national charity Family Action.
The garden marks Family Action's 150th anniversary and its theme is aimed at starting a national conversation about family pressures and to help families to talk about these and face them together. The partnership also marks idverde's centenary.
The theme is close to Alistair’s heart as he and his family have dealt with their own “family monster” over the past few years.
"I had my first of many seizures in the back of a black cab. I was diagnosed with epilepsy, something I suspect was presenting itself sometime before," he said.
"I’d have moments I’d forget, strange sensations and feelings – I’d put it down to the everyday strains from working hard, bringing up a young family.
"Despite the 'everything will be all right, it’s a manageable condition', it doesn’t help when it’s raw; when you’re dropping to the floor and violently shaking, losing control of your bladder, losing your independence and explaining to a three-year-old why Daddy isn’t well.
"From not bathing alone to not holding your child, the anxiety that accompanies it is a huge obstacle to overcome. For me, it’s the toughest and hardest period of time I’ve ever experienced. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, some days good, others not so."
He added: "I was able to use my experience of living with epilepsy to shape the design. From the heavy load at the start, represented by the boulders, the uphill struggle as I dealt with the condition, seizures and getting the condition under control with AEDs.
"This has been a long road, however it's now very much a cobble rather than a boulder in the design. Coming together to discuss my monster shaped the central area, and creating a tranquil and serene place was essential in demonstrating the importance of coming together to reflect and gain perspective."
Alistair, who now lives in Newport with wife Charlotte, 34, and daughters Eve, 5 and Ferne, 3, credits his grandfather and former staff members at TBSHS for cultivating the garden designer in him.
He said: “My grandfather got me into horticulture with my interest starting with plants. But it was staff at TBSHS that nurtured the designer in me, particularly Peter Rosborough. I found that landscape architecture combined my interests in horticulture, design and geography.”
Alistair, who first exhibited at Chelsea in 2006, said: “Bringing this garden to Chelsea has been a real privilege. I’m ecstatic that we’ve won a gold medal and the Best Artisan Garden – this is why we do it and there’s no feeling like it.
"It’s important that we all talk more about the pressures our families face, and it’s been a great experience for the 22 apprentices who’ve helped build the Family Monsters garden.”
As for the future, Alistair has no plans to rest on his laurels. "I'll most definitely be back at Chelsea and as soon as 2020!" he said.
The Family Monsters garden will be relocated to a children’s centre in Stafford, where it will benefit local families, the community and wildlife in the long term.
THE FAMILY MONSTERS GARDEN IN DETAIL
The garden represents the journey of a family unit facing a problem in their lives, one of mystery and isolation – from every angle it’s different. It ends in a family space, a coming together and an opportunity to reflect.
Ultimately their journey in this garden leads to a family space, where all come together to reflect, get their pressures out in the open and gather strength to face them together. The pool of clear water offers reflection and perspective.
The garden can be viewed from 360 degrees, sits in an amoebic footprint, has no definitive shape and is unbound. This represents the diversity of our families, that no one family is the same and that the monsters they hide will be personal to them.
Birch and hazel coppice – creating a partial enclosure, shelter and refuge – bound the garden, offering filter views in and out.
These species represent the younger generation and pioneers at the start of their lives. A large, gnarly pine tree baring represents symbolically the older generation within a family unit.
Shrubs provide structure and obscure views into the garden. Planting underlying the coppice is predominantly green with flashes of colour and diversity, using native and non-native species to represent the diversity of our families.