Palms and cacti invade the English country garden

Exotic blooms flourish at the Chelsea Flower Show thanks to global warming, writes Michael Leapman
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The Independent Online
AS BRITAIN'S weather gets drier and warmer the traditional English country garden is being superceded by the horticulture of southern Europe and the Orient. A quarter of the 24 show gardens at this month's Chelsea Flower Show will have Mediterranean, Arabic or Asian themes.

One of them is sponsored and partly designed by Yves Saint Laurent, whose ideas about clothing and fragrances have anticipated public taste for years. Now he thinks he has spotted an imminent change in an area of design where British has traditionally been best.

His Chelsea Show garden, created in conjunction with New York designer Madison Cox, is based on the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco, laid out by the French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and now owned by Mr Saint Laurent. lt contains numerous exotic plants and all its structures such as fountains and pergolas are painted a startling cobalt blue.

The Chelsea mini-version will be called "Yvresse - Rapture of the Senses" to tie in with the launch of a new perfume. Mr Saint Laurent says it will "stimulate the senses through the use of unusual colour and texture".

Other promoters of exotic gardens are the Maharaja of Jodhpur, whose recreation of a traditional Mughal garden celebrates the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, and the United Arab Emirates, with a partially enclosed Arabian layout marking the opening of a new botanical garden in Sharjah.

Southern Europe comes to the fore thanks to BSkyB, whose patch is set in Provence; the Daily Telegraph, with a "contemporary classical garden" drawing on the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome; and the Daily Mirror, with an English garden that uses many Mediterranean plants.

A quest for novelty pervades several projects. The music group EMI have hired David Stevens, a leading designer, to celebrate their centenary with the biggest garden ever seen at Chelsea. It will include a "compact disc pergola" and "laser disc water feature". Another esoteric cause for celebration has been found by Preferred Direct Insurance, with a plot marking the 110th anniversary of the introduction of burglary cover.

The City of Leeds is sponsoring a garden based on the Feng Shui principle of the auspicious direction of energy forces, in the apparent belief that these have a growing following in Yorkshire.

A few traditional English settings survive. Country Life promises classic country-house style combined with contemporary design, while Wyevale Garden Centres set their idyll in the Cotswolds.

The Chelsea Flower Show runs from 20-23 May. Only members are admitted for the first two days. Ticket enquiries: 0171-344 4343.