The most prestigious flower show in London gets an Indian garden for the first time, with Sachin Tendulkar as inspiration.
At an event that spells ‘proper British’, as the Chelsea Flower Show in London is, finding an Indian connection is unexpected. And if it is a garden that captures the essence of cricket, more particularly Sachin Tendulkar, ‘India: A Billion Dreams’, as the concept is titled, couldn’t be a better way to sum it up.
Rightly placed in the artisan section of perhaps the most prestigious flower show on earth, the installation was the initiative of the British Council in India, which is celebrating 70 years of its presence in the country. As Alan Gemmell, director India, British Council, puts it, “We are running a campaign that we are inspired by India; we have been for the past 70 years, especially by the young India. So it’s a privilege to demonstrate a garden at Chelsea that talks of India. The walls remind you of Taj Mahal, the plants are reminders of British expeditions in India, but the most important connection is cricket that both the countries have.”
Award-winning designer Sarah Eberle, the creative mind behind the garden, has achieved a perfect consonance of Indian flora, aesthetics and cricket. The breezy willows found along the rivers of Kashmir, and from which cricket bats are crafted, stand gracefully alongside wooden wickets and cricket ball planters. Marigolds, roses and lotuses compete with Himalayan blue poppies, documented in 1922 by Britisher George Leigh Mallory as he unsuccessfully attempted to scale the Everest, and blue orchids that were collected by another Britisher Thomas Lobb between 1848 and 1853 in the modern state of Meghalaya.
Spending time in India, scouting for inspiration, Eberle commissioned pietra dura marble walls, inspired by the Mughal architecture, to encircle the garden space. Crafted by artisans who also renovated the Taj Mahal, the walls are unsurprisingly inlaid with flowers made of precious stones. With a backdrop of images of Indian children playing cricket in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, no one can say that Eberle took just nine days to execute the garden.
“Weaving in cricket and horticulture was interesting but a difficult brief. The challenge was that there are quite a few messages in the garden and how does one put them all together,” she says, adding, “The layout is inspired by the Mughal gardens of the north, the grass is a nod to the cricket pitch, the wickets are like temple columns. The flowers have been chosen to reflect the colour, energy and culture of India. Marigold and jasmine have a religious connotation, the red roses reflect the Mughals, the blue poppies are a definite British connection.” Gemmell adds that the message goes beyond just ties between the two countries.
“We are launching a legacy programme for children in India harnessing the power of sports and art. We have roped in the Marylebone Cricket Club and the Royal Academy of Dance to bring girls and boys together through dance and cricket. For me, it’s a small way to respond to Prime Minister Modi’s women-led development agenda. We have seen some success, but there’s still a long way to go, so hopefully by changing minds through our project, we can tell people that there’s no limit to the future. That’s the power of art, and the garden gives out this message.”