Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Conran's Kitchen Garden; OUT & ABOUT Garden Designer Nicola Lesbirel Has Teamed Up with Sir Terence Conran to Create a Working Garden Incorporating a Restaurant for This Year's Chelsea Flower Show. Libby Norman Met Her

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Conran's Kitchen Garden; OUT & ABOUT Garden Designer Nicola Lesbirel Has Teamed Up with Sir Terence Conran to Create a Working Garden Incorporating a Restaurant for This Year's Chelsea Flower Show. Libby Norman Met Her

Article excerpt

Byline: LIBBY NORMAN

Chelsea Flower Show gardens are often flights of fancy, and this year is no exception, with an Islamic-inspired retreat and a recreation of Ireland's emerald sward on the show list. But when garden designer Nicola Lesbirel was asked to co-design the Laurent Perrier/Harpers & Queen Garden with Sir Terence Conran, using restaurants as the theme, she began by drawing on memory. 'Our starting point was the nicest times we'd had in restaurant gardens,' says Lesbirel. 'Usually these have been small restaurants - often on holiday - where you're sitting in what is really someone's private garden.

If we were being truly authentic, we might have added mismatched chairs and a few stray cats.' Cats and mismatched furniture were left out of the final design - this being a smarter sort of establishment - but the Lesbirel/Conran collaboration has produced the kind of easy elegance we've come to expect from the man who brought affordable contemporary style to the British home before switching his focus to restaurants. While Sixties Habitat gave us chicken bricks and rustic earthenware, this outdoor restaurant setting includes today's sought-after chefs' ingredients - with Italian meadow rocket and wild celery germinating in pots.

Nostalgia is there if you look, though. 'I think for Terence there's an element of been-herebefore,' says Lesbirel, a youthful 40-year-old with casually tied-back hair, wearing the working gardener's uniform of jeans and fleece, as she oversees construction in the frantic fortnight before the show. Certainly the butterfly chairs dotted around the Indian limestone terrace conjure up post-war enthusiasm for the clean and simple lines of modernity - which is where Conran came in. 'Some people may see this and be reminded of the gardens their parents planted,' Lesbirel adds. It's not just the brave new Fifties and Sixties that are alluded to - the centrepiece restaurant kitchen-cumgreenhouse is a flat-roofed steel and glass construction reminiscent of Thirties East Coast America. This building comes complete with proper working kitchen, and a pixellated backdrop shows a virtual restaurant behind.

This is not the first time Lesbirel has collaborated with Conran. She started her career as buyer and product designer with The Conran Shop, setting up the conservatory department there 15 years ago. 'I'd got to the stage when I thought if I saw another cushion cover I'd scream. But I'd always loved gardening and I can distinctly remember taking all these watering cans and pots to a meeting and saying, "I think gardening is going to be quite big."' She was right on that score and after creating Conran's urban gardeners' nirvana, designed concepts for Nicole Farhi Home and Heal's.

But the end vision was always to get outdoors and after working as a jobbing gardener, Lesbirel enrolled on a garden-design course at Inchbald School Of Design in Eccleston Square. …

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