I’m back from my first ever visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and my mind has been well and truly blown! We went on Wednesday, a day reserved for RHS members (thanks Mum), so it wasn’t too crowded, and we could actually get close enough to properly look at the show gardens. It was a chilly, grey day, but it didn’t rain, thank goodness. We managed to see nearly everything I wanted to see, before running out of steam when crowds of late arrivals swarmed through the gates in the afternoon. At 4 o’clock you couldn’t even get near some of the show gardens, the crowds were so thick.
Although the show gardens look much smaller in real life than they do on the telly, they were all incredible works of design. There was just so much to take in, and I took dozens of photos so I wouldn’t forget all the amazing planting and design ideas that I wanted to remember. Above all, what I took away from the show gardens this year was the intricate, delicate, naturalistic planting, and gorgeous natural materials used in the hard landscaping, from stone to wood and bronze.
These were my favourites of the large show gardens:
The LG Smart Garden
Designed by Hay Joung Hwang (Silver Gilt medal)
This garden is super classy. If it was your garden, you would always be having fabulous dinner parties with beautiful people! And yet the planting isn’t cool, hard and edgy, it is pretty and pink, almost cottage garden-like, which softens the hard lines and right angles of the modern pergola and patio. I’m sure it also has lots of hi-tech features, such as smart irrigation systems, but that doesn’t really interest me.
The M&G Garden
Designed by Cleve West (Gold medal)
I love the story of this garden, drawing on Cleve West’s teenage memories of running through the ancient oak woodland of Exmoor National Park in Devon. I like the fact that the sawn stone used for the paths is the same stone as the raw, natural boulders that are such a big feature in the garden. These huge chunks of stone make an effective contrast with the softer, multi-textured planting that include ferns, hostas, solomon’s seal, acanthus and thalictrums. For me, this garden is a lesson in how much interest you can add to a planting scheme by focusing on leaf shapes, textures and shades of green. Lining the pond with more stones, like a dry stone wall laid down on its side, adds yet more texture to the scheme.
The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary
Designed by Jekka McVicar (Silver Gilt medal)
The fragrance of the plants that surrounded us as we stood and took in this garden was wonderful. If only I could take photos with smell-o-vision! All of the plants are chosen because of their health benefits, and the cobbled path is designed to be a tool for reflexology. I particularly like the use of bricks, laid on their sides and left ungrouted, in the path edges. It will be a magical place for quiet reflection and a therapeutic garden for patients, family and friends, when it is relocated to the St John’s Hospice, in St John’s Wood, London, after the show ends.
The Winton Beauty Of Mathematics Garden
Designed by Nick Bailey (Silver Gilt medal)
This garden looks like a work of art. The plants were chosen for their mathematical properties, and the other design details all related to mathematical algorithms or Fibonacci numbers. There are a number of unusual, remarkable looking plants used, such as aloes that grow in a perfect spiral, and a New Zealand cotoneaster that forms heptagons with its layered stems. I like the way some of the planting is set out in crescents that ripple out from the curved copper bench, and the hanging plants that trail down from the raised platform. This garden is really special. It might be my favourite.
The Telegraph Garden
Designed by Andy Sturgeon (Gold medal)
The theme explored by this garden is the magnitude of geological events that have shaped the earth over millennia. The concept is massive but the designer somehow manages to capture the ideas within the bounds of a show garden, while at the same time creating a garden that is beautiful. Huge bronze shards represent ancient mountain ranges, and a stream represents melt water in the gorge below. The plants sit in dry, pale yellow gritty sand that evokes the Sierra Madre or Chilean Andes (apparently). The message is that gardens need to adapt to their environments and our changing climate. I like the simple colour palette and limited range of materials in the hard landscaping.
In a sense, The Telegraph Garden, which was judged the best show garden over all, captures what I think is the entire essence of this year’s show – a desire to celebrate nature in its raw state. Often, gardening focuses too much on restraining and controlling nature, rather than seeing the beauty in wild, natural landscapes and plants. I noticed many plants in the show gardens that many us of would consider weeds – herb robert, garlic mustard, nettles – but which can serve a wonderful purpose in gardens if used in the right way. They may benefit wildlife, have health benefits, or grow where few other plants can cope. I love this blurring of lines between gardens and nature, and can’t wait to see how all of these extraordinary and gifted garden designers continue to explore and push this idea. These are exciting times in garden design!