One of the themes of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show is inspiring people to take away ideas which they can use in their own gardens. After spending a perfect English summer’s day enjoying the show gardens and stands with my green-fingered mum, here are some of the trends, plants and designs which caught my imagination.
- Blue and orange
There were many spectacular colour combinations on show, but the one that really stood out for me was bright orange against brilliant blue (although I think that this may be the year Chelsea reached peak Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’). There were variations on the theme such as rusty orange against dreamy blue in Jo Thompson’s gold medal-winning Wedgwood Garden and Nic Howard’s theatrical garden for David Harber and Savills, as well as wild blue borage against warm lemon in Tom Massey’s garden for The Lemon Tree Trust and a paler orange Enkianthus in Chris Beardshaw’s ‘Best in Show’ Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC.
2. Working with nature
The beautiful Mediterranean inspired garden of the equally beautiful designer Sarah Price is the first garden you come across on Main Avenue if you enter the show as we did from the Garden Gate entrance. For me the M&G Garden was a quiet starter, but the longer I looked, the more it grew on me, and I began to see Price’s vision of a garden which reflects a late Monet painting. The planting very much worked with nature, with delicate poppies, asphodel and the unusual shrub Sophora prostrata. The hard landscaping was both elegant and in-keeping with the Southern European landscape Price is trying to conjure up, using slabs of rammed earth and rectangular structures made from warm terracotta roof tiles.
First-time Chelsea designer Jonathan Snow has also recreated a natural landscape in his Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden, in this case the ‘fynbos’ winelands of South Africa, complete with plants blackened by bush fires. This region has some of the most incredible plants in the world including agapanthus, gladioli, kniphofias and pelagargoniums which Snow has shown in their natural habitat, contrasting with a more formal garden around his miniature Cape Dutch homestead.
Mark Gregory’s 30th garden for Chelsea, the gold-winning Welcome to Yorkshire Garden took me right back to a school trip to the Yorkshire Dales circa 1987 when the whole of my class stayed in a hostel right next to Hardraw Force (our poor teachers). Here was the dry stone wall that Keith got stuck on, the meandering stream crossed by stepping stones, foxgloves, hawthorn and cow parsley and cabbages straight out of Beatrix Potter (ok, I know that’s Cumbria, but you get my drift).
3. Sunken town gardens
Two of my very favourite gardens this year were Hay-Joung Hwang’s LG Eco-City Garden and Kate Gould’s New West End Garden, both of which have elegant sunken spaces where I could happily while away a few hours.
There were so many things to love in the Eco-City Garden: an orange and yellow planting scheme that matched the cushions on Hay’s seating; the smoothest stone underfoot, cleverly broken up in places by cracks planted with chamomile and areas of polished grey pebble; a sleek indoor-outdoor kitchen space and a water garden filled with health-promoting mounds of moss, which were also to be found in the artisan O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA Hospitality Garden.
The New West End Garden by Kate Gould is intended as a contemporary interpretation of a London square. While it was extremely chic, it also had echoes of Alice in Wonderland with a magical sunken space paved in black and white and ingenious planting including blue stars of Amsonia tabermontana which I noticed in several Chelsea gardens this year, spires of pinky red ‘Salmon Star’ lupins against purple salvias and alliums and lime green euphorbias, dreamy pink roses (Gertrude Jekyll, Olivia Rose Austin and Munstead Wood) and a cooling wall of asparagus ferns.
4. Romantic planting
Whether it was the swags of Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ around the pillars of Jonathan Snow’s Dutch homestead in the Trailfinders garden, David Austin’s new Emily Brontë rose or the boat of pink and palest lilac clematis I spotted, there was romance galore at this year’s Chelsea. Inspired by the prettiest pastels, I came away with some ‘Suttons Apricot’ foxgloves seeds from Hardys Cottage Garden plants, as well as a couple of ‘Jane Phillips’ bearded irises. The roses and clematis are definitely on my wish list.
5. Wit with purpose
I love it when the designers have a bit of fun at Chelsea. One of my personal favourite gardens this year – although it was only awarded a silver by the judges – was the ‘Laced With Hope’ garden for Supershoes, a charity that helps children fighting cancer. I was particularly taken by how the planting reflected the graffiti behind, with punky yellow and purple lupins and scarlet poppies and ‘Mai Tai’ geums.
Birmingham is a city which prides itself on its parks and green spaces and it didn’t disappoint with its gold medal winning Empire Windrush garden which was attracting lots of good vibes from the crowds.
An idea I would love to try at home was this fun floral pavement from the Marks & Spencer stand.
6. Hillier heaven
I can’t not mention Sarah Eberle’s ‘Stihl Inspiration’ walk through garden for Hillier Garden Centres in the Great Pavilion. I loved everything about this garden: the wonderful perennial planting of lavender, roses, lupins, peonies, eryngium, salvias, ceanothus and yes, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and best of all the potting area. I want one just like this at home.
7. My mum
Last but not least, it was an absolute delight to spend the day with my wonderful mum, who has inspired my own love of gardening.