5 of the best 2016 Chelsea Show Gardens

Choosing five favourite gardens from the 18 fabulous creations at the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a tall order. Jean Vernon has been out and about and picks her favs.

The gardens themselves are a feast of the most extraordinary ideas and combinations in planting design. There’s everything from floating glass houses, spinning trees, shady glades and borders bursting not just with colour and drama but also with the movement of the soft, warm breeze and the pollinators that move from blossom to blossom.

Here are five of my favourite show gardens for 2016, in no particular order.

Jean Vernon

The St John’s Hospice - A Modern Apothecary: Designer – Jekka McVicar for St John’s Hospice

It’s the scent of this garden that hits you first; as the sun warmed flowers and foliage release their healing, essential oils. Just the sight and smell of the garden invokes a sense of peace and tranquility but it is the healing power of this garden that sets it aside from the rest. Though the garden features plants known to be beneficial to the health and wellbeing of society it is much more than the sum of its parts. It is an oasis of calm and yet a vibrant powerful and potent mix of plants that heal in ways beyond our comprehension. These plants simply glow with vibrancy and energy, filling the borders with their inimitable flower power in intoxicating combinations. A central water feature gently overflows onto a thyme pavement beneath. Thyme the great healer is an integral centrepiece to this design. Lavender lined paths lead around the garden design to benches for resting amid the healing energy of this peaceful space. The borders are richly planted with herbal wonders and many red leaved herbs such as Atriplex, Beta and brassica, rich in anthocyanins that aid cardiovascular health.  Step-over pear trees, cones of clipped bay laurel and topiary add structure to this beautiful space.

The Hartley Botanic Garden
Jean Vernon

The Hartley Botanic Garden: Designer - Catherine MacDonald for Hartley Botanic

If you’ve ever wanted to freeze a moment in time, this garden does just that. It’s set in a magical woodland glade of beautiful statuesque birches underplanted with a naturalist mix of native and ornamental botanic delights in soft mix of white, pink and blue. The stark white trunks camouflage the glasshouse structure gently positioned in the glade. It blends beautifully with its surroundings. Inside is a secret collection of Sarracenias arranged in contemporary planters within the stylish glass structure. Their beauty enhanced by the simplicity of the design and their secret mode de operation hidden from view. For this is one glasshouse that will be free from the annoying buzz of bluebottles high up in the apex, their macabre demise sustaining their captor. The glasshouse is a protected haven in nature that blends perfectly with the light and shadows and opens out into the soft relaxing, woodland planting. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and I love the elegant and graceful lines.

The Husqvarna Garden
Jean Vernon

Husqvarna presents Support, The Husqvarna Garden: Designer – Charlie Albone

The structure of this garden is fantastic. Rectangular, clipped hornbeam blocks on lollypop stems delineate the space adding rich green hunks of colour. It’s just lush. Designed to be a space to relax and reflect it simply oozes tranquillity and a sense of calm. The colour combinations are fabulous and the planting is simply divine. Borders packed with swaths of exotic intense mauve leaved leucadendron create an opulent feel. Dramatic combinations of euphorbias, foxgloves, and spikes of eremurus rub against blue tinged and silver foliage to add dramatic accents to the borders. A secret rill follows the line of the steps and bluestone cobbles through the whole garden, following its geometric lines. And at the top of the garden a lit canopy shelters a raised and inviting seating area will views over the whole garden. Lush.

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden
Jean Vernon

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden: Designer – Diarmuid Gavin

Bad boy of horticulture Diarmuid Gavin doesn’t disappoint with this extraordinary garden creation of spinning trees, animatronics and a magic roundabout border that spins beneath a folly, which pops its roof every fifteen minutes. The entertaining performance takes this magnificent creation into a parallel universe where the more mature visitors might expect Zebedee to boing out of the borders and bid you all ‘time for bed’. Topiary box balls pop up within the dense and colourful dreamscape borders packed full of lupins, roses, geums and penstemons in a cornucopia of colour and drama. And yet when the movement stops the garden falls back to a still and calm garden with a surprising secret. It’s cottage garden meets Magic Roundabout with a heavy dose of some powerful herbs, but it works.

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden
Jean Vernon

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden: Designer – Nick Bailey

Garden designers push the boundaries at Chelsea and this year is no exception. I love the quirkiness of this garden, celebrating the beauty of mathematics and algorithms that underpin plant growth and life. While maths was never my strong point, I would have paid far more attention if it had been presented in the form of plants and gardens. Complete with some fabulous examples of mathematical patterns, such as Pinus sylvestris ‘Glauca’ and the astounding geometric Aloe polyphylla that grows in a Fibonacci sequence and exhibits the charismatic spiraling effect. The garden is packed full of plants from the southern hemisphere and the Mediterranean, many of which have seeds, flowers and stems featuring mathematical patterns. There’s a beautiful, flowing copper band engraved with plant growth algorithms that represents the path of an emerging seedling. It snakes through the garden like a shape shifter transforming from a garden bench into a bannister into a pitched planter bursting full of trailing plants. Forget your school maths and linger here to absorb the beauty of botany in a geeky kind of way.

The Hartley Botanic Garden
The Husqvarna Garden
The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden
The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden