For most garden show visitors the highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show are the incredible garden installations along Main Avenue within the showground. This year, staged over the autumn equinox, the tone and hues were distinctly different. The plant pallete was earthier, with vibrant hues and rich, lush foils of foliage. It felt like a horticultural tribute to those we lost, those who struggled and those who strayed from their path. Not a last hurrah, more a theatrical finale to the show season, with the promise of more to come.
Six show gardens and three feature gardens seasoned the showground to delight the visitors. Here are five that caught my attention.
Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden
There’s a real sense of clean, cool and calm about this garden. This tranquil oasis won not only an RHS Gold Medal, but was also awarded Best in Show. First impressions are an overwhelming sense of cool green foliage, almost wave like, highlighted with white accents and the dancing blue flowers of bog sage. It’s rich, still and serene. The herbaceous borders blend seamlessly with water plants interspersed with birch, pine and field maple trees.
But the message is more profound; this is an Eco Garden, highlighting the importance of city planning where the developments work in harmony with nature. The woodland planting purifies the air, the water represents the essence of life, and the wooden structures provide shelter and seating areas for the people. It was commissioned by the government of Guangzhou; ‘The city between mountain and water’, which is one of the biggest cities in China. Its environmental plan divides the city into protect zones, the green lung forest to the north, a central park for the people and nature and to the south the purifying wetlands, and this garden mirrors that effect.
Designed by Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen.
The planting in the M&G Garden was just gorgeous. Lovely soft autumnal hues with the gentle blush of mauve asters contrasting with the golden leaved Amsonia tabernaemontana and deschampsia seed heads. It’s a soft effect, with the real beauty in the senescing foliage and autumnal degradation.
This is an urban setting, a shared green haven designed to envelop people and wildlife but still facilitate the buzz and bustle of day-to-day life. While originally designed before the pandemic struck, its importance is even more acute now as the value of nature, environment and gardens in our physical and mental health and wellbeing has become even more apparent. Materials are repurposed and reclaimed, even a rather chunky metal pipe sculpture that weaves its way through the plants.
The garden won an RHS Gold Medal. Designed by Harris Bugg Studio.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden
Designed as a nature-filled experience, this garden blends some of the habitats and plants that feature at the garden of the same name in Somerset. Both have been created to enhance and nurture soil health and biodiversity while at the same time support precious pollinators and wildlife. It’s a snapshot of the fabulous Mendip landscape and the garden back at base, and includes a flower rich, perennial meadow bursting with colour, texture and shape.
Carbonised bio char logs represent the carbon locked in the soil, a vital message regarding the importance of soil health.
A glass bottomed egg, made from steam bent oak hangs over the running stream that divides the plot, and offers a fun wildlife hide positioned to survey the unfolding scene beyond and any visiting wildlife.
The garden won an RHS Gold Medal. Designed by Tom Massey.
Bodmin Jail: 60 degrees East – A garden between continents
There’s a real naturalistic feel to this creation, that represents the border between two continents and draws upon elements of east and west, blending European and Asian planting styles. Cloud pruned pines and rich, sculptural rocks help to create the magic of the Ural Mountains, while the plants clothe the plot to represent the mountains, divided by peaks and rivers.
But there’s more to this garden than meets the eye. The plants here would be challenged by plunging temperatures and have been chosen to withstand the -20C chill, but include some familiar faces, like ferns, lady’s mantle and salvias, as well as hydrangeas and astilbes. The overall effect is soft, fresh and evocative.
This garden was awarded an RHS Silver Medal. Designed by Ekaterina Zasukhina with Carly Kershaw.
The Florence Nightingale Garden: A Celebration of Modern-Day Nursing
These last months have highlighted the extraordinary challenges faced by our health workers. This garden is a vision of a new garden, designed for a new hospital, but also marks 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale.
The garden represents the role of gardens in our healing, ‘nurture through nature’, and is inspired by the idea that the shortest path to recovery leads through a garden.
It’s a quiet, restorative space, enveloped by a sculptural pergola that lets the light in, but creates a more intimate feel. Soft borders of late flowering echinacea, asters and border perennials; textured foliage and grasses evoke a sense of peace, comfort and safety.
This is a garden for all senses, with water, whispering grasses, textures and scented plants, offering places to sit and relax and take time to be mindful. The surrounding timber walls feature words, sentences and thoughts representing the power of healing to accentuate the message.
This garden was awarded an RHS Silver Medal. Designed by Robert Myers.