Chelsea Flower Show Preview: the gardens

by Rhiannon James

A Beautiful Paradise (Making memories with a green poem) by Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory

The Chelsea Flower Show is less than a week away so if you’ve managed to secure a much sought-after ticket, then it’s time to gen up on what’s on offer this year. It looks like there’ll be plenty of inspiration for city gardeners, not only in the urban garden category but also in a number of the show gardens which have taken up the urban theme.  There’ll also be a new artisan category, where gardens will focus on using natural and sustainable materials in an artistic way.

With all this choice on offer, it can seem a daunting task to see everything you’d like to, especially if you’re just popping in for an evening. With that in mind, our preview is split into themes so if you’ve got a special interest such as growing your own, you should be able to find all the gardens you’ll most enjoy.


The M&G Garden by Bunny Guinness

The ever-growing enthusiasm for edible gardening seems to have inspired a whole range of gardens at Chelsea this year. The B&Q Garden is taking urban farming as its theme and will be drawing attention to the potential for vertical growing with a giant, nine metre-high living wall. Planted with herbs, it will also support window boxes filled with crops such as chard, peppers and edible flowers. The rest of the garden will feature some rather more unusual edibles, such as Red Orach, which has edible leaves and Shuttlecock ferns whose young unfurled fronds can be eaten if cooked.

Meanwhile, Bunny Guinness will be marking her return to Chelsea after an eight-year absence with her interpretation of the traditional kitchen garden. Offering to combine utility with beauty, attractive edibles such as Kalibos cabbage and Peacock Tails Kale will mingle with flowers for cutting in a pattern of raised beds, interspersed with fruit trees growing in pots.

In the artisan garden section, Anthea Guthrie’s garden will take us back to 1947, when growing food was a necessity and a ‘make do and mend’ spirit prevailed. The recreation of a Welsh valleys back garden will include fruit, vegetables and some wild edibles such as three-cornered leek whilst demonstrating gardening techniques employed at the time such as using black thread to protect pea plants from pigeons. The garden will be created with the help of children from two special needs schools, Heronsbridge and Ysgol Bryn Castell in Wales.

Taking a slightly more exotic approach, Fever-Tree’s garden, centred on a quirky tree house, will feature ingredient plants such as citrus and ginger, along with plants which have traditionally been used to treat fevers.

Along with some edible plants, Ann-Marie Powell will also be using herbs and medicinal plants in her striking garden to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British Heart Foundation, with a design themed around the function of the heart. Red arching structures to imitate the movement of blood through veins and arteries and red stepping stones to represent blood cells, will mix with wild, naturalistic planting.

Roof gardens

Magistrates' Association Garden by Kate Gould

In Monaco, pressure on space is even more severe than in London and so the Principality’s first show garden at Chelsea will be a lush roof terrace. Slightly more luxurious than your average London roof garden, but still environmentally-aware, there’ll be a naturally-filtered lap pool, a green wall and a part-glazed structure for indoor/outdoor living with a green roof.

Whilst not strictly-speaking a roof garden, Kate Gould’s elegant and symmetrical garden for The Magistrates’ Association, is imagined as an urban garden above an underground car park so all of the plants are either in containers or have shallow root balls. Six umbrella-pleached Plane trees, and a water feature running down the centre of the garden help to create a sense of structure and geometry which is softened by looser, more informal perennial planting.


The RBC New Wild Garden

There’s hardly a garden at Chelsea this year which does not pay attention to environmental issues in one form or another, but there are a few which take sustainability as their driving theme. The RBC New Wild Garden is an urban ‘rain garden’ which has been designed to show how problems of flash flooding in cities can be reduced by creating gardens which capture and use rainwater rather than allowing it to overwhelm drainage systems. The garden also takes inspiration from the ideas of Victorian horticulturalist, William Robinson, who championed naturalistic gardening and revolted against the regimented planting popular at the time. A garden studio created from a refurbished shipping container will be surrounded by waves of colourful, wildlife-friendly planting whilst rainwater will be captured via a green roof and two reflecting pools.

Meanwhile, the Skyshades garden will be a haven for wildlife, with planting providing food and shelter for a host of birds, butterflies, bees and small mammals. A robin, great tits and bees were already visiting just a few days into the build, so expect to see much more once the show opens. A solar-powered garden office in one corner of the garden will provide a viewing point for all the activity.

In the urban garden section, The Stockton Drilling Garden will take a creative approach to recycling, transforming industrial cooling fans into wind turbines, galvanised containers into water butts and a Victorian safe into garden storage.

World Gardens

The Australian Garden presented by the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

One of the beauties of Chelsea is that it’s an opportunity to see and find out more about plants from all over the world and this year’s show is no exception. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne’s first garden at Chelsea will include many rare and endangered native Australian plants as well as some unusual options suitable for British gardens, such as Purple Coral-pea and Woolly Grevillea.

David Cubero and James Wong will be heightening the drama in their Tourism Malaysia garden with a host of unusual and exotic plants. Designed as a tranquil retreat for a house in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, there’ll be a sunken seating area surrounded by a large pool with fragrant water lilies floating on its surface, a wall planted with jungle vines, cascading water and floating terraces of tropical plants. Most of the plants used would have to be grown indoors in the UK so the garden should provide a distinctly different perspective on houseplants.

Meanwhile, Kazuyuki Ishihara’s romantic garden will interweave Japanese trees and flowers, water and rocks to create an atmosphere of naturalness, permanence and tranquillity.

Sensory Gardens

Paul Hervey-Brookes has created a garden focusing on touch for the RNIB, which will include differently-textured materials and planting as well as a braille wall poem written specially for the garden by Michael Rosen. The Doncaster Deaf Trust garden will include fragrant plants and herbs and fruit trees as well as a water feature and a figurative sculpture called Touch.

Unusual Materials

The Bradstone Fusion Garden will be showing off the potential to create interesting garden structures using concrete, with curving louvre-style screens hiding and revealing parts of the garden. Meanwhile, The Chilstone Garden will be using 70s style shag pile outdoor carpet to reinforce their fun, slightly retro theme.

For something a little different

Diarmuid Gavin’s garden is going to be difficult to miss this year, as not only will it be the largest garden ever built at Chelsea, but it will also include an Avatar-inspired installation hovering high above the showground. The ‘craft” with built-in seating, will be suspended by a crane, whilst at ground level, the garden will include 25 pools, surrounded by waves of grasses and pine.

And last but not least

The Telegraph Garden by Cleve West

The Daily Telegraph is going for its third consecutive Best In Show at Chelsea this year with a Cleve West-designed garden. Originally inspired by the Roman ruins at Ptolemais in Libya, West will be creating a sunken space punctuated by ten feet-high sculpted columns and surrounded by a mix of structured yew and box and looser, perennial planting.

Meanwhile, Luciano Giubbilei will be going for a second gold in only his second appearance at Chelsea, again with Laurent-Perrier. His elegantly restrained garden will have a structured space containing sculpture shaded by Parrotia persica trees which will be balanced by an area of wilder planting in romantic shades of bronze, maroon and soft pinks.




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