RHS Shades of Autumn

by Abigail Willis

The last RHS show of the year, Shades of Autumn at the RHS Horticultural Halls in London, bid farewell to British Summer Time with a burst of seasonal (and sometimes not so seasonal colour – tulips in October anybody?), and with a powerful affirmation of garden design creativity.

For those used to the scrum conditions of Chelsea and Hampton Court, the smaller RHS shows staged at Vincent Square are pleasantly low key.  An almost villagey atmosphere prevails – a trait nicely referenced in “Village Show”, Pennard Plants’ silver-gilt winning exhibit.  Bedecked with gingham bunting, the Somerset-based nursery’s stand featured some fine looking fruit and veg, whose down-home presentation was authentic right up to the white paper plates and hand-written “results cards”.


Other exhibitors strutting their seasonal stuff in the Art Deco elegance of the Lawrence Hall included Pheasant Acre Plants (gladiolus and dahlia, including dreamy G. ‘Sweet Blue’, and the fiery D. ‘Vulcan’), Trewidden Nursery (proteas and hardy South African ericas such as E. mammosa and E. cerinthoides), D’Arcy & Everest  (neat’n’tidy alpine and sempervivum troughs), and Chysanthemums Direct (whose bravura displays of cut flower bloom and spray chrysanths won silver-gilt).

dahlia and trough

While the ornamental plant competitors and stands such as that of the London group of the charity Plant Heritage celebrated the richness of autumn’s outdoor colours, Dibleys gold-medal winning display showcased colourful houseplants to cheer us through the winter such as Begonia ‘Fireworks’ Streptocarpus ‘Hope’, and Saintpaulia ‘Chiffon Moonmoth’ and Petrocosmea menglingensis.  With their highly textured and patterned foliage and delicate blooms, these tender exotics give every impression of being high-maintenance beauty queens, but they thrive on neglect, apparently, liking nothing more than being under-watered and pot-bound, perked up by the occasional dose of tomato food. 


Over in the Lindley Hall, the final instalment of the Oxo Tower Remix Garden was sprinkling a little piece of Chelsea stardust on proceedings.  Designers Jon Sims, Anoushka Feiler, Matthew Childs and Daniel Lobb each presented their final distillation of Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam’s Cloudy Bay Discovery Chelsea garden. Having already re-mixed the original show garden outside the Oxo Tower over the latter weeks of the summer as part of the CityScapes festival, the quartet had to be inventive with the garden’s remaining materials, as well as their planting.

 At Monday’s symposium the designers were able to explain some of their inspirations and motivations.   The themes of confinement and eruption seen in the first re-mixes continued in the Lindley Hall ‘remix redux’, with the reappearance of Matthew Child’s crazily-angled corrugated containers, which burst out of the floor brimming with exuberant chrysanthemums, asters, salvias and miscanthus (all supplied by Hardy’s Cottage Plants). Meanwhile Anoushka Feiler’s dramatic chained and caged installation was, she revealed, a riff on an idea that involved naughtily putting “Fifty” in front of the show’s title…


Having bravely handed over their garden to the re-mixers, the Cloudy Bay garden’s originators, Gavin and Andrew also contributed to the final mix, gamely making do with the leftovers.  Their resourceful exploration of “what things become” used the Lindley Hall winch system to suspend key elements of their original design above bowls containing those materials’ potential outcomes (thus a bowl of apples beneath an apple tree, water beneath a slowly melting ice block, and gravel below a boulder).

winched flowers

CityScapes’ directors Darryl Moore and Adolfo Harrison even managed to extract design value from the last dregs of the Cloudy Bay garden, conjuring an eye-catching foyer installation from rubble combined with vinyl records, audio projection and heucheras (supplied by Plantagogo).  


But even this will not be the last gasp of the Cloudy Bay garden, since after the show, materials from the garden are to be given to local community garden spaces.  The Oxo Tower Remix gardens are heartening proof that a Chelsea show garden need not have the lifespan of a mayfly; with creative cross-pollination it can be a much more sustainable creature, and reach a much wider audience.  Reaction from the participants at the symposium – from designers to contributing nurseries and the RHS – was overwhelmingly positive too, so perhaps this will not be the last we see of the Remix concept …

Pennard Plants (www.pennardplants.com )

Pheasant Acre Plants (www.pheasantacreplants.co.uk )

Trewidden Nurseries (www.trewidden-online.co.uk )

D’Arcy & Everest (www.darcyeverest.co.uk )

Plant Heritage (http://www.nccpg.com )

Dibleys (www.dibleys.com )

CityScapes (http://cityscapes.org.uk/ )

Hardys Cottage Garden Plants (www.hardys-plants.co.uk )

Plantagogo (www.plantagogo.com)


© Abigail Willis October 2013

One Response to “RHS Shades of Autumn”

  1. Kevin BITTAN

    My work is more habitat management than gardening but outside work I am passionate about growing food and flowers even though I only have a tiny balcony!

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