Chelsea Flower Show 2017 – highlights

I love my annual trip to the Chelsea Flower Show in London, exhausting though it always is! This year though I have to say it was pretty disappointing due to the reduced number of the bigger show gardens – less than half than in 2016. My main reason for going to the show is to be inspired by great design and innovative use of materials and planting, so the lack of gardens was keenly felt. Still, it’s always a good day out and a great opportunity to see beautiful plants.

The ‘Best Show Garden’ award was won by the M&G Garden designed by James Basson.


Clearly a very well-constructed and thought-out design inspired by an abandoned Maltese quarry, it was notable to see how few members of the public were gathered around the plot looking at the garden. You normally have to fight your way through the crowds to get a glimpse of the big gardens!  I think this one was just a bit too abstract and stark for many of the show goers who were there to see a more traditional ‘garden’ packed full of flower and colour.

Speaking of which, the Morgan Stanley Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw was stuffed with beautiful plants, with a lovely oak and limestone loggia as its centrepiece – much more crowd-pleasing.


Not surprisingly this garden won the People’s Choice Award for Show Gardens.


Winner of this award in the ‘Fresh Gardens’ category was the Breast Cancer Now Garden – Through the Microscope. I liked the simplicity and structure of this garden.


So many of the gardens at the show are filled to the brim with planting, that it can be a welcome relief to find something a little more calm and open.

Another Fresh Garden with a strong, simple structure that I liked was Beneath a Mexican Sky. This was a very successful homage to the Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragan who used colourful walls and pools in his work.


I have a bit of a thing for orange, so particularly liked the use of California poppies and the fabulous agave planted against the backdrop of an orange wall.

Far more subtle and restrained – and archetypally Chelsea – was the planting in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden.

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Lots of lovely purple, white and green froth contrasting with the dark foliage of Sambucus nigra shrubs. Yum!

At the other end of the scale, with pink walls and much more colour, was the Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China.  The pink wasn’t to everyone’s tastes judging by the comments around the garden (!), but the garden was designed as a showcase for just some of the many, many plants which we use in our gardens today and which originate from China.


I usually find a few products and suppliers of interest at the show and this year particularly like the rusted steel screen panels used on the Alitex trade stand.


I also liked the bespoke pots and furniture used on the 500 years of Covent Garden designed by Lee Bestall.



One thing that never disappoints at Chelsea is a garden designed by the Ishihara Kazujuki Design Laboratory from Japan.


They create the most beautifully atmospheric Japanese gardens which always draw a crowd. The attention to detail in their gardens is completely mind-boggling and a gold medal was – as usual – very much deserved.

I just hope we get a lot more to look at in 2018!


Photos: Janet Bligh


Best in Show – Chelsea 2012

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is always a great place to get inspiration whether you want to see the best of the best in the plant world, see innovative ways of combining landscaping materials, or just see some of the finest garden designers at work.  It may be busy (and on the day I visited this year, almost unbearably hot), but it never disappoints.  Here are just some of the highlights from this year’s show:

The Brewin Dolphin Garden

Cleve West won the award for ‘Best Show Garden’ for the second year running.  Cleve’s gardens are never overly flamboyant, but they are always a great combination of beautiful planting and simple, often understated but meticulously detailed, hard landscaping.  He often uses quite masculine, solid sculpture.  This year, in his Brewin Dolphin Garden, the main focal point was a sculpture which is actually an old well found in a reclamation yard.  The soft cottage planting contrasted beautifully with solid yew topiary.

The Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden

Traditional topiary was also used to great effect by Arne Maynard in his garden for Laurent-Perrier.  His muted planting scheme was complemented by a long walkway flanked with lovely copper beech pleached trees. 

I always find it interesting to see how other designers are using materials in different ways.  This year Andy Sturgeon won my prize for originality with his monolithic stone walls drilled with holes, used in the M&G Garden.  The design is also repeated in the ‘energy wave’ sculptures of copper rings which ran throughout the garden. 

The M&G Garden

I was also really taken with the Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden by Joe Swift.  I loved the combination of the cedar wood frames and the copper bark of the Prunus Serrula trees and rusty iron water feature. In the bright sunshine, the garden really glowed.

The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden

Sarah Price combined copper edging and huge pieces of stone to create an unusual stepping stone path in The Telegraph Garden.  The pretty woodland planting evoked the beauty of the British countryside.

The Telegraph Garden

Away from the big show gardens there are often little gems to be found in the smaller ‘Artisan’ gardens.  This year the real standout was a stunning Japanese garden by Kazuyuki Ishihara.  The garden was designed to express the importance of living in harmony with nature, and the planting and stonework was exquisite. A real oasis in a busy showground!  It was a well-deserved Gold medal winner and a lovely example of how less really can be more.

Satoyama Life by Kazuyuki Ishihara

Water is always a key element to the show gardens, and pools, rills and fountains abound every year. 

Cleve West designed stone rills with spouts coming out from his stone gate pillars, while Arne Maynard used simple water spouts in contemporary urns.

Water spout, Laurent-Perrier Garden
Waterfall, Teenage Cancer Trust Garden

One of the most impressive pools was found in The World Vision Garden by Flemons Warland Design.  The centre piece of their garden was a mesmerising ripple pool, filled with dark water and surrounded by tree ferns and a winding labyrinth path. 

The World Vision Garden

Tom Hoblyn used water in a much more classical way in his garden for Arthritis Research UK.  His garden was inspired by the great Renaissance gardens of Italy and included a fountain seat (very inviting on a hot day!) and little arching water spouts behind a clipped box hedge.

Water spouts, The Arthritis Research Garden

So much to see!  And that’s not even taking into account the furniture, the sculpture, the latest wellies, the must-have gloves, the handmade trugs, the shepherds huts, and of course not forgetting the thousands and thousands of plants …. 

Rainbows Children’s Hospice Garden