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.

P1000451 (2)

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


Highlights from the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show


Crowds at Chelsea

I went to the Chelsea Flower Show twice this year – once on Press Day and then again later in the week as a paying visitor.  Seems a bit OTT I guess, but I really enjoy going twice as both trips have their advantages.  The obvious upside to Press Day is the lack of crowds and the fact that you can see everything without fighting to get to the front of the throng.  But I do enjoy going when the show is open as there’s so much more atmosphere.  And there’s such a lot to take in that I always see something new on my second visit.

The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge Garden by Sean Murray proved a big hit with the crowds

The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge Garden by Sean Murray proved a big hit with the crowds

And this year it felt like there was more variety than usual in the style of gardens on show.  Probably because two of the main gardens did something a little different – they weren’t perfect!   There were seedheads, dead leaves and patches of bare earth and they just seemed altogether more realistic and made a refreshing change from all that stunning perfection which we’re so used to seeing at Chelsea!

The Best Show Garden award went to Dan Pearson for the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden which was incredibly well put together.

Dan Pearson

The landscaping and attention to detail was so convincing, it really did feel like a wild garden.  With enormous rock formations, a natural stream and wonderful planting, it was a fantastic achievement.

Chatsworth Garden

Another gold medal winner which I really liked was A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse by L’Occitane, designed by James Basson.

Perfumer's Garden

This was such an evocative garden that you really did feel like you were in the south of France (or at least you did when the sun came out!).  It was beautifully put together.

L'Occitane garden

Most of the main show gardens were stuffed to the gills with gorgeous planting, and perfect hard landscaping as is par for the course at Chelsea.

Chris Beardshaw
I liked Chris Beardshaw’s planting and the steel wall panels he incorporated into the Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden.

Steel panels

The Brewin Dolphin Garden by Darren Hawkes featured more than 40,000 hand-cut pieces of slate which were used to create steps and suspended platforms.  Talk about attention to detail!   The woodland planting was beautifully done too, and the overall effect very cool and calm.

Brewin Dolphin

Matthew Wilson’s Royal Bank of Canada garden featured some lovely curving decking and stylish furniture.

Royal Bank of Canada garden
The cool simplicity of the Beauty of Islam garden by Kamelia Bin Zaal was a lovely contrast to a lot of show gardens where there’s so much going on you sometimes don’t know where to look.  Like the Provencal garden this really came to life in the sunshine.

Beauty of Islam garden

I liked Adam Frost’s Homebase Garden – Urban Retreat.

Homebase Garden

It had quite a simple overall design with strong lines, and repetition through shapes and planting, and an open feel.  It felt like a really comfortable space.  Lovely timber pavilion too.

timber pavilion

The Fresh Gardens section is billed as the ‘cutting-edge face’ of the Chelsea Flower Show.  I find some of the gardens just a little too cutting-edge for my tastes but there are often interesting elements to admire (!).

The World Vision garden by John Warland was really striking with planting boxes set into a large reflective pool.

World Vision

Dark water pools were also used to good effect in the Breathrough Breast Cancer garden by Ruth Willmott.  They provided a really good contrast with the soft planting which was predominantly pink, green and white.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

In the plant marquee there’s always such a lot too see it can be a bit overwhelming.

I’m not a massive fan of Chrysanthemums but enjoyed the striking ice-cream cones on display by the National Chrysanthemum Society.


My favourite in the marquee this year was something close to my heart – Time for Tea by Interflora.  It was a really clever design and ‘inspired by the nation’s love of a good cuppa’.

Time for TeaI’ll drink to that!


Photo credits: Janet Bligh

Poppies to remember

Last weekend I was in a pretty gloomy and soggy London for the day.  We made a quick diversion to go the Tower of London to see a really inspiring installation of ceramic poppies which is taking place at the moment.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

It’s called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ and was devised by artist Paul Cummins, with the setting created by stage designer Tom Piper.  It’s a very powerful work – in my opinion.

Marking 100 years since the the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, starting on 5th August this year, ceramic poppies have been planted in the ground by volunteers, and the moat has gradually filled up with a sea of red.  The aim is to plant a total of 888,246 poppies by 11th November (to mark the day the war ended in 1918).  I saw images of the installation in the early stages on the internet, but it really is an amazing sight to see in person if you can get there, especially now as the moat fills up.  My photos, snapped on my phone, really don’t do it justice.

Tower of London poppies

And when you think that every poppy represents a British military fatality in the First World War, it makes it all the more poignant.

The ceramic poppies are on sale to raise money for 6 service charities and with the aim to raise millions of pounds it’s definitely a worthwhile cause.  Plus it’s not everyday you can add part of an art installation to your garden – enough to brighten any gloomy day!  Check out the Tower of London website to find out more.

Tower of London remembrance

David Nash at Kew Gardens

On a recent visit to Kew Gardens in London (primarily to check out the Xstrata Treetop Walkway and catch some autumn colour), I was really pleased to also get to see the work of David Nash in the Gardens.  Nash worked on site in the Wood Quarry at Kew from April to September this year, producing new work which is now on show in various sites around the Gardens until next April.  Also on view are larger pieces from recent years.

Black Dome, Daivd Nash

Black Dome, charred oak

To be honest, I struggled with some pieces like Black Dome, and I think Nash’s charred work (which is carved before being partially burnt), if used in a domestic setting, might be a bit challenging to position!  But realistically I doubt if any of these monumental pieces were ever intended for the domestic market.

Crack and Warp Column. David Nash

Crack and Warp Column (lime) in the Temperate House at Kew Gardens

It was nice to see work hidden away in the traditional and charming (if slightly shabby) setting of the Temperate House.  I loved the contrast between ‘Crack and Warp Column’ and the old ironwork structure of the building. And it’s no coincidence that the work was positioned to reflect that contrast – as you can imagine, all that was thought through very carefully.  Putting the work indoors means that it changes over time  as the air dries the wood (hence the reference to cracking and warping).

David Nash, Kew Gardens

Exhibits in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew Gardens

Working with a chainsaw, and using only wood from trees at Kew which have come to the end of their natural life, David Nash has made some really lovely new pieces, my favourite of which were the works on display in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.  They really go a long way to illustrate the beauty of bark and wood on a small scale.

Two Clams, Davis Nash 2012

Close-up on ‘Two Clams’

Cut Corners Column, David Nash

Cut Corners Column, David Nash

Given the number of diseases which are currently affecting so many varieties of trees  – Oak, Horse Chestnut, Ash, Scots Pine to name a few – it seems fitting for an artist to be using wood from dying trees to create something long-lasting.

Small Cork Spire, David Nash

Small Cork Spire (made from bark of the Cork Oak)

And whatever your feelings towards the individual pieces at Kew, Nash’s exhibition illustrates well what a bold statement and valuable focal point a large piece of art can make in the right setting.  I highly recommend a visit.