Green and 'retreat' were the buzz words at Chelsea this year, with many of the show gardens displaying lush woodland plants under canopies of beautiful trees. While the lack of colour may disappoint some visitors, the underlying message is an important ecological one: our landscapes desperately need trees and biodiversity to counteract climate change. The Resilience Garden designed by Sarah Eberle showcases exotic as well as native tree species, looking to the forests of the future which may well be filled with different warm-climate species as we adapt to climate change. Andy Sturgeon's garden for M&G is a tapestry of green in different shades and textures, demonstrating the power of nature to regenerate. And the RHS Back to Nature Garden, co-designed by the Duchess of Cambridge, is another mini-woodland with moss-covered tree trunks, winding paths and tangled branches providing an inviting space for children as well as for wildlife.
Mark Gregory, who designed the Welcome to Yorkshire Garden, also picked up on the trend, saying “The stand out colour this year is probably green, of all shades, accompanied by contrasting textures and shapes and sizes. Andy Sturgeon’s garden was a particularly good example of this kind of planting. Green has been proved to be the most relaxing colour for humans too so I think we’ll definitely be seeing more of it.” Again, the ecological side shone through for Mark: “This year was also a bumper one for wildlife friendly planting. The saying that 'a weed is only a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time' springs to mind. We had an abundance of them on the Welcome to Yorkshire garden and the wildlife definitely took advantage, from bumble bees to birds. Our perennial meadow sought to prove that you can mix cultivated varieties such as Camassias with native flowers such as the wild Lupins to a really great effect. We also blended annuals with perennials - this is a great technique to use at home to fill those gaps while the perennials mature. Tom Hoblyn in the Dubai Majlis garden and Jo Thompson in the Wedgwood garden used this technique to great effect.”
The idea of a garden as a place to escape to from the fast pace of everyday life is very much in evidence at Chelsea this year. The Savills/David Harber garden by Andrew Duff is designed as an urban retreat, celebrating the beauty and environmental benefit of trees, with a contemplative central pool and sculpture. The green walls give a sense of enclosure and turn it into an inner sanctum. The Wedgwood Garden by Jo Thompson features a central seating area under an arched pavilion, surrounded and enveloped in a mass of soft plants - a place to look inwards, not outwards. Jo herself saw a trend for “real garden spaces, gardens that sit unobtrusively in their surroundings and which you can actually use,” as well as calm, still water features.
Although the greens and whites of cow parsley, ferns and foliage dominate the planting schemes this year, there are certain colours that also stand out, including burnt orange and palest creamy-yellow. Amber and deep wine-coloured foxgloves such as Digitalis x valinii 'Firebird' and Isoplexis canariensis (a foxglove relative from the Canary Islands) pop up in different gardens as well as in the nursery exhibits in the Great Pavilion. The gorgeous rusty-orange Baptisia 'Cherrie's Jubilee' can be seen in Chris Beardshaw's garden, along with apricot Verbascum 'Clementine'. In Tom Stuart-Smith's RHS Bridgewater Garden, the burnt orange of Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' mingles with delicate cow parsley relative Anthriscus'Ravenswing'. Cream-coloured Californian poppies (Eschscholzia 'Ivory Castle') can be seen on Sarah Eberle's garden and in the Greenfingers Garden by Kate Gould. In the Wedgwood garden by Jo Thompson, combinations of pinks, peaches, corals, apricots and lemon - which should clash - looked “exquisite and worked together” in the designer's own words. Jo said “I’m known for my work in colour and plants and creating spaces with atmosphere and the Wedgwood garden combines all that - when you go on the garden you feel you’ve entered a different world.”
There wasn't a huge amount of formal structure in the show gardens this year. Gone are the box hedges and spheres, reflecting the current demise of box plants succumbing to box blight or box caterpillar. Chris Beardshaw uses yew domes, but other gardens are more loosely structured with naturalistic drifts of planting. This reflects a wider move away from formality in gardens, towards a more sustainable, biodiverse and natural style of gardening.
People to watch out for…
Two first-time designers to watch out for this year are Colm Joseph and Duncan Cargill, who teamed up to create the Perennial Lifeline garden. Having recently graduated from the London College of Garden Design, the duo won a competition to design the Chelsea garden for the charity Perennial. Their design features a classical rose garden reimagined as a more sustainable and low maintenance 'rose meadow', with loose-structured species roses mingling with ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals. Roses such as 'Alba Semiplena', 'Open Arms' and 'Narrow Water' in white and soft pink are left to grow in their natural forms within the framework of the other planting, enclosed within a framework of hornbeam hedges.
For Mark Gregory, it was Joe Perkins, designer of the Space to Grow garden for Facebook - “Joe is no newbie to garden design but to achieve best construction, best in category and a gold medal for your first Chelsea show garden is something to be extremely proud of.”
Jo Thompson was impressed by Paul Hervey-Brooks, who was the designer behind The Art of Viking Garden.
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