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Top Garden Trends Seen at the 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

At the 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, gardens are more environmentally

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By House & Garden | May 27, 2024 | Gardens

This week the eyes of the horticultural world are on anyone exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower show: fashions are defined, new plants take centre stage, and themes are analysed. Lawns are most definitely out–not a square metre of grass was evident anywhere - and low-fertility sustainable planting is in. Concern for the environment defines almost every exhibit in the show, so there are sustainable gardening ideas galore to take away, from saving water to attracting more pollinating insects into your garden. Understated, muted colours and blended, meadow-like planting have taken over from colourful blocks or drifts of plants, and irises steal the show.

Biodiversity for wildlife

Experimental, drought-tolerant planting into low-nutrient soils and substrates is showcased in several of this year’s gardens. Tom Massey’s garden for the Royal Entomological Society is designed for biodiversity and wildlife, inspired by the abundant nature to be found on brownfield sites. The plants colonise areas of rubble and rammed earth underneath flowering hawthorn and hazel, with a diverse mix of native and non-native plants to attract pollinators. Flashes of colour come from clusters of the beautiful pink Beth’s poppy (Papaver dubium subsp. lecoqii ‘Albiflorum’) and electric blue Echium vulgare.

The garden also shows how you can incorporate insect habitats imaginatively into your garden, with gabion retaining walls filled with leaves, wood and stones. In this garden and in the Samaritan’s Garden by Cleve West you may be surprised to see a few intentionally planted dandelions! Both designers are making a statement about weeds, asking us to consider the value of allowing selected weeds to stay in our gardens for the benefit of insect life, and showing that they can indeed be beautiful in their own way.

Natural walls and surfaces

Eco-friendly rammed earth or straw bale walls and traditional wattle and daub or shingle-clad structures are to be found in different gardens throughout the show. Using traditional techniques, Sarah Price constructed straw bale walls rendered in naturally pigmented lime plaster for her garden, as well as making ingenious rough-textured planters from crushed concrete, brick and glass waste.

The Letter from a Million Years Past garden designed by Korean artist Jihae Hwang has an intriguing herb-drying tower made from rough wattle and daub with an oak frame. The building was made by Alex Gibbons from Cumbria who is one of the few craftspeople in the UK making earth buildings using mud, straw and sand.

In Horatio’s Garden, designers Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg have developed an innovative new cement-free terrazzo surface made from polished crushed waste that is also entirely permeable, while newcomer Harry Holding, one of our Rising Stars for 2023, showcases rammed earth walls in his garden.

Trees and woodland planting

Trees and shrubs play a key part in the show this year with almost every show garden demonstrating how you can incorporate small ornamental trees into a confined space. Sarah Price uses multi-stemmed Eleagnus angustifolia ‘Quicksilver’ in her garden, while Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg showcase an elegant river birch (Betula nigra) in the centre of their garden contrasting with several multi-stemmed field maples. Beneath the dappled shade of the trees their woodland edge planting is beautifully designed, with a ribbon of dark-leafed Penstemon digitalis ‘Dark Towers’ running through a mixture of herbaceous plants and grasses, with pops of colour from Iris sibirica ‘Silver Edge’, deep magenta Cirsium ‘Trevor’s Blue Wonder’ and fluffy mauve Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’.

The Letter from a Million Years Past garden brings together an intriguing collection of woodland plants from Korea that have been used for thousands of years in herbal medicine. Designed as an evocation of the Jiri Mountain National Park in Korea, an area of almost untouched natural forest and mountain, the garden contains large shrubs such as the Sechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum schinifolium) and the February spicebush (Lindera praecox) underplanted with a rich tapestry of unusual foliage plants, much of them edible in leaf or root form. Many of the plants have been grown and trialled over many years by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Crug Farm Plants in Wales, where they have found them to be extremely tough and hardy, and therefore perfect for the British climate.

Charlie Hawkes designed the National Brain Appeal’s garden which features lush woodland planting with interesting leaf texture under a Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica). Unusual plants such as Angelica dahurica, Aralia cordata and Disporum longistylum ‘Night Heron’ are combined with shade-tolerant stalwarts such as Tellima grandiflora var. rubra and Hakonechloa macra. A flash of crimson Tulipa sprengeri, a naturalising tulip, catches the eye.

In the Floral Marquee, excellent nursery exhibits from Kevock Plants (Alpine and woodland plants), Moore & Moore (plants for shade and clay) and Hogarth Hostas offer further ideas for shady gardens.

Edible plants and outdoor kitchens

Edible plants feature widely at Chelsea this year. The modern kitchen garden is a hybrid that combines fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers in a biodiverse mix dubbed the ‘edimental’ garden, often with a smart outdoor kitchen to maximise the plot to plate idea. The Savill’s Garden designed by Mark Gregory features all these elements tied together in a slick design, with beds edged in reclaimed timber and a cast aluminium verandah by the Traditional Verandah Company to shelter a beautiful outdoor kitchen.

The Hamptons Garden designed by Filippo Dester also centres around an outdoor kitchen, cocooned by Mediterranean style planting and sheltered under a wooden pergola. The small space is ingeniously designed to incorporate seating areas, a canal style water feature, a gravel garden and generous beds for herbs and plants.

The London Square Community Garden designed by James Smith has a pizza oven set into its terrazzo stone worktop, with large oak troughs overflowing with herbs and vegetables that could be incorporated into any small space.

Harry Holding, who designed the School Food Matters Garden, wanted to demonstrate how food plants can be woven into an ornamental planting scheme without sacrificing aesthetics. His garden is designed to be ‘immersive and forageable’ with narrow winding paths inviting children to explore and discover.