So, another year and another Chelsea Flower Show. And what a show indeed! With more show gardens and gold medals than last year, a revamp of the Courtyard Garden section and a return to Chelsea for some of our favourite designers we knew it was going to be a good one. So here is our run-down of some of our favourite parts of Chelsea Flower Show 2011 (and a few weird bits too!):
Container gardening has always been a key feature in all gardens whether it’s the expensive show gardens of Chelsea or your own humble back yard. Pots can add some individuality, extra growing space, an environment for plants that won’t grow successfully in your soil or just some added interest to an otherwise uninspiring area of your garden. As you would expect, at Chelsea everything is done to fantastic detail.
In Bunny Guinness’s garden, HUGE, bespoke terracotta pots were made and filled with feature trees:
Tom Hoblyn’s Homebase garden featured beautiful pots which were made to symbolise the rockpools of Cornwall and filled with native seaweed. Remember pots can be used as water features and filled with aquatics:
In the Monaco garden, again pots were made bespoke, this time to match the knobbly trunk of the exotic trees planted in the garden:
Pavilions have become a feature of so many show gardens in recent years and these outdoor rooms are becoming more common-place as we want to use our outdoor space more and more. We loved Tom Hoblyn’s pergola with the “floating” glass above it making it rain-proof as well as a stunning finish to the structure.
If glamour is your thing, then you couldn’t go wrong with the Monaco garden. The bold statement of the boardwalk cutting right down the middle and pouring water into the ultra-glam swimming pool at the end was just stunning. The rooftop planting of lavender was beautiful and we loved the steps going up the side of the living wall. All the glamour and glitz of Monaco summed up in one small corner of London.
We are always keen to see what new ideas are abound to encourage wildlife into our garden spaces. Wildlife towers have been a feature for a few years now but the Royal Canadian Bank’s garden this year took it to another level. Their fabulous wildlife walls even feature old books. And who knew an old shipping container could look so at home in a garden?!
Trees are always important at Chelsea and every year there is a tussle for the tallest/shiniest/latest trees to include. Our faves this year include Luciano’s Parriotia Persica trees and the ultra shiny Prunus Serrulas on the Winds of Change garden. But how did they get them so shiny??
Plants are what Chelsea is all about. Whether you are ooh-ing over the combinations in the show gardens or taking in the stunning displays in the Great Pavillion there is something for everyone. A plant which kept cropping up in lots of the gardens this year (and will keep cropping up in your own garden as it self-seeds furiously!) is Alchemilla mollis. It has beautiful leaves which look especially lovely with droplets of water sitting on them and pretty frothy lime flowers.
And we loved spotting our all time favourite plant nestled into one of the gardens. It is of course the Primula vialii:
Or for a feeling of utter calm, we loved the Trailfinder’s garden – a good book and a glass of Pimms and you could sit under that sail for hours quite happily.
Sculptures can add a real wow factor to the garden and give much needed height, structure and interest. They are there all the year round and clever lighting can make them a real feature at night too. We loved the columns which Cleve used in his garden for the Daily Telegraph. Reminiscent of the Roman ruined columns in Libya, these sculptures were made by artisans in the South of France who used an axe to create the effect on them! Not one to try at home kids!
Water features are another key feature in gardens and one that most Chelsea designers incorporated one way or another. Water provides sound, movement, a different surface and is a great way of encouraging wildlife into the garden. There were so many water features that we loved we simply can’t mention them all. There were countless simple, round pools (25 in Diarmuid Gavin’s garden alone!) but we especially loved Cleve’s spouts pouring water out of the wall.
Timber sleeper beds were a strong feature in Robert Myer’s Cancer Research garden this year. It’s a simple but effective way of creating raised beds, making them so much easier to look after. They also provide extra seating and can create a better growing environment if your soil is not suitable. And of course, they look lovely!
Seating is always an important consideration. Too often we spend time and money making our gardens look lovely, only to let them down by bringing our horrible old plastic furniture out. With the fabulous array of garden furniture available in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials there is something to suit everyone’s taste and budget. One of our favourite pieces of furniture was the driftwood bench in the Cancer Research garden.
Adding colour to your garden is important and this is often done through planting. In Anne-Marie Powell’s garden for the British Heart Foundation, she used hard landscaping to add colour to the garden. And colour she certainly did add! The bright red, powder-coated metal arches and the red “stepping-stones” gave a wow-factor to the garden and also provided a close link to the charity. The arches reminded us of veins and the stepping-stones like blood clots and certainly got the charity’s message across in a bold manner.
Having a wow entrance to your garden certainly sets the scene and none could be more impressive than the Tourism Malaysia garden. What a welcome into the garden with the floating entrance frames and the planting surrounding the entrance certainly evoked Malaysia with the tropical water lilies and trailing jungle vines.
Creating impact in your garden is important. It can be with some clever planting schemes, interesting features or lovely hard-landscaping. Few of us would consider having a full-size working water-wheel in our garden! That was the main feature of the Leeds HESCO garden. After the success of their lock last year, the industrial water theme was carried on again this year, winning another gold medal. Word is that next year they are considering a windmill in their garden…
Sustainability has been a buzz word for several years now and this year was no different. One garden in particular which gave a lot of thought to the subject was the B&Q garden. Everything in the garden had some use with every plant in the garden being edible and the main feature was the tallest structure ever to be seen at Chelsea – a tower block designed to encourage people to use every space possible, no matter how small it is.
For sheer, mad ingenuity, we doff our hat to come-back king Diarmuid Gavin and his Irish Sky Garden. The bad boy of gardening had never achieved an elusive Chelsea gold medal before but who could deny him that with this year’s effort? If a mass of pools and box balls was not enough, Diarmuid created a floating garden which is craned high above the show ground. Bonkers? Yes. Worthy of a gold? Definitely!
We want them! Yes, a garden packed full of huge, lovely box balls as far as the eye can see. Definite ball envy Diarmuid!
If chilling-out in your garden is your thing then the Japanese garden is for you. It certainly lived up to its name “A Beautiful Paradise” with its gorgeous planting, trickling water and sympathetic hard landscaping. And relax…
Another theme prevalent over recent times is recycling and this was well represented in the Winds of Change garden. Recycled objects included old gym boards, a Victorian safe and a prison door! The main feature though were the air-conditioning units which were used as wind turbines. Worthy of the best Urban Garden.
If you are bored with the traditional use of materials in the garden then have a look at the Bradstone garden for unusual ways to create interest. Instead of laying slabs in the traditional manner, they were held together by vertical pins to create a wall.
Living walls have become very trendy in recent years and even high street stores have used them in their shopfits. They continued to be well represented in Chelsea again this year. Our favourites were those in the Monaco garden and the Magistrates Association garden. If you want to achieve this affect then you will need vertical wall pockets and an irrigation system. Living walls can be created both indoors and out.
OK, so you’ve seen the beautiful but what about the weird?? Well it wouldn’t be Chelsea if there weren’t one or two things that raised an eye brow! Normally we love it when designers push boundaries and come up with something a little bit different. But we just couldn’t love the blue (yes, blue!) artificial grass in the Chilstone Garden.
Or, even stranger, a watering can that was on sale at Chelsea which you wee into (yes, you heard us!) and then water down and use to fertilise your garden. Hmm, think we might give that a miss!
And on that note we wish you a cheery Chelsea goodbye!
All at Vialii