The world’s most prestigious gardening event the RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place this week. Running until Saturday it attracts visitors and celebrities from all over the world and sets the agenda for both planting and design trends. The Times’ Victoria Truman toured its impressive show gardens to find out what’s going to be hot in horticultural this summer
My task when I visited Chelsea Flower show earlier this week was to see what is trending in the world of garden design and then narrow it down and deliver it to you as something doable. Not an easy task when you consider that the average budget for the show gardens on Chelsea’s prestigious main avenue normally start at £250,000.
The star specimen this year was definitely the pine tree as it was used by lots of designers including Sam Ovens for the Cloudy Bay Garden to Hugo Bugg for his Royal Bank of Scotland one. It’s a simple way of adding modern, abstract and architectural detail to your external space.
Another prevailing theme at Chelsea this year was large rocks. They seem to be a ‘thing’ with many of the main show gardens dominated by displays of wild, naturalistic planting interspersed with enormous rocks.
Star designers were back in force this year with the multi-award winning Cleve West designing the M&G garden for the second time.
The inspiration for it was the moment Cleve fell in love with the timeless rugged landscape of south west England.
His design is a contemporary tribute to the rugged rocky landscape and beguiling beauty of Exmoor that made such an early impression on Cleve.
Andy Sturgeon was the designer of choice for The Telegraph Garden where Rob Brydon, the first celebrity to view it on Monday’s press day, said he ‘loved’ the design’s large metal structures which were inspired by the huge Stegosaurus at the Natural History Museum in London.
“What’s great about so many of these gardens is how bold they are,” said Mr Brydon.
“You know they are designed, but at the same time there’s a softness and a flow to them.”
The Artisan gardens, tucked away from the grand show ones on main avenue, always provide plenty of inspiring messages through their planting schemes. The Meningitis Now – Futures Garden, designed by John Everiss, depicts Asclepius, god of medicine, and his five daughters as dramatic sculptures hitting a wall of disease and scaling the next one to recovery.
The centre piece of it is a stunning stone temple by Tunbridge Wells-based Chilstone Architectural and Ornamental Stonework, which the company generously donated to the Meningitis trust.
The temple was hand crafted in Chilstone cast stone early in the New Year and then put through an antiquing process to give it an aged feel to match the Cotswold stone walls featured in the rest of the garden.
Like many of Chilstone’s commissioned buildings, it has been a collaborative process between designer and craftsmen in order to create a unique garden experience.
While the usual favourites – think irises, alliums, foxgloves, achillea and salvia – are still very much out in force at Chelsea, there are signs that the line-up is evolving.
Following the triumph of the geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ last year, a lot more designers are revisiting this particular floral variety but this time in a number of colourways.
Pastel colours are also trending but the discerning eye will notice a subtle emphasis on rich shades of green, too.
This is partly thanks to a surge of interest in ferns but designers are also experimenting with box substitutes, bringing clipped bay and yew into play.
One of the absolute stand out and maddest gardens I witnessed was Diarmuid Gavin’s garden for Harrods.
They asked him to design a British-themed garden and he interpreted the brief in his own distinctive way.
Displayed in the sought after Triangle spot of the main avenue, it includes box balls bobbing up and down to the tune of In an English Country Garden, conical bay trees being twirled and trimmed by topiary-shearing machines, and garden furniture rising up through a trapdoor. There’s also a herb bed that spins around on a carousel and a rustic potting shed that’s crammed with lots of quirky gadgets.
“The design refers to a lot of the great things I appreciate about British culture: quirkiness, invention, humour.” says Gavin.
“This is stepping out. It’s relaxing. I’m not trying to prove anything with it. I’m trying to delight myself.”
My own personal favourite wasn’t one of the big show gardens but an Artisan one by designer Kazuyuki Ishihara and aptly named the Garage Garden. Visitors to Chelsea have come to love his utterly beautiful designs and it does not disappoint with its graceful, Japanese inspired planting.
My wonderful day out ended with a fortuitous meeting with the very lovely Jenny Agutter of The Railway Children fame. We ate lunch together on a picnic bench and chatted to a couple of ladies who had won a competition to attend Press Day at Chelsea.
They said they felt the angels had been smiling on them to have won such a great prize and I have to admit that seeing such a multitude of fabulous gardens which were enhanced by some amazing weather, I too felt the angels were also smiling down on me.