As with catwalk fashion, garden design is taken to the extreme at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (remember Diarmuid Gavin’s twirling trees last year?), writes Adrienne Wyper. And, of necessity, fashions change more slowly in horticulture than clothes. But although the show gardens are created for maximum impact, there are nevertheless trends to take away.
Big, bold areas of colour can be achieved by painting walls, fences, furniture, as seen in Beneath A Mexican Sky (which also features cacti, succulents and a terrarium) in sunny shades. Or with dense planting of large swathes of brightly coloured flowers, a device seen at its simplest in the Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden, designed by Sarah Raven.
Every year, there are a couple of plants that are seen growing in many of the show gardens. This year, it was the lupin and the peony, together in the Breast Cancer Now Garden: Through the Microscope and 500 Years of Covent Garden. Lupins are versatile, coming in all colours and mixing equally well in a cottage garden or as an architectural statement plant. Bi-coloured varieties are particularly striking. Peonies come in a slightly smaller colour range of whites, pinks and reds.
There are several aspects to this trend: encouraging wildlife, water conservation and using sustainable materials, or upcycling. Drought-tolerant planting has a very local benefit: it needs less watering so fewer trips with the watering can (and possibly a lower water bill). The Viking Cruises Garden of Inspiration is inspired by the artist Antoni Gaudi and the art of Barcelona, and features plants suited to drier conditions such as lavender and cacti. The RHS’s own Greening Grey Britain Garden, designed for a communal space, embraces many environmentally-friendly points, that are easy to copy, such as making an insect hotel, planting pollinator-friendly plants, making compost and conserving water.
If you’ve got a small plot, going upwards is a really effective way to gain more space and squeeze in more plants. You can do this by choosing climbers, attaching pots to balconies, fences, walls or even drainpipes, or by going for a wall of plants. City Living (top picture), in the Fresh Gardens section and the RHS Greening Grey Britain Gardens are designed to showcase the importance of greening our cities to promote biodiversity and to create nature corridors.
Not going to Chelsea? (The show is sold out now, except for RHS members’ tickets, and there’s only a few of those left.) Watch every day this week on BBC2, or, if you’re in the SW3 area, enjoy Belgravia in Bloom where shops and businesses go all out for a floral frontage with the theme of an iconic children’s book (download a map HERE) and the Chelsea Fringe an alternative garden festival with events until June 4.
Words and photos by Adrienne Wyper, who writes about gardening and other good things HERE.