City Living

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.

Beneath a Mexican Sky inspired by Luis Barragan

Colour blocking

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.

Anneka Rice and Sarah Raven in the garden

Favourite flowers

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.

Lupins and peonies in the Breast Cancer Now Garden


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.

Inspired by Antoni Gaudi..

Vertical vision

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.

RHS Greening Grey Britain Gardens

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.

10 thoughts on “Be inspired by Chelsea Flower Show…

  1. I’m so excited to be going for the very first time this Friday! I’ve lived in London for over 20 years so this is a super special treat.
    Water conservation is a major concern globally – I think here in Britain we take it for granted that we have an abundance of water at our fingertips, when this is actually not the case. I’m sure CFS will have a lot to offer on this topic & I’m also keen to see a living roof up close, something I’d very much like to do on my own house someday.

    1. I have done the opposite – I left the UK for Australia 20 years ago so I’ve never been either. When I left I would have considered visiting a flower show something only an old person would do – now a trip back to UK is not complete without a visit to an RHS garden! Unfortunately I have never managed to time trips home to coincide with Chelsea but really ought to.

  2. I promise myself every year that I will go to the Chelsea Flower show and never have done yet! Try as I may with my own garden I can never achieve what is in my mind and translate it into the mud!!!! I think it takes far more elbow grease than I can provide. I would love the Anneka Rice/Sarah Raven garden – images of Miss Marple in her country cottage. I can just see myself in a floppy straw hat wielding secateurs and carrying a trug.

  3. Oh so excited to see the Chelsea Flower show. I was supposed to be there but physical stuff kept me away. ( broken wrist) But I will be there in September. Thrilled you will be seeing my best blogging buddy today. Isn’t it wonderful how our lives are expanded by blogging. Meeting people we would never ever get a chance to connect with. Enjoy!

  4. Hi Retrochicmama, here’s a guide to making a living roof: I’ve actually done this myself as a ‘lid’ for the bins: made a wooden frame, lined the base with pond liner, then filled with a shallow layer of soil and planted with alpines and succulents. Looked quite good! (Sadly no longer there as bins stored elsewhere.) There’s a lovely living roof on top of the bins in the RHS’s Greening the Grey garden. Enjoy your visit!

  5. And don t forget the RHS Chatsworth, derbyshire , flower show , new this year 7-11 June . Still tickets available

  6. I went to Chelsea yesterday and had a great time. Its a very happy place (we all need that, especially at the moment) and I love all the planting ideas and designs and general good taste vs wackiness. Who was it said that the world would be a better place if we all did some gardening.

    My only gripe is, I don’t know what shoes to wear. I walked miles! Alyson PLEASE! PLEASE! Could you find some ideas of summer sandals which are comfortable for traipsing the hot streets of London with a Summer dress. I don’t want to look like I’m hiking up a mountain or a 6 year old but I can’t find a good combination of comfort and style. My feet and I would be so happy.

  7. Ideas for comfortable sandals which stay on which one can walk in : try Ecco and Shoon. My favourite brand is a French one Arche, pricey now with poor euro pound exchange rate but attractive styles, coloured suede or leather, padded rubber soles. Whenever I have been in Bordeaux, Paris or Nice I have made a beeline for their boutiques. I’ve never bought on line though there are websites selling them. Personally I don’t buy shoes without trying them on. All my back catalogue of Arche shoes have been long lasting and bliss to wear.
    That said after the whole week of warm weather the sudden transition out of shoes and socks to barefoot and sandals have produced for the first time a tender ball of foot. All web advice on this problem suggests it is common for long distance runners. Friction on toe joints. Not something one expects from urban perambulation on warm days.

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