• calendar 31 May, 2016

Chelsea Flower Show Highlights 2016

The London sun came out shining for the 103rd Chelsea Flower Show. And what a wonder it was! We entered through the Bullring Gate giggling like schoolgirls under a floral tribute to celebrate the Queens 90th birthday. We never get tired of the excellence on show here; there were many new garden making ideas to get excited about and fabulous themes to take in. Full of inspiration and perspiration – the month long construction period yielded some simply breathtaking designs. And the great thing about this year was they were all so different.

From natural wildflower meadows to inner city executive style, a wee bit of celebrity spotting and a Royal walk with Duchess Kate in a peacock-green dress, Chelsea had us completely mesmerised. Every step was filled with overwhelming beauty, exceptional visions of nature, dramatic garden styles and flowers grown to perfection. It’s a week celebrating health, happiness and horticulture.

Here is what caught our eye on the day.

The Best in Show and Gold award this year went to British designer Andy Sturgeon for The Telegraph Garden. The garden was inspired by the wild glory of nature, combined with a Jurassic theme – expressed in part by a deconstructed bronze stegosaurus. Says Sturgeon: “The garden is an imagined place, but nowhere in particular. I see it as a gently gardened part of a much wider natural landscape. It is rocky, there’s water and you can climb on it and hide in it… It is born out of my childhood experiences, but it also reflects how I want things to be for my kids.”

Vying for top spot was Cleve West’s contemporary M&G Garden. Awarded a coveted Gold, it was evocative of the landscape of his teenage years in the South West of England at Exmoor. It balances large rough sawn rocks with billowing natural planting alongside stunted oaks, ivy and bilberry bushes.

We went behind the scenes into Charlie Albone’s Australian garden – a delightful Melbourne garden complete with blue stone and copper rills. More information about the garden can be found here. Surprisingly, “Support, a Garden in Melbourne” (sponsored by Gardena and Husqvarna) is one of the most English-looking gardens here this year, with its pleasing geometric layout of pleached horn beams and tiered box hedging designed as a refuge for a Melbourne couple. Not a barbecue or outdoor bar in sight.

Instead, expanses of flowing foxgloves and peonies illustrate what you can grow in Melbourne. The gardens wrapped around formal paths of blue stone granite setts. These in turn are framed with narrow, shallow linear copper rills, formed by wrapping 4mm copper sheet over timber – a classic and contemporary way to move water around.

A sweet medicinal herb garden enticed us further to explore ‘A Modern Apothecary’, designed by UK herb expert Jekka McVicar declared by Jamie Oliver to be ‘Queen of Herbs’. Jekka usually exhibits inside the big pavilion, but this year she’s moved outside to Chelsea’s show garden arena: a very different challenge.

Jekka’s traditional garden for St John’s Hospice brings her love of healthy herbs as powerful healing plants along the lines of Hippocrates “let food be thy medicine and medincine by thy food’. It’s filled with beautiful herbs – flowering chamomile for its relaxing properties, flax for its natural antibiotic properties and tasty sorrel, salad burnett, chicory, campion, clover and more. She has also incorporated step-over and espalier pears. Brilliant for insects, too. I think it’s a very achievable design for a backyard, don’t you? I’d love it at my place!

A garden we felt connected with was Nick Bailey’s The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden. Seriously breathtaking. This garden is inspired by the beauty in the mathematical algorithms which underpin all plants, growth and life and copper – an essential micro-nutrient for plant growth – is the linking theme in this garden – reflected in copper coloured flowers or bearded iris. I. “Kent Pride”, Calendula officinalis “Sherbet Fizz”, Geum “Mai Tai”, Reseda ordorata and Helichrysum bracteatum ‘Scarlet’.

At first one might imagine demonstrating the beauty of mathematics through the medium of a garden to be a pretty tough gig. Not at all it turns out. Every plant is driven by mathematical algorithms and many display these outwardly in the way their trunks, stems, leaves and flower petals are arranged. Nick based his design on the symbol for infinity (∞), using a band of copper, cut through with complex plant algorithms, as the sculptural form sweeping a figure of eight through the space.

Plants from all around the world graced this garden. Behind the belvedere and the steps leading up to it there was a forest of eucalyptus, banksia and Ceratonia siliqua (carob).

We laughed with sheer delight, surprise and pleasure at Diarmuid Gavin’s fun and imaginative The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden. Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, it wove flowers into a theatrical expression of twirling topiary and a formal Italianate design with quirky touches, such as revolving (not revolting!) flowerbeds that ‘performed’ every 15 minutes!

Graham never misses the Grand Pavilion where he finds himself in seventh heaven,  whilst filming for Better Homes and Gardens TV, he caught up with David Austin roses, tulips and swathes of sweet peas, and his favourite tree and shrub nursery Hillier’s. (This footage will be seen over the next few weeks.)

We loved the brilliance of Japanese Maples in the Artisan Garden section, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara in the Senri-Sentei Garage Garden. The garden is inspired in part by the designer’s memory of coming to the United Kingdom 10 years ago and seeing lovingly maintained vintage cars and Britain’s small space design.

Linking the flower show with its nearest neighbour, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, was an overwhelmingly beautiful Australian installation piece.  The 5000 poppies project (originating in Melbourne) featured a red carpet of more than 300,000 hand crocheted poppies. This will be what Chelsea 2016 will be long remembered for.  A collaboration between Lynn Berry, Margaret Knight and supported by the Victorian Government, the field of Aussie-made poppies arrived safely thanks to Qantas. Visitors could see the display of the handmade blooms as they adorned the vista from the showground to the hospital. Australian designer Phillip Johnson, who won Gold and Best Show Garden in 2013, designed the installation and completed the project with the help of many volunteers.

Oh do you want to know who picked up the special People’s Choice Award? This colourful garden celebrating the Yorkshire countryside and inspired by the medieval Great East Window at York Minster which is nearing the end of a ten year restoration. Garden was designed by Matthew Wilson.

Quirky, endearing and just plain fabulous, the wonderful thing about Chelsea Flower Show is there’s something for everyone. Why not join us for a trip of a lifetime next year? Find our English Garden Tour Itinerary here.

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