Chelsea Flower Show – First Thoughts

I arrived at Chelsea Flower Show at 7am this morning. It wasn’t raining but the clouds were gathering and threatening to puff up my newly dried hair. It was grey and the cold had kept most people away – perfect conditions for taking photos.

I had diligently made a list of all the gardens I wanted to photograph and ‘inspect’ so that I didn’t leave anything out. The first garden I tried to photograph I was shooed away by a security steward because the BBC were filming their evening coverage of the show and apparently I was ‘in shot’. So I shuffled away apologetically to my next garden.

The Beauty of Islam (above) is the debut Chelsea garden by Kamelia Bin Zaal. This garden’s elegant simplicity would look fantastic in any home garden. Using just greens and whites Zaal creates an easy harmony with Jasmines, Rosemary and Papyrus. Visitors can really get some great take-home planting ideas from this one. Minus the crazy-big arches, of course.


Above: Australian designer Charles Albone created this garden called The In-Between Garden. It packs in a lot of lush plantings and includes all this year’s ‘on trend’ plants (more on that in a separate post). It includes a quiet reflection area (a place to update his late father on the latest happenings in his life, says Albone) with a prominent bronze sculpture by Luke Storrier. This is one of those show gardens that you wish was in your back yard. All of it.


Above: The M&G Retreat garden by Jo Thompson includes a number of different trees, including Betula nigra, Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’ and Robinia. They surround a beautifully crafted two storey oak-framed building – the retreat I can only assume. I can’t bring myself to say the word ‘palette’ but the flowers are a gentle mix of pink, blue, white/cream, punctuated with the odd deep wine colour and occasional splashes of pinkish-orange. Again the planting is lovely with Foxgloves sitting next to Lysimachia, next to Roses, next to Cat Mint. Basically, I want to sit inside the retreat and write this post. Can I?


Above: The Hidden Beauty of Kranji garden by John Tan & Raymond Toh stands out under our grey skies. Kranji, if you’re wondering, is a suburb of Singapore, hence why the plants pop at you in their vivid orchidness. And while it’s lovely, it’s more of a wish-fulfilment garden for most because those plants would definitely take some over-Winter care.


Above: The Brewin Dolphin garden by Darren Hawkes is one of many gardens that combines large swathes of planting with raised platforms over water. I particularly like the ‘sunken garden’ look here that enables you to plant quite tall plants, like Foxgloves, right next to a walkway and have them just ‘peep’ over the edge.


If I were to say De Stijl to you what would come to mind? Not much? But if I were to say Mondrian? Better. The Telegraph garden by Marcus Barnett is inspired by the De Stijl movement but really it’s a Mondrian in garden form. Large boxes of colour are designed to be seen from the side and above (say, in a multi-storey apartment situation) and successfully isolate coloured blocks of planting to great effect. It feels very modern but the planting softens it. So much so that this garden would fit in virtually anywhere.

But, the star of the show gardens (and there’s always one) is this…


…it’s The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden by Dan Pearson. The reason it’s the star is because it’s just different. I don’t want it in my back yard. Some parts are messy, others are beautiful. The choice of plants sets it apart too. The garden includes Mahonia soft caress, Lunaria Rediviva and Briza media. Yes the garden has a walkway over water but there is a wildness to the thin stream that runs through it (aping the trout stream at Chatsworth) and the ragged, hanging rocks make you believe it could exist in Derbyshire.

I like Dan’s perspective too. Apparently, he would only come back to Chelsea to work on a garden that would ultimately be relocated and ‘really’ used, which it will. The whole project stands apart on every level. It’s challenging and that’s exciting. Best in Show? We’ll find out soon. Yes! Best in Show.

5 Comments on “Chelsea Flower Show – First Thoughts

  1. You are so lucky to be at Chelsea ! I will be watching from here in Portland . I saw the preview yesterday , the gardens look good this year ! I will miss Cleve though .

  2. For me it was the winner – all that stone as a backdrop for naturalistic planting