Chelsea Flower Show Landscape and Plant Trends 2019
Reconnecting with Nature
June 20, 2019
What is Chelsea and why does it matter to North American gardens? The Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place every mid to late May in London, England, and which has been going on strong since 1912, is the most prestigious and anticipated event in the world of flowers and gardens.
Both an exhibition and a competition of the best-of-the-best for all things garden, Chelsea has something for everyone.
Inspirational show gardens by world-class designers and installers, a Grand Pavilion full of perfect specimens from the most exacting growers and nurseries, as well as the finest products that you could use or enjoy in your garden are all together in one glamorous space. Garden enthusiasts of all types and skill levels come together in their love of plants, flowers and outdoor spaces to explore together the new, as well as the tried and true, in the world of gardening. No wonder it’s the most coveted ticket in town every May!
Hosted on the Royal Chelsea Hospital grounds, Chelsea is as quintessentially British as sipping afternoon tea or the Royals and is a real source of pride and identity for Britons and Londoners. An important cultural event, it has a wide reach for its audience, with celebrities, Royals and regular folk dressed to the nines in floral finery, mingling and marvelling at the spectacular work of Nature and all the talented and hardworking individuals who put together this jaw-dropping show. The wonderful picnic areas around the site, complete with music, food and drink, are the perfect place to stop and take a break from the floral extravaganza and people-watch, with Pimm’s cocktail in hand.
The importance of gardens in general and the Chelsea Flower Show in particular, in British culture, is reflected by the “overwhelming pride and passion that Londoners feel for this annual rite. All over town, shops and homes overflow with flowers, and everyone from schoolchildren to tourists enthusiastically gets in the act.” elledecor.com
With Chelsea Flower Show fever in the air, neighborhoods, storefronts and public spaces dress up in spectacular floral displays, with flowers dripping from buildings, restaurants offering flower-themed teas and dishes, and lobbies and kitchen tables everywhere scented with fresh bouquets.
Although quintessentially British in its history and flavour, Chelsea, like England and London, is truly an international affair. Drawing more than 150,000 visitors each year from the four corners of the globe, and with the show gardens and exhibits created by some of the world’s top designers, gardeners and installers, the push and pull between different styles and viewpoints is in clear evidence in the designs, ideas, and techniques. That tension, between local and foreign, traditional and modern, wild and controlled, is what keeps the show fresh, exciting and dynamic still, after 107 years.
Although Chelsea takes place across the pond, it is still an important industry event that should also have a regular place on our horticultural and design calendars for several reasons. As described earlier, it is truly a garden event with international significance. Ideas explored and discussed have global impact on the industry and everyone’s lives, and so we need to be part of that conversation as well, in addition to having our own local debates and explorations with local impact. Because it brings out the best in the creatives of the time, it has been a place where new ideas are born, later shaping the greater landscape on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Over the decades the show has had a huge influence on tastes in garden design. The rock gardens of nurserymen designers such as George Whitelegg dominated Chelsea either side of the second world war, and became a staple of domestic gardens, too. Through Chelsea, the concept of the “garden as an outdoor room” was popularised during the 1960s and 1970s, and from the late 1990s the new wave of naturalistic perennial planting brought to the masses.” ft.com
Main Trends, Themes and Ideas at Chelsea
The official theme for Chelsea 2019 was reconnecting with nature, giving industry recognition to the importance of this idea. There were many different interpretations, but a few common threads could be seen weaving through the gardens and exhibits:
- Green palette/woodlands
- Sustainability (reuse/recycle/water/soil)
- Pollinators & the un-garden
- Grow your own (and reduce food miles)
- Wellness and the outdoors
Green, Green, and more Green…
Jayne Lloyd theenglishgarden.co.uk
A wide array of greens, with a few whites and pale yellows, was the color palette seen repeated over and again. In his garden for RHS Bridgewater, Tom Stuart-Smith uses a palette of greens, while Kate Gould uses greens, and specifically stately tree ferns, to create calming spaces in the Greenfingers Charity Garden.
This year’s winner of the Best Show Garden, Chelsea’s biggest prize, is Andy Sturgeon’s M&G garden, and its plant material is almost exclusively green. Not without controversy, as it moves far away from traditional gardens, it is a study in green with large burnt oak sculptures meant to look like black lava rock formations as new land is forming, thrusting up through the garden along parallel axes, with ironstone paths winding through and up, looking like the ground. Dramatic, cool and welcoming all at the same time, it is a space where the plants co-exist in a planting scheme reminiscent of what Nature herself might have designed and asks us to acknowledge and respect the regenerative power of plants and Nature.
“The garden is inspired by Sturgeon’s ‘deep-rooted’ childhood memories of woodland environments, which he has explained to The Telegraph are ‘fundamentally, why I became a gardener.’” telegraph.co.uk
The message this garden makes is one that was echoed in several gardens at Chelsea this year, and is one that bears repeating:
“Many of the environmental crises that we are unleashing on the planet, particularly the current climate emergency, are in some way repairable by nature. As long we provide the space and the political willingness to curb some of our activities, nature has the tools to fix this place.” theguardian.com
The green theme continued along much of the main strip, notably in Sarah Eberle’s Resilience Garden, the Savills and David Harber Garden, by Andrew Duff and the Back to Nature Garden by Davies White and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, going hand in hand with the other main trend observed - the woodland garden. For many in England, like here in Canada, the theme of reconnecting with Nature involves a woodland, as evidenced by its strong presence in this year’s gardens. Heavy incorporation of trees and native woodland plants all work together to create magical retreats that everyone longed to stay at longer… looks like “we’ll be seeing a lot more domestic woodland gardens in the future, including ‘mini forests’ in smaller urban gardens.” housebeautiful.com/uk
Sustainability Still Central
Raising awareness around sustainability issues in the garden and in our world at large are still thankfully central themes at Chelsea. Examining the idea of how to minimize the environmental impact of a Chelsea plot, Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley garden, tried to make each choice with that in mind, to prove it can be done. In addition to recycling the garden post-Chelsea, as many are, by re-using all elements (built and plant materials) elsewhere in public and/or private gardens, this garden took the idea one step further. By being selective and aware of the environmental footprint and how it can be minimized, with each thoughtful choice, a garden with the same aesthetic effect is created that is much kinder to the environment that it seeks to enhance. Some examples of the strategies used to achieve this include laminations of slate, an all-electric Volvo excavator, recyclable pots, to name a few...
Incorporating reclaimed materials was another aspect of sustainability that was put forth. Proving that reclaimed and reused materials can create as welcoming an outdoor space as any spanking new install materials, Walker's Forgotten Quarry garden designed by Graham Bodle “shows how the most unlikely materials - even chunky industrial equipment - can provide the inspiration for a whole planting scheme. Selected elements of this show garden could be used to great effect in a country setting, especially when softened by planting. Crushed building rubble can be compacted to make an inexpensive path, interspersed with sections of old metal panelling, for instance.” countryliving.com/uk
Being conscious of water use in gardens and the importance of soil health is finally becoming much more mainstream. We see that with Jilayne Rickards’ garden for the Campaign for Female Education. “Although lots of the plants on display wouldn’t normally grow in the UK, a water-wise raised bed system could work for growing food anywhere. It’s made from reclaimed brick with a rubble-filled reservoir at its base fed by rainwater or grey water (from household chores such as washing), while crop rotation helps keep the soil fertile.”countryliving.com/uk
The Manchester Garden examines these types of solutions for larger spaces, like communities and municipalities by exploring “the potential of planting for managing water through sustainable drainage systems; trees chosen specifically for their resilience to future climate change; using plants to clean and improve urban soil; and demonstrating the environmental, social and economic benefits of parks.” rhs.org
Wilder Gardens with more Pollinators
Let it grow and they will come. That seems to have been the mantra in a lot of this year’s Chelsea gardens, or maybe more accurately – un-gardens. Hedges left soft and unclipped, large trees, a wild medley of plants with many natives, cow parsley seemingly everywhere… Wild, free, relaxed, welcoming, living sanctuary describe the feelings evoked and expressed by visitors.
Heard and Seen at Chelsea:
“The bees are going absolutely mad over this angelica.” (visitor 1 at the Roots in Finland, Kyrö Garden by Taina Suonio) – “That’s what it’s about, isn’t it” (visitor 1’s companion)
At the Kampo no Niwa, by Kazuto Kashiwakura and Miki Sato, a garden that celebrates the route to health and happiness through plants: “It is so woodland. It’s lovely.” “Look at the bees! What plant is that?” “It’s in everyone’s garden” “it’s angelica” “Look at the cow parsley!”
“Look at the birch, so beautiful…” “And the aquilegia is beautiful too.” “Yes, but the bees cannot get in with double-flowered flowers. We have a ton of yellow daffodils in front, but they are the ornamental double-flowered variety, so the bees cannot get in. We will be planting simple flowers this fall…”
“Look at that color.” “Education changes everything” – Isn’t that the truth?!
Winner of both a Gold Medal and the People’s Choice Award at Chelsea, indicating clear support of the public’s attraction to this type of garden and lifestyle, “Mark Gregory's wonderful evocation of a lock keeper's lodge in Yorkshire shows how rich a perennial spring meadow can look in a garden setting. Dotted with lovely blue camassias, cornflowers and wild lupins, pink Ragged Robin and the tall white umbels of wild carrot and cow parsley amongst grasses and clover, it embodies all the freshness and romance of this optimistic time of year. This is something that can be created on a relatively modest scale, as Mark has shown, and it will need cutting back only two or three times a year.” countryliving.com/uk
Cutting Down Food Miles
The trend of growing your own, with its strong link to wellness as well as a smaller carbon footprint, shows no sign of slowing down. The partnership between Tom Dixon and IKEA to create the Gardening Will Save The World exhibit, while not to everyone’s taste, certainly forces us to think about the future of food, our living spaces, and other subjects that are elemental aspects of our daily lives. This is how conversations start…
This garden explores “the contrast of the super-natural and technological to provide a sustainable, affordable solution for people to grow food and medicinal plants at home and beyond. The garden’s base includes a horticultural laboratory where hydroponic technology is implemented to grow hyper-natural edibles, while the upper level features a botanic oasis.” designboom.com
Positive Impact of the Outdoors on Health, And Individual and Societal Well-Being
Study after study has consistently shown the many ways that the outdoors has positive effects on both health, as well as individual and societal well-being. Chelsea participants have noted this and are incorporating these insights, now supported by data, into their creations, and practices, with particular attention to the most vulnerable groups, who need this the most, such as children, the elderly, the sick, as well as other struggling groups.
We saw this focus at the Montessori Garden, the Back to Nature Garden, the Greenfingers Charity Garden and the Family Monsters Garden. The idea behind The Family Monsters Garden, designed by Alistair Bayford “is to provide an intimate, secluded area, where families can spend time together talking about everyday pressures and setting free some of those ‘Family Monsters’ so many people live with. The garden was created with Family Action, a charity that has been supporting families across the UK for 150 years. The Family Monsters garden is surrounded by beautiful tall trees and shrubs to provide privacy, but still let through light. At its centre is an oak bench overlooking a relaxing, reflective, pool. Whilst the beautiful planting and landscaping may be difficult to achieve at home, the concept of a quiet secluded area for the family to sit and talk felt like one that could be interpreted and introduced into many family gardens.” minitravellers.co.uk
The Plants and Products Driving Trends
“Trends this year include the rise of urban farming and the return of irises (you heard it here first), while gardening products to covet include small and stylish Husk Swan watering cans, and outdoor wood-fired ovens.” culturewhisper.com
Working with native plants was the main plant trend, as were ferns, trees and other woodland plants. Meadows were still popular, as were the meadow plants like grasses, flax, cow parsley, ragged robin, and geum. Simple flowers, useful to pollinators, were the majority.
Copper, a beautiful but expensive material, was seen in several gardens but could be incorporated in smaller ways, such as birdbaths and other decorative features. In addition, reclaimed materials, steel, local stone and timber, cut logs for walls, and materials that use technology to reduce their environmental footprint, such as laminated stone, were the materials that lent structure to many show gardens.
Plant of the year went to Sedum takesimense ATLANTIS 'Nonsitnal', and second place went to Digitalis x valinii 'Firebird, and third to Agapanthus Fireworks ('Mdb001'), while the product of the year went to HOTBIN Mini Composter.
What was your favourite garden? Favourite plant? Which trends are you most happy to see?