Chelsea Flower Show ... the best bits

Posted on: 21 June 2013 by Maxine Farmer

Maxine Farmer finds lots for amateur gardeners at Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower ShowMay 2013 marked the 100th Chelsea Flower Show and while it had its usual critics, personally I thought that there was quite a lot for the amateur gardener to take away.  Yes, there were the usual deep herbaceous borders (only viable if you have a team of gardeners, endless free time and strong knees).   But there were also several strong themes running through many of the gardens and which can be easily applied in just about any garden.
There were some excellent demonstrations of how different levels and height can add interest in the garden and I don’t just by using trees. For instance, the Cloudy Bay garden used copper poles to great effect, as well as some mature apple trees to give excellent form to the plot. The Brewin Dolphin Garden created a layered effect through its sunken area, a mere 18 inches but it created a real impact, as well as a handy permanent seating.
Indeed, permanent seating was in evidence in many of the design gardens, using stone, concrete and treated metals. I’m a big fan of permanent seating, because it takes away the need to store garden furniture and is instantly accessible, albeit with a bit of a wash-down each spring.
I also applaud the generous use of sculpture throughout the gardens, for their year-round interest, so gardeners need to depend less on beguiling plants during every season. Nor do they need to be exorbitantly expensive: the NSPCC garden featured hand-painted pebbles, something which I’ve been meaning to try in my own plot for ages.
In the same vein, willow sculptures made a return, but in the ‘As Nature Intended’ garden as formal thick walls and big blocks (a bit like hay bales), which made a great visual statement and echoed the very naturalistic theme in many of the plots. It was also good to see so much use of natural slate  across the show gardens, the gentle grey-blue complimented so well by our English light.
Given the rotten start we’ve had to the growing season, many people are struggling to bring colour into their plots, so inspiration can be taken from some of the more artificial use of colour featured in many of the show gardens. The ‘After the Fire’ garden featured some vivid red flooring, which I’m not sure I could live with on a daily basis, but I like the idea of bright ground-cover. The ‘Sounds of Silence’ garden also featured colourful shingle, which is perhaps a little easier on the eye.
Of course, there were plenty of vibrant blooms around and I was pleased to see that in addition to the endless purples and blues that Chelsea designers seem to lean towards, there were several bold displays of citrus colours, particularly in the Herbert Smith garden. Oranges, reds and yellows are not always regarded as the most fashionable of flower colours by some of the professional gardening community, so it’s good to see a few designers breaking away from that snobbery and realising that those hot colours have a lot to offer our British summers.
The Seeability garden was a good reminder that the best gardens are not just visual, but are also about stimulating other senses, including sound and scent. Rooftop gardens have been topical for a few years now, but I liked the Bluewater garden’s take on the idea: not only were there drought-tolerant plants, but also areas created for insects, such as soft sand for bumble bees and stones on which butterflies can bask.
Looking after our natural wildlife was a focus in many gardens and I particularly admired the use of habitat panels. These are similar to the bug hotels you can now by in garden centres, but they are more of a design feature in their own right. Again, that’s an idea I’ll be copying for my own garden.
As usual, water features were everywhere, but my favourite was the billabong in the Trailfinders garden. I am inspired by the idea of having a natural water feature that is seasonal, so that it dries up when there is no rain, but flows freely when it is there and also – in the case of this one – made use of the water from a neighbouring roof. I can see elements of the billabong idea being adaptable to British gardens.
If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Homebase garden. It didn’t break any new boundaries in design, but it combined so many elements and is the kind of garden with which any of us could live: it had outdoor eating, seating, insect-friendly areas and above all, it mixed edible and ornamental plants together. This is something of which I’ve long been an advocate, so it was great to see blue irises and purple geranium phaem alongside French beans, rhubarb and currant bushes.
And if I had to pick a single favourite feature from any of the gardens, then it would have to be the treehouse in the NSPCC garden. I would have loved it when I was a child – in fact, I would love it now!

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