Rewilding – the Chelsea Flower Show 2019

Chelsea is as much a fantastic event for people-watching as it is a place to soak up horticultural inspiration and there was a noticeably incongruous juxtaposition yesterday between some of the gardens and the punters. Glossy, shiny, fashionably dressed visitors* vs lots and lots of wildflowers, liberal use of the naturalistic planting style and rusty steel. There were several areas that looked just like the bottom of our garden or a slice of any hedgerow or riverbank in the countryside. Nature knows best. Cow parsley, ragged robin, grasses, foxgloves, birch and beech and other hedgerow shrubs and trees. Lush, relaxed and ‘wild’ and it was a joy to see. One wildflower that really caught my eye was Adonis annua (Pheasant’s eye) which has scarlet flowers atop bright-green divided leaves. It was used to stunning effect on the Dubai Majlis garden (which was one of my favourites of the show). The most popular cultivated flowers were irises, foxgloves, roses and geums. Shrubs or trees that cropped up a few times were Pinus mugo, Cornus and Pittosporum tobira. One unusual tree that was getting a lot of attention was Aesculus pavia, a small form of horse chestnut native the the US with lovely flowers that were covered in bees.

While it was mostly magnificent, as usual, there was nothing particularly startling or thrillingly unusual at the show. There were some gorgeous gardens with beautiful colour palettes, lovely planting combinations and clever landscaping – and there’s no denying the incredible skill of making these gardens in 19 days – but there was nothing that struck me as totally out-of-the-blue new. It could be that Chelsea has become too corporate and is not the place to find exciting new and challenging design any more. I’m sure commentators have been saying this for several years but I properly noticed it this year. Maybe the RHS has sacrificed the cash cow of Chelsea to the movers and shakers of the business world and it’s the smaller, newer shows at Malvern or Chatsworth where you’ll find new ideas…

Anyway, we still had a lovely afternoon out (day tickets are over £100 each, so we went for the 3.30–8pm tickets which was long enough) – we had a lot of fun and it was a treat to be looking at skilfully put together gardens. I took my camera with the wrong lens (annoying) so all my photos are quite cropped but here’s what caught my eye:



You can clearly see the red flowers of Adonis annua against the sandy-coloured wall.




*Overheard at Chelsea –
An immaculate man: “I took the kids down to the Cotswolds last Bank Holiday.”
His equally well-dressed friend after a long pause: “What do you do there?”
Two women friends discussing slugs and snails: “I find that eggshells baked in the Aga then crushed works quite nicely.”
I wasn’t eavesdropping, honestly 🙂

Reflections on the Chelsea Flower Show


The World Vision garden, designed by John Warland and Howard Miller.


There is always something at the Chelsea Flower Show to make your heart beat a little quicker, to make you stop and beam with pleasure. It’s incredible to think that the show gardens are so transitory: they are built and planted over three weeks, admired by millions of people over one week and then deconstructed. They disappear and it’s as if they were never there. The effort (and money) involved in their creation is whopping but the results are often quite breath-taking and inspiring.

We were extremely lucky with the weather yesterday and I took a LOT of photos. I won’t bore you with all 250-ish of them(!) but here’s a small selection of a few of the floriferous sights from the gardens that quickened my pulse.

The beautiful, romantic planting of the M&G garden, ‘The Retreat’, designed by Jo Thompson. That purple spiky flower is Lysimachia atropupurea ‘Beaujolais’. 
Domes of clipped yew, crisp hard landscaping and frothy planting with grasses and perennials – green with pops of colour – in the Cloudy Bay garden, designed by brothers David and Harry Rich.
The sharp shapes, crisp edges and sumptuous planting (foxgloves, geraniums, irises, euphorbias, aquilegias, geums) of the Homebase garden, ‘Urban Retreat’, designed by Adam Frost. This also had a garden room with rooftop garden, complete with a beehive, and a secret, shady area with a lush planting of hostas and ferns.
A close-up from the Telegraph garden, designed by Marcus Barnett and inspired by the Dutch De Stijl movement. I loved the Carpinus betulus trimmed into cubes and the rich planting next to the water.
A striking, multi-stemmed Osmanthus x burkwoodii under-planted with Irish moss. Apparently it started flowering yesterday morning when the sun came out. This was on the Telegraph garden designed by Marcus Barnett.
Also on the Telegraph garden, a striking, multi-stemmed Osmanthus x burkwoodii underplanted with Irish moss. Apparently it started flowering yesterday morning when the sun came out. 
One of the most genius and beautiful water features I’ve seen – a self-filling pond. The water rises very slowly and then suddenly, as though a plug has been yanked from the middle, it wooshes and swirls away in under 10 seconds. Very clever. It was on the Husqvarna and Gardena garden, ‘The Time in Between’, designed by Charlie Albone.
I spied this planting on a trade stand (for greenhouses) and had to photograph the gorgeous colour combination of the lupins, irises, purple-podded peas, aquilegia and Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpurea’.
Another glorious planting combination, this time on the Royal Bank of Canada garden designed by Matthew Wilson. It features drought-tolerant and sun-loving plants, super-curvy benches and a water feature that stores water (below).


More purple planting (are you sensing a theme here?!) on Chris Beardshaw’s ‘Healthy Cities’ garden for Morgan Stanley. This garden will be relocated to east London after the show where it will be part of a community project.



Moss balls. I waited for quite a while to get this photo without the shadow of a man’s head!


My favourite smaller garden, designed by Fernando Gonzalez. I love the way the planting stands out against the flowing white stone (Jesmonite). According to the leaflet it was inspired by the Chinese landscape of mountains and river valleys.


In other news… My daughter is home from her school French trip (hooray!). Oh, I have missed her constant chatter and sunny disposition. Eldest son is due back at school from Spain just before midnight. It will be lovely to have a full house again. I’m off to make their beds and bake homecoming cake. Here’s wishing you a corker of a bank holiday weekend.