My Top 6 Highlights of Chelsea Flower Show 2016

News & Musings

As I look back on my visit to Chelsea Flower Show this May it is the explosion of colour on many levels that stays with me and even surpasses previous years. Whether it is the stunningly moving scene of the sea of 5,000 red crocheted poppies cascading over the steps of the Chelsea grounds representing the fallen of World War I – or the multi-coloured riotous planting in Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’ –  or the magnificent 3D portrait of Her Majesty created by florist Ming Veevers Carter, using more than 4,000 blooms in bands of distinctive colours to create a rainbow effect… Chelsea was a feast on the eyes! My top 6 highlights:

1. Matthew Wilson’s show garden – God’s Own County – A Garden for Yorkshire

Perfection on so many levels I loved this garden for the quality of both the soft and hard landscaping.  Wilson’s unique inspiration for his garden is the medieval Great East Window at York Minster.  The planting design beautifully echoes the colours in the stained glass, to achieve this Wilson explained he had to incorporate the use of white flowers to provide the perfect backdrop to the striking reds purples yellows and blues that appear in the garden!

Not only is the planting impressive but it is matched with the attention to detail in the hard landscaping.  A cathedral like structure at the back of the garden is constructed from wood with turrets made from York stone, leading up to this are what appear to be polished limestone shallow steps with a water channel running through the steps.  This creates simultaneously a luxurious modern feel as well as reminding us of the cathedral theme.  Both the workmanship and materials are derived from the county of Yorkshire.

Awarded a silver gilt medal by the judges, providing controversy at Chelsea this year, Matthew Wilson was then awarded best show garden as voted by the public a decision I very much agree with too!!

2. A concrete seat in the ‘Cloudy Bay Garden’ designed by Sam Ovens


It is for its simplicity and design impact that this concrete seat gets my vote.  It sits beautifully on the red cedar timber and provides a stark contrast to the delicate grasses that dance next to it.  If you look closely you can see the timber markings left after the concrete has been poured into the wooden shuttering that has created its shape.

3. The return of the rose at Chelsea

Trending in many of the gardens at Chelsea this year was the return of the rose, normally in pale pink to mid pink tones.  It suited perfectly the delicate pink to lilac planting scheme of designer Hay Joung Hwang in ‘The L.G. Smart Garden’.  Pale pink and white roses could also been seen in Diarmuid Gavin’s planting design for ‘The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’.  In the Great Pavilion amongst many great roses my favourite was a mid pink rose called ‘Simple Peach’ and another called ‘Elizabeth Casson’ both from Harkness Nursery in Cambridge.

4. The sculptural bronze seat in ‘The Chelsea Barracks Garden’


In Jo Thompson’s gold award garden sits this beautiful bronze metal sculptural seat.  It mirrors the gentle curve of the lawn and pathway that runs along the back of the garden.  It also ties in with the bronze sculptures that are dotted throughout the garden designed in honour of the Barracks former residents.  Popular at Chelsea the seat was chosen for many of the TV interviews, a perfect place to sit and contemplate this peaceful English garden. Interestingly Jo’s show garden appeared to be the only one with a lawn incorporated in the design adding to its feel of Britishness.

5. The window of water in the ‘Senri-Sentei – Garage Garden’


The importance of water features in garden design cannot be underestimated as revealed in Kazuyuki Ishihara’s artisan garden.  The beauty of this window of water lies in its simplicity – it sits snugly in a vibrant green wall of hedging and allows the viewer a distorted glimpse of the garden beyond through which you can see the contrasting white modern staircase that leads to an upper level. Water features of one sort or another appear in nearly all the gardens at Chelsea – another wall of water appears in Jo Thompson’s garden where water cascades down a large dark stone wall –  to a barely there trickle in the arid conditions of the  ‘L’Occitane Garden’.

6. Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’


In all the perfection of the show Diarmuid Gavin stood out as the designer who brought a sense of humour and theatre to garden design at Chelsea.  His garden was based on the theme of British eccentric inventors such as William Heath Robinson. The crowd loved Gavin’s on the surface mad idea of spinning conical bay trees, window boxes and round topiary balls that moved up and down in what can only be described as a dance sequence.  This event took place every fifteen minutes and after the performance I watched, the door of the red brick building at the end of the garden burst open to reveal Diarmuid Gavin, just like the mad inventor waving to the crowd that had gathered to admire his creation.

For all the fun of this garden Gavin made sure that it delivered in other ways that impressed, for example the hard landscaping of the red brick building was beautifully constructed as was the York stone paving that ran along the water channel up to the black iron gates.  The garden was also unforgettable for its rich and vibrant planting scheme with many tall stemmed flowers vying for your attention.

I hope you agree that my top 6 were worth a mention, it was a hard decision to select just a few out of the many deserving gardens and ideas on show! As you can see a trip to Chelsea is not to be missed, no doubt it will give me inspiration throughout the year and I’m already looking forward to 2017!

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