Show gardens aren’t real gardens. You visit a show like the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 to be inspired and uplifted. Or perhaps even to disagree about what does and doesn’t make a garden?
But then you return home and look at your own plot. How can you introduce some of that magic? And could some of the ideas in the show gardens actually be the answer to a problem you’ve been thinking about for a while?
I’ve just visited RHS Chelsea 2022. These are the ideas that I think will also sparkle in our own gardens.
The use of texture in walls, fences and boundaries
It’s easy to forget about boundaries when you’re thinking about how to design real gardens. But their vertical space gives you such an opportunity to add style, colour and interest to your garden.
For example, the Stitchers Garden supports the charity Fine Cell Work. It teaches prisoners to make beautiful needlework, which is used by many top interior designers. The designer of the Stitchers’ Garden, Frederic White, has used a combination of steel and wicker for the pavilions, and a mix of materials for the fencing.
The combination is beautifully textured and would add to any planting.
Dark brown or bronze for walls and structures
Dark grey or black has been used as a backdrop in contemporary gardens for a while. It really shows plants off beautifully and allows the surfaces to ‘recede’ slightly.
The Mothers For Mothers garden ‘This Too Shall Pass’ is designed by Pollyanna Wilkinson. A series of bronze-toned walls and archways create an intimate space. They also make a perfect backdrop for plants. And you could argue that any colour in the brown/bronze spectrum is a more natural choice for a garden than dark grey. Either way, painting your walls, pergolas and fencing dark gives the garden a real lift.
Polly talks about the principles of how to design a garden here – she’s got such good advice.
Free-standing curved walls in real gardens
Andy Sturgeon is one of the most highly decorated award-winning garden designers. His designs always push the boundaries of garden design, and can be quite conceptual. But he also has an outstanding eye for beauty and detail. There are always elements to take home with you.
In his ‘The Mind Garden’, a series of curved, sculptural walls are ‘cascade and swirl through the sloping garden like a handful of petals tossed to the ground.’
You might not want a dozen sections of curved wall scattered through your garden (although once you’ve seen Andy’s show garden for RHS Chelsea 2022, you may!). But what about one, positioned to catch the last rays or the sun or to shield prying eyes?
You might even conceal a practical area or dumping ground behind a short section of curved wall. Not that words like ‘dumping ground’ feel appropriate when looking at an Andy Sturgeon garden, because the concept is always magnificent and the planting is divine.
You could also use this idea to create more privacy in your garden. There’s more privacy advice here in screens for privacy, and in my book, The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy.
Living walls and planting between pavers
So far we mainly see living walls in places where there is little else growing. For example, there’s a good living wall near Stratford International station, creating a splash of green in a sea of concrete.
But people are increasingly adding living walls to real gardens. Small gardens benefit from extra growing space. And it makes the whole feel so much more green, as well as being more wildlife friendly.
On the Meta ‘Growing for the Future’ garden designed by Joe Perkins, the feel is of a woodland garden. The idea is to showcase’ the connection between plants and funghi within woodland systems’. There is a low brick wall planted with ferns and other plants. This would be relatively easy with today’s modular living wall planting systems. And there is also planting between pavers.
Vibrant colour in planters, pots and ponds
There were a few gardens at RHS Chelsea 2022 which vibrated with colour. They really caught my eye and lifted my spirits.
The St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots Garden designed by Cityscapes (Darryl Moore and Adolpho Harrison) evokes an urban park. With mis-matched striped fencing and recycled containers, it majors on bright pink and orange. I returned to this garden several times because I loved it. And it really reminded me of living in inner city London.
Growing edibles in recycled containers
The Wild Kitchen garden by Ann Treneman is charming and very relatable to those who want to grow edibles in real gardens, even if they have very limited outside space.
Using recycled galvanised containers, she’s grown wild edible plants and trees, including aquatic edibles. And note the dark grey wall. It looks so smart, especially with the galvanised pots and containers.
There’s advice for buying recycled or reclaimed items for the garden in 15 ways to transform your garden with recycled junk.
A grid or grating for a green floor
This is really one of the most interesting ideas I saw at the show (I’ve got a full interview with the designers coming in a future post). It was on another of the Balcony Gardens, the Jay Day garden designed by Flock Party (Alison Malouf and Angela Choi) and sponsored by binocular makers Swarovski Optik.(I had a peer through the binoculars, which would definitely transform the bird watching in my garden – it was quite a revelation.)
This balcony is designed to support wildlife, especially birds. The idea behind the grating is that you can create a green area for growing but you can still stand on it. Underneath the grating floor, there are mosses and ferns, which grow well in shaded conditions. Birds and insects have access to under the grating at the sides of the balcony. And you can lift the grating when you need to weed or care for the plants.
I think this could be adapted to create growing spaces in small basement areas. And perhaps it could also be adapted to create parking spaces for cars while maintaining growth beneath?
Flat-topped trees for style in real gardens
The Perennial ‘With Love’ garden designed by Richard Miers was a beautiful perennial garden and quite classic in many ways. However there were lots of contemporary touches that make it undoubtedly a garden for RHS Chelsea 2022. One of these was the flat-topped hawthorn trees. Flat-topped trees are a smart way of introducing trees into smaller (or even bigger gardens). Richard’s choice of hawthorn updates a country tree for a smart town garden.
There are more perennial border garden ideas in Perennials Made Simple and How to Create a Beautiful Perennial Garden.
A dramatic waterfall over rocks…
Sarah Eberle is another dramatic conceptual designer who pushes the boundaries. When I saw her 30 foot high waterfalls over a jagged cliff face for RHS Chelsea 2022, I didn’t think I’d be including it in a post about ideas for real gardens. The jagged cliff face looks like rocks, but is actually Medite Smartply, sponsors of the garden and manufacturers of sustainable wood-based panel products.
But then I spotted the back of the garden where the look is replicated in domestic garden size. It would be a striking water feature and an eye catching use of a wall. Perfect for real gardens, in fact.
Pin to remember inspirations for real gardens from RHS Chelsea 2022
And I’ll be picking out other ideas and interviews from the show in the next few months, so if you’d like more tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden, sign up here for a free weekly email from the Middlesized Garden.