So, you’ve seen the show gardens and taken in the Grand Pavilion. Now what? Fancy building a Corten steel structure? Planning on filling the back garden with tree ferns? Or do you fancy inviting the cow parsley in?
Unlike designers building a Chelsea Show Garden, most people have to grapple with a small space, limited budgets and even more limited time. Lovely though they are, perfect, expensive gardens bear no resemblance to the average garden. Are they ‘aspirational’ in the way of catwalk clothes or is there something you can take home from Chelsea?
One thing that caught my eye, which I’d like to try at home, is the use of silver birch logs as a natural form of adornment in the garden. In The Naturally Fashionable Garden they were at different heights, standing on end, softened and brought together by grasses and light planting. The logs not only looked beautiful, they provided an architectural, vertical accent, as well as a good home for bugs and other wildlife.
Jo Thompson’s ‘Thrive’ (The Unexpected Gardener) also used logs, this time lying horizontally. The repetition of circles added a pleasing decorative touch to this chic garden. Stacked in a high tower, they provided another vertical statement that draws the eye.
The Bradstone Biodiversity Garden proved that sometimes the only thing to do in a small garden is to think big. The monumental sunken arch made of a pleasing, yellowy reconstituted stone was a striking feature that acted as a perfect foil to the delicate planting in front. When confronted with a small space, don’t be afraid to be bold: large leaved plants can provide the drama you need to liven up a confined area.
Sunken gardens are one of the topics covered in designer, author and journalist Chris Young’s new book: ‘Take Chelsea Home’. Chris has been through thousands of photographs of the show and selected the most useful ideas in them. He quotes designer Bunny Guinness who says that a sunken and contained area in the garden is highly conducive to great conversations. She advises using wide, custom made seating and adding coloured cushions on top for dramatic swatches of colour. A central fire pit will keep you warm all night. Slot in an outdoor projector and you can watch old films outside. (Use a white sheet if you don’t have a blank wall).
The book also features some interesting shots taken of gardens at night. If you are lighting your garden, consider using coloured light – there’s a stunning example of a tree spotlighted in pink light.
If you don’t have space for vegetables in your garden, grow them in containers. Sow directly in them and choose ‘cut and come again’ varieties of lettuce. Don’t mix zinc with terracotta or plastic as this can make the place look cluttered. Stick to one kind.
My last take home tip from the Chelsea Flower Show is to think again about conifers and pines . They don’t have to be funereal plants inhabiting a wasteland of suburban rockeries. Seek out pines that have blue-green leaves and mix them up with lavenders, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ and other matching foliage, as well as grasses, tall, spindly plants like Verbena bonariensis or Dierama pulcherrium (Angel’s fishing rods).
For more ideas on taking Chelsea you can visit the RHS website