1 Banners, bunting, live animals, mirrors and artificial plant material all need special permission from the Show manager before they can be used in Chelsea’s show gardens.

2 Alliums are the most-used show garden plant, followed by box, ferns, geraniums, lupins, geums and black-stemmed cow parsley. At last year’s show, 52 rose plants featured, mainly pink.

3 Designers are not allowed to plant bulbs or corms in the show gardens without special permission. Nor are show gardens allowed to feature audio visual installations.

4 Last year more than 53,038 hot drinks were consumed at the show. Coffee sales overtook tea sales for the first time in Chelsea history; cappuccino sales peaked on Thursday.

5 All the gardens are built from scratch in just 19 days. Many of the gardens are ‘no dig’ sites, where the build teams have to create the garden on top of the existing show ground soil.

6 The Chelsea Flower Show has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars.

7 he Great Pavilion, formerly known as the Floral Pavilion and the Great Marquee, measures roughly 6,000 sq metres, which would give enough room to park 250 London buses.

8 In 1932 rain was so hard that a summerhouse fell to pieces. Hailstones were so large they blocked the drains and caused flooding. An exhibitor named it ‘The Chelsea Shower Flow’.

9 Of the firms that exhibited at the first Show in 1913, three can still be seen at the Show today: McBean’s Orchids, Blackmore & Langdon and Kelways Plants


The David Harber and Savill's Garden

 David Harber and Savill's Garden by Nic Howard

David Harber and Savill's Garden by Nic Howard

Design Nic Howard Sponsor David Harber & Savills Build Langdale Landscapes Theme Humankind’s relationship with the environment

Nic Howard.jpeg

“I have designed the trade stand for [sculptor] David Harber for the past two years, but this is my first show garden. David, Savills and I are all passionate about the project and want to create a garden where visitors can take ideas home.
“The design portrays the impact humans have had on the planet. It’s a stylised timeline of our interaction with the environment, and evolves as you walk through it. A meandering path leads from naturalistic planting at the front toward more formal, cultivated planting at the back.

“At the front grasses and self-sown cirsium and foxgloves are planted in a wild but ‘gardenesque’ manner, around a bronze sculpture panel. The planting gradually becomes more refined, using drifts of peonies, salvias, nepeta and alchemilla, and finishing at the far end with an Aeon sculpture (representing the life force). It’s a huge (2.4x 4m/8x13ft) organic bronze form with a gold starburst as its nucleus, made from gold leaf metal rods.
“The planting is mainly perennials and trees, so it’s soft and flowery. We’ve chosen four multistem Betula nigra as part of a mixed colour scheme, with punches of purple, dark red and orange. It’s very verdant, with nice big peonies and lupins; the trick is using grasses and ‘filler plants’ with a nice leaf form, such as Aster divaricatus to provide a visual rest.
“Sculpture is the real lynchpin. From Main Avenue you can look down the centre of the garden through a sculptural ‘wormhole’, symbolising the passage of time. This is formed by a bronze panel at the front then three oxidised laser-cut steel screens with a contemplation bench halfway along made from a woven jungle of verdigris bronze strips.”

Chris Beardshaw interview

Chris Beardshaw c Liz Potter

In his 20th year designing show gardens, gold-medal-winning designer Chris Beardshaw shares the secrets behind this dazzling planting schemes

Interview by Liz Potter

With no fewer than 11 RHS gold medals for his show gardens, Chris Beardshaw has a rare design talent largely unmatched by his peers. Thanks to his voluptuous, romantic plant combinations he’s a regular recipient of the coveted People’s Choice award too. This year he’s teamed up with Morgan Stanley again to create a garden for child protection charity, the NSPCC. Despite his many accomplishments, Chris remains one of the most charming, modest and popular TV gardeners you could ever hope to meet.

You’ve been designing show gardens for 20 years. What drives you? Undoubtedly it’s addiction. You get the chance to create the perfect picture, immediately. As gardeners we’re all fabulously impatient, and with a show garden, once you’re on site, you have the ability to produce the vision really quickly. It’s fabulously stimulating because you’re instantly able to recognise what does and doesn’t work and then refine it. So it’s a really good learning exercise. You might go in with a preferred list of plants, but once you get to the show the whole thing changes and everything becomes amplified. You can move them and change them and they surprise you. They do things and have conversations with other plants you wouldn’t expect them to have. That’s the fun side of it.

How would you describe your planting style? I did an article for a German magazine recently and they described it as ‘painterly’. I use stabs of colour for an effect that’s almost pixelated. It’s not a conscious thing. I’m not trying to create or adhere to a particular style. I genuinely like putting plants together in the way that I like putting them together, if that makes sense?

Is it difficult to focus on the detail at Chelsea? Yes. There’s a great glee when the lorry-load of plants arrives and there’s this constant sense of urgency with which everyone seems to operate. What I try and do with my team is to deliberately go into our own space and ignore everything that’s going on around us. So there are moments when I’ve created gardens on Main Avenue when I’ve been so involved in thinking through every possible permutation of combinations and associations, that after 20 minutes or so I’ve looked up and suddenly surprised myself that I’m in the middle of Chelsea flower show.

How has Chelsea changed in the last 20 years? No doubt expectations are much higher now in terms of the quality of the design and planting schemes, and the ambition of the designers is much greater. Also I think it’s only in last few years there’s been a return to a mix of different garden styles. Eight to ten years ago everyone was taking plants from the same suppliers and getting all their ideas from the same design book. When I started, every garden was significantly different. In last couple of years we’ve seen a return to that diversity again.

Can you remember your earliest successes? The first garden we did that made a bit of a splash was probably our Boveridge House garden (2006). We took a snapshot of the garden we’d been restoring to Chelsea on an absolute shoestring and I don’t think the RHS believed we would pull it off. It was a celebration of arts and crafts herbaceous borders at a time when Main Avenue was full of architecture, sculpture and concrete. I remember standing in the rain and having a phone call from the RHS saying: “Please can you do something about the crowds in front of your garden?” Everyone was looking at it, enthralled to see a garden that had plants in it and a bit of atmosphere.

Is there a trend at moment? I think there’s still an awful lot of concrete and rather dotty planting. That’s not a criticism. I can admire it, but that’s not the way I like to do it.

Do you enjoy looking at other show gardens? To be honest there’s very little opportunity to walk around the showground. So I might know where the entrance is and the toilets, and the coffee bar, but that’s pretty much my experience of Chelsea – certainly during the build up. And then once the garden goes live you’re pretty much on the garden the whole time. Last year, of six days at the show, I spent four days watering.

Who’s on your Chelsea planting team? I plant with two guys, Nick and Dave. I’ve known them for many years and we absolutely trust one another. So, I might be putting a combination together and get so absorbed in it... Then I’ll stand up, turn round and look at either Nick or Dave and they’ll be frowning at me. And suddenly I realise it doesn’t work; they’ve seen something I haven’t. It’s a real delight to work like that.

How did your relationship with Morgan Stanley come about? They’d been involved with Chelsea for a few years on the corporate hospitality side and then the decision was made to upscale and produce a garden. Frances and I went to talk to them and what appealed to me was that they had a very real reason for being there – every project was genuine, with a good cause behind it. The first garden we did was the Healthy Cities garden (2015), which was transferred into an East End community project in Poplar. The primary school benefitted from the plants and some of the structural pieces from our National Youth Orchestra garden (2016). With the Great Ormond Street Hospital garden they wanted to create a permanent legacy and made a commitment to pay for a gardening team to go in and maintain it. It also triggered staff interest in a gardening club. I love the fact these gardens can act as a catalyst to create something more.

What’s your design process? Scattergun, I suppose. The whole project starts off as a series of scribbles and sketches – an opportunity to explore and take key words from discussions with the partner or client. Then I try to graphically represent them. I keep a small sketchbook where I’ll draw a quick rectangle and then a squiggle that becomes a path and then a shape over here that becomes planting. These little thumbnail sketches are so quick; 90% of them might be absolute garbage but somewhere, buried, will be perhaps something you can extract.  

Are you visually minded? I was thrown out of art at school! I desperately wanted to do art but in those days it wasn’t considered sufficiently academic and I was showing promise in other areas. So I was made to do geology instead. Which, with hindsight, wasn’t a bad thing. But I’ve always scribbled and sketched cartoons and looked at things as well. I think that’s the most important skill for any gardener – the ability to look and understand what you’re looking at and why it has a certain emotional effect on you.

How has your design style evolved? Inevitably it’s naïve when you start, especially with a show garden. There can very few people who would ever look at their first piece of work and think God that’s a genius at work! Most of us look at our early gardens with a slight air of embarrassment. And so it becomes a learning process, learning new plants, new combinations, new ways of doing things. I think I’ve become more structural in the way my gardens go together, relying on one or two structural pieces, and then making a tapestry of other plants to supporting that structure. And also the design is crisper I think.

What’s your garden like at home? A disaster, largely! If you miss two or three weeks in early spring, you never catch up. And so for the last four years of doing Chelsea, my own garden really has become somewhat neglected. I mean it’s serviceable, but I’d never open it to the public.

Do you harbour any dreams of having a public garden? No I can’t think of anything worse! It’s bad enough listening to what people have to say about my Chelsea showgardens. However, I do love standing in the background with a hosepipe watering the garden, just listening. The vast majority of comments are really quite flattering. I think it’s a very genuine warmth.

What (or who) are your main inspirations? I tend not to get too fixed with a particular garden designer or gardener. You sometimes come across people who see the world in a different way. Keith Wiley who used to be at the Garden House (Devon) is one of those gardeners. Sort of raw, with a mischievous glint in his eye and you just know he’s hatching a plan to stick two plants together that should never be stuck together, but that somehow it will work. Lesley and John Jenkins up at Wollerton Old Hall (Shropshire) are fabulous too.

Have you got mischievous streak? Gosh. You try hard to cultivate it. But some people just have it and other people have to try. I think I’d put myself down as a trier.

What sparked your interest in garden design? I stumbled into it by accident. I was working as a Saturday boy in a nursery where I would bring the plants up in trays and put them on the sales bench. And then one day the nursery owner asked me to look after the shop while he went off for lunch. I started to take the plants out of their trays and create something a bit more ‘gardeneseque’. The manager decided to leave them as they were for the afternoon and – to my delight – we sold everything on that bench.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced at Chelsea? A few years ago we were planting the Healthy Cities (2014) garden and my front tree was a Cornus kousa I’d selected from a really good specialist nursery in Germany. It arrived in perfect condition and was lying down in the lorry when my phone rang. By the time I turned round somebody who hadn’t moved a tree of that size before had put some strops around it and was lifting it with the telehandler. It was about two and half tons of tree and as the strops started to tighten around its trunk I saw it had become completely ring barked. Luckily we were able to shuffle trees around and in the end nobody noticed the first tree was missing.

Another time, with our garden for Arthritis UK (2013) we had a bespoke glass structure being made in Ireland. We’d ordered and paid for it three months earlier but on the day it was supposed to arrive, Frances rang the factory to find the line was dead. It turned out the company had gone bust. That’s when my old friend Nick Knowles from DIY SOS came to the rescue. I’ve known Nick for a long time and I have the greatest respect for him. I think he was on holiday at the time and probably had to put down his pina colada to go through his phone book! But with about five days notice, one of his contacts managed to put the whole thing together for us and ship it up to Chelsea.

You’ve won so many gold medals – have you got another in your sights? Certainly in the early days winning a gold medal was our sole focus. But with maturity comes the realisation that what’s more important is the quality of the message you’ve been able to convey and whether you feel comfortable with it.

Besides, judging is an imperfect art. I don’t think the show needs it. If you’re judging something embroiled in the emotions, who are you to say it either works or doesn’t?

There is an element of vanity I suppose. You’re doing it because you want to feel comfortable with it yourself, but then if someone else likes it, whose opinion you respect, it’s really something. Last year, Peter Seabrook came onto the garden with a tear in his eye: you have to create something pretty good to get Peter Seabrook emotional! *

• 1999 Dig for Victory Garden for Pershore College; Chelsea Gold
• 2001 Gardener’s World Live show garden; Silver-Gilt & People’s choice
• 2004 The Winalot Garden, Hampton Court; Silver-Gilt
• 2006 The Boveridge House Garden, Chelsea; Gold & Best in Show
• 2007 Celebrating 100 years of Hidcote Manor, Chelsea; Silver-Gilt & People’s Choice
• 2007 The Growing Schools Garden, Hampton Court; Gold & Best in Show
• 2008 Cheshire’s Year of Gardens, Tatton Park; Gold & Best in Show
• 2009 Ness Botanische Tatton Park; Gold
• 2010 An Englishman’s Retreat, Ellerslie International Flower Show, New Zealand; Gold & People’s Choice
• 2011 Stockman’s Retreat, Hampton Court; Silver Gilt & Peoples’ Choice
• 2012 Furzey Gardens, Chelsea; Gold
• 2013 Arthritis Research UK Garden, Chelsea; Gold & People’s Choice
• 2014 Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities garden, Singapore Garden Festival; Gold
• 2015 Morgan Stanley garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital, Chelsea; Gold
• 2016 Morgan Stanley Garden, Chelsea; Silver-Gilt & People’s Choice
• 2017 National Youth Orchestra for Morgan Stanley, Chelsea; Silver-Gilt


DESIGN Ruth Willmott SPONSOR Donors in aid of Breast Cancer Now CONTRACTOR The Outdoor Room

"OUR BRIEF WAS TO focus on the work of the 400 scientists that Breast Cancer Now funds around the UK and Ireland. It also had to fit with the RHS parameters of creating a show garden – so our design is based on a notional space where a team of scientists might meet and discuss their research, with a stylised microscope in the middle.
“I’ve worked with Breakthrough Breast Cancer before, creating a Chelsea show garden for them in 2015, and they were delighted with it [it won a silver gilt medal]. Breakthrough Breast Cancer then merged with Breast Cancer Campaign in 2015 to form Breast Cancer Now, which is now the UK’s largest breast cancer charity.
“Charity gardens don’t have a lot of money to create their show gardens – they usually fall outside their normal fundraising activities, so we have to rely on the generosity of specific donations. I hadn’t realised how productive a show garden could be as a fundraising platform, but since then I’ve set up a donation fund in parallel with the garden and raised £20,000 so far. Some of this money was raised by exchanging the plants for donations at the end of the show week.
“I got the idea for the garden during a visit to The Institute of Cancer Research a while back. I chatted with some of the scientists there and looked through their microscopes to see what cell development looks like. That’s where I got the idea of using the microscope, with a large black slide on the far wall depicting a large circular healthy cell. In contrast, there will be jagged rocks at the entrance to the garden representing breast cancer. This is how the scientists said they would explain cancer to a layperson, and I’ve gone into a bit of detail here, staining the slide pink to match the Eosin-Y stain they use.
“The planting is designed to echo the magnification effect of the microscope. Just as cells are magnified as you look through a microscope, so are the plants! A lot of this has been accomplished within genus – using for instance small-leaved Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’ at one end of the garden and Acer japonicum aconitifolium at the other, whose leaves are about 50x bigger.
“Other plants we’re using are Euphorbia deflexa, Euphobria palustris ‘Walenburg’s Glorie’ and Euphorbia pasteurii; Digitalis obscura and digitalis Illumination ‘Chelsea Gold’; Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Summer Snow’ (whose flowers are the size of your thumbnail) and Geranium sylvaticum ‘Album’ which is 4-5 times bigger. We are also very excited about using dwarf Angelica pachycarpa (not seen before at Chelsea) with Angelica archangelica.  We’re also teaming unrelated plants such as Heuchera ‘Paris’ with Digitalis Illumination ‘Raspberry’ and Silene dioica ‘Firefly’ with Paeonia ‘Kansas’ which are a similar colour and form but differ in size.
“Having seen the scientists at work I’m so impressed by them and their progress. Hopefully they’ll love the garden when they visit the show.”


DESIGNERS Patrick Collins and Laurie Chetwood SPONSOR Chengdu government CONTRACTOR Willerby Landscapes

“THIS IS my fourth Chelsea show garden with Laurie. We tend to brainstorm an idea to come up with a concept, then go off and develop it individually – Laurie looking at the architectural, structural side and me on the planting,” says Patrick.
“Laurie had several Chinese contacts and approached the Chengdu Provincial Government with this idea; they were keen to promote awareness of their culture and the historic significance of The Silk Road as a trade and cultural link between east and west – something that’s particularly resonant again now. 
“In the design our Silk Road is a path that leads through a stylised mountain range made from giant red fins, coloured ropes and ribbons to create a sense of flow through the landscape. The path leads visitors through the garden, offering views of the planting from different aspects.
“The circular gold disk represents the symbollic Legend of the Sun and the Immortal Birds, with four birds that represent the four seasons. We wanted to include it because it’s also the city logo. 
“Sichuan Province has a huge number of plants so what we’re showing here is just a snippet of its overall flora. We’ve got Viburnum pragense clipped into cloud pruned shapes, Euonymus alatus, rhododendrons, primulas and mecanopsis, and also Chinese wild ginger Asarum splendens and the Chinese trumpet flower, Incarvillea delavayi.
"One of the main challenges for me lies in the fact that although there are so many Chinese plants to choose from - 40,000 different spedies - they need to be in flower in late May and commercially available.
"I ended up dividing them into three broad groups: plants we always associate with Chinese, plants that have a wider distribution but include China, and plants that have Chinese ancestry such as hybrids developed more recently. In the process we’re trying to highlight the importance of Chinese flora to horticutural world. 
“The colour scheme will be mixed – including vivid pink Primula beesiana and orange P. bulleyana, so we’ll have to be careful they don’t clash with the fins. These will be made of plywood for light weight and portability, as the garden will have to be shipped elsewhere afterwards.
"We’ve got the prestigious Triangle Site this year, so visitors will be able to walk around it and enjoy the different aspects of the garden.  Our biggest challenge will be narrowing down the huge amount of flora - there are 40,000 different species to choose from, and we’re trying to zone in and represent the Sechuan Province in such a way you’re focusing on the right kind of message and story. It’s a bit daunting!”


DESIGNER Nigel Dunnett SPONSOR Royal Horticultural Society CONTRACTOR Landform Consultants

"MY BRIEF FOR THIS garden was simply to express the principles of the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign. As we discussed it further we developed this more widely to also use the garden to reach wider audiences than what might be regarded as the typical RHS member or Chelsea Flower Show visitor, so the garden is set in a very urban context, of apartment blocks and high density living, with balconies and small ground floor terraces, and a large communal garden. There will be lots of take-home ideas and inspirational details for gardeners of all types, and the garden will also show creative, innovative and exciting ways of environmental and sustainable gardening.
“I took design inspiration from the urban context, thinking about as many different ways as possible to bring plants and green into everyday life, and to find ways of bringing plants and gardening into the smallest of spaces. I wanted this to be a very contemporary garden, rather than a ‘rustic’ type of eco garden. And the garden also brings in the principles of sustainable rainwater management. It’s full of naturalistic, informal planting and as a contrast to this I wanted to use strong shapes and forms for the paths and hard surfaces. 
“We’re working with a real street artist to make an urban installation as a very dramatic feature in the garden, and we are working with habitat and wildlife structures in a very artistic way.
"The key plants are Sambucus nigra ‘Gerda’.  Rosa rubrifolia.  Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’.  Iris ‘Gerald Darby’.  Armeria maritima.  Sesleria nitida – using a palette of pinks, purples, whites and blues
"We’re using concrete in many different forms - recycled municipal paving slabs re-used as a smart form of crazy paving.  Poured black concrete. We have an edible table - a meeting table that will sit 8-10 people with apple trees growing through and herbs.
"The biggest challenge is that we’re working with a new type of low-cost, low-water use temporary living wall, and it’s a little bit experimental, so we have our fingers crossed that it will all work out!"


DESIGN Manoj Malde SPONSOR Inland Homes Plc CONTRACTOR Living Landscapes

"I WANTED TO CREATE something quite different from what you usually see at Chelsea. I was in a very different position to most designers in that I’m unknown at Chelsea, so although I’ve worked with Diarmuid Gavin, Chris Beardshaw and Nick Bailey on their show gardens, I have a chance to make a statement.
“My inspiration came from seeing the work of Mexican modernist architect, Luis Barragán. His work is so amazing I thought he must be a young, up-and-coming architect, so was disappointed to learn that he’d passed away in 1987.
“His work uses bright, colour-washed walls juxtaposed against each other. I’m of East African/Indian descent, born in Kenya, and some of my earliest memories are of Mum’s beautiful saris, which is why when I saw Barragán’s work, the colour drew me in. I really wanted to create a garden inspired by his work, keeping the design fairly true to Mexico.
“I had read he struggled in his career so it seemed fitting that I reflected that struggle by choosing drought-tolerant plants that can succeed against the odds. The trees I’ve chosen are beautiful multi-stemmed Arbutus unedo trees from Italy. They have a very sculptural branching structure, with no training or trimming.
“For rhythm I’ve chosen Agave americana, Agave peri truncata, Agave attenuata and Agave parrasana, working them right through the garden. They’re all very different but do share a family resemblance. I’m also using Kalanchoe behariensis which has heart-shaped leaves that are like touching velvet, Catalpa bignonioides, lantana, salvia ‘Royal Bumble’, anigozanthus ‘Big Red’, cosmos ‘Big Orange’, Verbena rigida, Cleome hasselriana ‘Violet Queen’, gaura ‘Siskyou Pink’, bearded irises ‘Serene Moment’ and ‘Modern Woman’.
“The flowers are mostly in pink and orange to bring out the wall colours. There are a few touches of purple and lilac here and there, and dark wine-red as well as little shots of other colours.
“The furniture is from a lovely company in Italy called Roberti Rattan and I’m also getting cushions picturing the plants made up by Botanical Cushions. I’m using tall concrete planters with iroko rims from Indigenous Planters to complete the modernist look, and a wire horse sculpture by Rupert Till.
“The big challenge for me is making sure the plants are absolutely ready for Chelsea, and in flower. Also, we’re using micro-cement with a metallic sheen that will make the pavers over the pond look like zinc. It takes three days to set, so we really don’t want it to rain!”


DESIGNER Lee Bestall SPONSOR Capital and Counties Properties Plc CONTRACTOR Bestall & Co Landscape design

"OUR GARDEN IS sponsored by Capco, which owns all the property at Covent Garden. We’re doing it for the Simon Milton Foundation – the charity of choice for Westminster Borough Council, which focuses on bridging the gap between young and old to solve the problem of elderly isolation in London.
“To celebrate this iconic London landmark on its 500th anniversary, we decided to reflect some of its history. Long before it became a market it was ‘Convent’ Garden – an orchard where monks and nuns would grow fruit for Westminster Abbey.  
“For our design we’ve chosen three gnarly old apple trees to represent the orchard. They’re retired trees from Belgium, about 40-60 years old. After Chelsea we’re giving them a new retirement home, in planters at Covent Garden. In the background are two steel arches painted to match those at Covent Garden – a blue-green colour. These provide a backdrop for the planting.
“Other elements include the four beautiful verdigris copper planters and York stone paving – most of Covent Garden is paved with York stone. And we’ll have reclaimed cobble paths there too, all leading into the centre of the garden just as the roads around Covent Garden lead into the market square. We also have beautiful benches made from oak inspired by old apple crates.
“The planting is soft, representing a feeling of freedom, using grasses and orchard plants in all the colours of apple blossom – whites and soft pinks. I’ll be using plants such as soft pink peonies, foxglove ‘Dalmatian White’ and lupins.
“The biggest challenge will be bringing over the old root-balled apple trees from Belgium. The ones I originally chose were about 4m wide – too wide for safe transport on a British motorway, even with an escort. With old apple tree branches you can't just tie them in like you would with birch or hornbeam. We’d never have got them through the gates at Chelsea! The new ones are just 2m wide – the widest you can get on an articulated lorry."


DESIGN Kate Gould SPONSOR Self funded CONTRACTOR Kate Gould Gardens


"THIS MY EIGHTH Chelsea show garden – only two of them have been sponsored. Basically we paid for them through the business. My gardens have always been a bit different – largely because there’s only me to please!
"The design is a response to the fact that I’ve seen a lot of small city spaces being concreted over, so I wanted to show that people can make a small space green, even in the most built-up urban setting.
“It’s been a hell of a learning curve this year. My skillset has increased daily, from finding out about structural steel and concrete, to creating green walls from scratch.
“The steel frames for the building will be prefabricated off site – at the moment they’re just dots on the floor. Then, there will be plants in every part of the building. The design is basically a route through an apartment block, offering little viewing platforms and places to sit with water features to drown out the city noise. Hopefully it shows lots of ways to create new buildings with spaces for planting.
“I’ve taken inspiration from all those anonymous blocks of flats and small city spaces that people normally pave over. Yet with a bit of thought at the planning stage, developers can improve these spaces for people and wildlife – creating greener walls, greener corridors and greener rooftops. Not everything we’re doing here is viable on a grand scale but we’re trying to show what we can do to make city living more sustainable.

“The garden shows how to use rainwater harvesting to water green walls, and lighting that faces down to avoid creating unnecessary light pollution. We’re developing a new backlit fibreoptic concrete to create a wall with a soft glow so it can guide people around without creating light pollution at night.
“Our green wall is something we’ve developed ourselves too – using larger pockets to grow bigger plants. Mostly they’re leafy plants for shady situations, but we have used some borderline hardy tropical plants too. They’re shade tolerant lower down the wall and more sun-loving towards the top where they get more light. We’re using a lot of ferns and hostas so it’s predominantly green, but with blue and orange flowers as accents.
“The planting also includes two pollution-tolerant trees, buckthorn (Hippophae ramnoides) and multi-stemmed hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). It all goes to show that no matter what size your garden is, you can always plant into it and it will look better.”


DESIGN James Basson SPONSOR M&G Investments CONTRACTOR Crocus

"THIS GARDEN IS INSPIRED BY the principles of ecological sustainability, and is based on a disused quarry in Malta. Pretty much every house in Malta is made from these same limestone blocks, which are all of a uniform size. As the blocks are removed by quarrying, so the geological fault lines create these tall, dramatic pillars, and scarring is left behind on the rocks that remain, creating a texture that we’re using as a backdrop for the planting.
“I’m a huge fan of quarries; they have such natural majesty.  I love the way nature moves in to a disused site to reclaim them. All the plants we’re using here are Maltese natives – we had to get special authorisation to export endemic species for the Chelsea garden and permission took ages. 
“Our design makes the most of the quarry’s diverse ecology, for instance using cliff tops on top of the pillars and coastal plants around the pools. There are 200 species on our plant list, but the key ones are two specimen trees – Pistacia lentiscus and a large carob tree Seratonica silicone. We’ve also got wild fennel Ferula communis, Asphodeline fistulas, feathery yellow wode Cytisus scoparius, euphorbias and grasses including Hyparrhena hirta. Lots of yellows and greens.  
“Usually a garden takes one year to research but this one took two. It’s been lovely top have the extra time to collect seeds and work with seed sown and grown on in France and Italy.  
“The biggest stress comes from the worry that the stone won’t fit together at Chelsea and we won’t get the quarry finished in time. Luckily our quarry team have been excellent, working with contractor Crocus on the logistics of creating the pillars and walls.
“Originally the garden was done for the Telegraph, who gave us a complete cartye blanche in terms of the design. Then they pulled out of Chelsea for 2017 and we were very lucky to be working with Corcus on it ,because M&G approached Crocus luckily they dared to take it on – attracted by the environmental issues. 

“We chose Malta because we love sailing and visit the island often. As it’s the most densely populated country in the world per square meter of landmass, it has to confront problems of water shortage and waste disposal that we’re all going to have to resolve at a planetary level at some point.”


DESIGN Fiona Cadwallader SPONSOR Self funded CONTRACTOR Landform Consultants

"AS A POETRY LOVER I wanted to create a garden for a solitary reader seeking a tranquil and meditative space to read, reflect and be inspired by poetry and the garden around them. I’ve taken my inspiration from a poem by Samuel Coleridge, This Lime Tree Bower my Prison, which echoes my own belief that you can enjoy natural wonders everywhere, if you’re open to them.
The garden has a mix of contemporary and more traditional garden features. I’ve designed the metal sculptural elements myself, including a gate, water feature and a chaise longue. They’re made of stainless steel; the steel float is finished with a concrete centre panel for a modern twist to the garden which otherwise has a traditional formality to it, with the beautiful dry stone wall and limestone paving.
“There are contrasts in the planting too. Four large topiaried lime trees create a relaxing simplicity to the design, while the mounds and spires of shade-loving perennials and shrubs underneath have a softer, less formal feel. These are intermingled with edibles, as referenced in Coleridge’s poem. Broad beans, fruit trees and strawberry plants create a sense of a cottage garden. Then there is the delicate simplicity of the wildflowers in the orchard at the back of the garden, which hint at natural pastures beyond.
This is my first ever Chelsea Garden and there are many challenges for me. I’m creating it without a sponsor so it’s a big financial commitment but an incredible opportunity to be part of the world’s most prestigious flower show. I designed the water feature myself too, and it’s a highly complex design to get just right. I don’t want to take any chances so we’re creating a prototype that will be fully tested before the show.
“Within the planting there’s always the concern about which plants will be ready to perform in May. My biggest concern is the four stunning lime trees that we’ll be pruning into gently curving domes on site as they’re best done in leaf, which will be a little nerve wracking. Also, their root balls differ in size but need to be exactly level.  There will be a degree of creative ground work required to make sure their four domes just kiss each other gently at the top. 
“I suspect that within the rich tapestry of perennials and shrubs, the selection of peonies and iris will be stars of the show, alongside beauties like the Kirengeshoma palmata which is a shade-loving perennial with large leaves and dark purplish stems picking up the colours in Coleridge’s poem – the ‘dark branches’ and ‘purple shadows’.  There will also be delicate wild flowers in the meadow at the back of the garden which will, I hope, be at their best in May.”

This Lime-tree Bower my Prison

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain, 
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm'd mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile, 
Friends, whom I never more may meet again, 
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge, 
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance, 
To that still roaring dell, of which I told; 
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep, 
And only speckled by the mid-day sun; 
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash, 

Unsunn'd and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still, 
Fann'd by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds, 
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!) 
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone. 

Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again

The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea, 
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad, 
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger'd after Nature, many a year, 
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun! 
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb, 
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds! 
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves! 
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood, 
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence. 

A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower, 
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark'd
Much that has sooth'd me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch'd
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov'd to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting'd, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters, 
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure; 
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there, 
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
'Tis well to be bereft of promis'd good, 
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share. 
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light) 
Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory, 
While thou stood'st gazing; or, when all was still, 
Flew creeking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.


DESIGN David Domoney SPONSOR Commonwealth War Graves Commission CONTRACTOR Arun Landscapes

"THE COMMONWEALTH War Graves Commission is celebrating its centenary this year. The organisation maintains the cemeteries, burial plots and memorials of 1.7 million men and women who lost their lives in the two world wars, in 154 countries. It has a special emotional connection for me, because my grandfather was injured in the First World War at Le Cateau during The Battle of Ancre on the River Somme, but thankfully, he survived.
“Here I wanted to create a garden in recognition of the lives lost. Any visit to a CWGC cemetery has a strong impact and leaves a lasting impression. It certainly puts all our day-to-day worries into context when you consider how many people have lost their lives defending the freedoms we enjoy.
“Creating a garden for the CWGC is as a big a challenge as it is an honour. After all, how does one condense the horticultural landscape of an organisation that measures its borders in kilometres, plants in the tens of thousands and mows the equivalent of 1,000 football pitches every week, into the space we have at Chelsea? Here I’ve taken inspiration from the sites I’ve visited and focused on the emotional self-awareness of peace. Using raised platforms for enclosure, fluid movement of boundaries, and tranquil planting.
“We’re using a circular design not just because it makes the garden seem bigger and more fluid, but also because it has an emblematic connection with the CWGC – most of the graves carry a circular emblem showing the regiment of each soldier.
“At the garden’s centre is a seating area where you’ll be able to see your own reflection in a mirrored surface.
“Perhaps the single most obvious element that’s been influenced by the CWGC sites is the arch that visitors will enter the garden through. The inspiration for this came from a bronze wreath fixed to one of the surviving German concrete pill boxes within Tyne Cot Military Cemetery in Belgium. The cemetery actually takes its name from these features as the men of the Northumberland Fusiliers thought they looked like Tyne Cottages. The cemetery is the largest CWGC site in the world – with almost 12,000 graves – and will be the focus for this year’s 100th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Passchendaele in July.
“The handmade bricks marking out the perimeter of the garden will be selected from stock used to restore the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in France. Thiepval, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world.
“The garden has a raised platform with railings on either side of Portland stone steps. The railings are being hand-made by blacksmiths in France and will have leaves on them engraved with the names of the 154 countries in which CWGC operates.
“The planting comprises a sea of alliums to represent fallen soldiers, alongside aquilegias, digitalis, armerias and hostas, plus others predominantly in purple and mauve-pink for a soft yet vibrant look. To create a sense of seclusion I’m using eight multi-stemmed Acer palmatum trees arranged around the central raised platform so you walk up onto the platform to survey the garden through the canopy of the trees.
“The biggest challenge lies in the fact it’s an artisan garden so you can’t penetrate the ground. This means you have to be very clever about how you hide the pots – particularly those the big trees are in. In a garden this size every centimetre counts.”


DESIGNER Chris Beardshaw SPONSOR Morgan Stanley Investments CONTRACTOR Chris Beardshaw


“I’M DELIGHTED TO BE working with Morgan Stanley again on such an exciting design concept. Gardens and music connect with everyone at some point in their lives and that’s really what we’re trying to celebrate here.  We’re working with the talented musicians from National Youth Orchestra to try to illustrate how the music and garden might find some sort of parallel to create garden and music as one. I don’t believe there has ever been a garden at Chelsea that has been inspired by music. We’re trying to use the music to perhaps paint an audible picture, which describes the beauty of the garden and what the garden represents.
“Focusing this year on education, we’re working together with NYO to explore how the emotional responses created by the garden can be expressed in music, to provide an engaging multi-sensory experience.
“The garden features three distinct areas, celebrating the opposing environments that can be experienced in British gardens. Unusually for Chelsea, the public will be able to view the garden from three sides.  Each perspective will provide a contrasting planting style that can be viewed either in isolation or as a cohesive whole.
“The first of the planting areas is a verdant naturalistic woodland, featuring a collection of specimen native Acer campestre and soft unclipped Taxus baccata and Buxus sempervirens which provoke a sense of enclosure and create pockets of light and shade. The trees are underplanted with an array of woodland perennial species, providing a lush blend of foliage textures.
“The second garden space, at the front, provides a complete contrast, with a bright, open, and temperate sun-soaked terrace. The area is richly planted with abundant jewel-coloured perennials and filled with scent. Some of the woodland trees and shrub species are repeated here, but in more formal guises, including clipped Taxus baccata specimens and a statuesque Pinus sylvestris tree.
“A sinuous and informal limestone path winds through the whole garden, passing through the third central space, which features a dramatic oak and limestone performance pavilion inspired by nature’s fractal geometry.
“After Chelsea, the garden is being donated in its entirety to Groundwork, a community charity that will redesign and repurpose the garden, through several different educational community schemes in East London. Groundwork offers young people training, apprenticeships, job opportunities and experiences that will last a lifetime.”


DESIGNER Charlotte Harris SPONSOR Royal Bank of Canada CONTRACTOR Landscape Associates

"THIS IS THE SEVENTH year that Royal Bank of Canada has sponsored a Main Avenue garden. Each garden has aimed to raise awareness of the preciousness of freshwater resources, through its Blue Water Project. This year is the 10th anniversary of the project as well as the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada – so, it's a great opportunity to celebrate the unspoilt boreal forests, freshwater lakes and wilderness of Canada, home to the largest source of unfrozen freshwater on Earth, as well being its biggest intact forest.
“I hope to make a garden inspired by that place, rather than trying to replicate it. The hard landscape materials reference the boreal’s ecology, using granite supplemented by timber for the boardwalks. A Pavilion is crafted of burnt larch (a native of the zone) and copper, which represents the mineral-rich geology. Planting is either native or a similar European substitute.
“The trees are 40 year-old Jack pines (Pinus banksiana), which I love because they’re gnarled and full of character, and there’s a mixture of zones of woodland perennials and sunny, moisture-loving plants. Fire renews the boreal forest (as it does many forest types) and the Jack Pine, thanks to its serotinous nature, is often the first tree to take hold after a burn. This links back to the charred larch timber used to build the Pavilion.
“I was very fortunate to spend September last year exploring the remote Canadian boreal by boat, canoe and on foot, getting close to the botany, the geology and the spirit of the place. This was a huge privilege and has been an incredible inspiration. It’s impossible to bring the scale and grandeur of this spectacular wilderness to a show garden, so instead I made the decision to try to evoke elements of it."


DESIGN Dr Catherine MacDonald SPONSOR Seedlip CONTRACTOR Landform Consultants Ltd

“WE WANTED to create a garden that represented the journey of Seedlip – the world’s first producer of non-alcoholic spirits, founded by Ben Branson. Ben came across a copy of The Art of Distillation 1651 – and noticing that apothecaries produced both alcoholic & non-alcoholic herbal remedies – began to experiment by distilling his own non-alcoholic spirits using a copper still and natural ingredients from his garden. He ended up solving the dilemma of ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’.
“Copper & water play important role in the distillation process, so in my design we’re using copper pipes to carry water through the garden. At its heart is an open, oak & metal structure – representing on one side, a 17th century apothecary, and on the other a modern laboratory. This will be assembled on site. Copper rills run along the benches and in the middle there’s an abstract copper sculpture by Rupert Till that depicts the Seedlip journey.
“The planting palette is inspired by the plants listed in the Art of Distillation, Seedlip botanicals and other plants with herbal or medicinal properties in the Seedlip colours. It’s an unusual and challenging plant list – I will be combining both native & tropical plants in a conceptual rather than naturalistic planting scheme.
“I’ll be using lots of plants I’ve not worked with before, so I hope to have the chance to play around with combinations before I start planting on site!
“The Seedlip branding colours are copper, grey and green so we’re trying to use strong flowering colours in rusty orange tones as well as foliage in silvery greys and green.
“I have a preferred plant list and a secondary list to draw on too. The trees are lemon trees to reflect Seedlip’s use of citrus, and then there’ll be plants such as baptisia, rusty brown Digitalis laevigata, orange trollius ‘Dancing flame’, geum ‘Mai Tai’, calendula, aquilegia ‘Orange and Lemons’, ferns and (Glycyrrhiza glabra) whose roots are used to make liquorice, as well as climbers – hops and honeysuckle. The garden is only 4x9m so I don’t want to overfill it. It’s also a no-dig site, so the trees will be elevated in large copper rings that represent stills.”


DESIGN Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson SPONSOR Darwin Property Investment Management CONTRACTOR The Outdoor Room

"THE CONCEPT BEHIND our garden is ‘breaking ground’ – bringing down the barriers to private education. It’s sponsored by Darwin Property for Wellington College, an independent private school that wants to create a substantial scholarship fund so students can be selected on grounds of talent rather than their parents’ ability to pay.
“To articulate the idea we’ve used enormous steel walls throughout the garden, about the height of a double decker bus. They’re monumental, but not solid or threatening. They mesh together but are also transparent. As you walk around them and view them from different angles they break down and open up to reveal the spaces between them. It’s all about seeing opportunity.
“Another concept we’re exploring is the explosive moment when thought is generated. In the design we’re trying to capture the idea of biological synaptic networks, for instance using crazed paving to show neurological patterns. We’re planting our own ‘Synaptic Meadow’ too, using large swathes of purple-flowered perennials and ornamental grasses – choosing species with an explosive energy to them and using umbels to symbolise bursts of thought. For instance, Laser trilobum has an open network of stems with little umbels on the end. We’re also considering wild carrot and salvias to convey the idea of flowing thought.
“Within the garden are eight rills, each pulsing with a wave flowing through to articulate the impulse of thought.

“To give the garden a bit of personality, we asked the college students to write down their hopes and aspirations, which we want to engrave onto the ceramic panels of the boundary wall.
“The landscape around the college in Berkshire is predominantly lowland heath, so here we’re referencing the location using windswept pines and birch trees. We’ve lost a lot of this habitat in Europe due to development and road building, so it’s now a threatened habitat. Planting includes Pinus sylvestris, hawthorn and small birch trees. We’ve chosen gnarled, multi-stem specimens that have beauty, but are characterful too. The typical grass of heathland is molinia, which flowers in late summer so won’t be naturally in flower in May. Instead it will be looking fresh and green and lovely.

“One of the challenges is getting enough heathers and gorse in sufficient quantity. Hortus Loci, the nursery we’re using, has been busy extending their network of suppliers to find large stocks of them. Cultivars are popular but we need hundreds for ground cover. 
“Part of the preparation for Chelsea is to design all the risk out of the project, so we’ve been working with structural engineers to create lightweight, transparent, safe and transportable walls. The lowest bridge on the motorway en route to Chelsea is about 5m high and our walls were about 4.9m – so we only had 10cm leeway. We didn’t want to make them any shorter, so instead we’ve cut them in half for re-assembly at the Chelsea showground.”