It was 1913 when Royal Chelsea Hospital, home of the celebrated Chelsea pensioners, who are all retired soldiers of the British Army, first hosted the RHS Great Spring Show which has grown over the past century into the sensation we see today. Themes and plants used at Chelsea set trends which are often seen in British gardens for years’ after. With Chelsea’s status as the ‘catwalk’ of gardening and garden design it is always intriguing to see what is being been showcased.

In order to decipher opinions and themes running through this years’ show, I’ve separated out the different topics and trends on display and it seems the most popular and controversial theme this year is the idea of replicating a wild landscape.

James Basson won The Best in Show with his imposing ‘The M&G Garden’ inspired by an abandoned Maltese quarry.  Although I’ve read a lot of criticism on social media and people have grumbled and claimed to be underwhelmed by this garden, personally I loved it, especially as the concept of ‘re-wilding’ is picking up motion among Landscape Architects. I feel this garden was contemporary and appropriate. Basson stated in an interview he was trying to celebrate abandoned landscapes, with the design intent to encourage an appreciation of the existing landscapes and to work with what has emerged after industry is gone. We see many examples of Landscape Architects taking abandoned industrial places and celebrating the natural plant succession along with old industrial structures, orchestrating harmony between the two layers of the landscape through a reclamation design – a school of thought pioneered by Peter Latz. Why not begin introducing the concept of harsh man-made industry working with the softness of nature by introducing controlled wilderness into our gardens?

'The M & G Garden' Designed by James Basson - Source: rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

 

The Artisan Garden ‘Walker’s Wharf Garden’ also adopts the concept of abandoned industry reverting to wilderness, and it could be argued that it has done this even more successfully than the M&G garden. Personally, I felt it triumphed, offering a harmony of industry and wildness within an accessible garden, rather than a landscape in miniature. A well-deserved gold and awarded Best Artisan Garden for Graham Bodle for the careful composition of something which looks to have organically developed over time.

'Walker's Wharf Garden' by Graham Bodle - Source: rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

 

'Walker's Wharf Garden' by Graham Bodle - Source: rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

 

The collaborative team of Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith also married this idea of industry and wilderness in their artisan garden ‘The World Horse Welfare Garden’. As this garden won the Artisan Gardens People’s Choice Award, it highlights that the want and love for ‘wilderness’ in gardens has already begun to gain momentum with both the public and the judges alike.

'The World Horse Welfare Garden' by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith - Source: https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

 

‘The Bank of Canada Garden’ by Charlotte Harris is another success, taking the pure, untouched essence of wilderness in the Canadian Boreal Forest and distilling it into a ‘tamed’ garden. Harris, as a talent designer, has taken inspiration similar to Basson but in contrast, has created a space one can truly call a garden, on a human scale.

'The Bank of Canada Garden' by Charlotte Harris - Source: rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

The Chinese inspired ‘Silk Road Garden’ designed and built by Architect, Laurie Chetwood and the planting designer, Patrick Collins tried to take Chelsea visitors to the Chengdu mountains with the flat pack structure and plants imported all the way from China. However, the bright pink colours of the structure halted any idea of the wilderness in Chengdu mountains and concentrated the theme on the man-made silk road – possibly a lost opportunity – and, perhaps this, in tandem with potentially the stress of travel on the plants, resulted in the garden being awarded with a Silver Gilt, instead of the sought-after gold.

'Silk road Garden' by Laurie Chatwood and Patrick Collins - Source: rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/gardens

So, with many of the show gardens attempting a marriage of nature’s wilderness overlaid on the abandoned man-made, let’s not forget the Best in Show award did go to the garden embracing this concept in its purest form.

Is this a whole new style of gardening and designing which will prevail from this year’s Chelsea into the future? Time will tell, but with nature always on the verge of taking over the pristinely controlled flower bed and the re-wilding of the most forgotten and unassuming places, I hope that the concept of a ‘wild’ space, however modest, will seep into British Gardens.

                                            - Written by Sophie Hauser Landscape Assistant - MSc         

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