IT’S the most glamourous date in the gardening calendar — and biodiversity, climate change and naturalistic design are the buzzwords at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Famed for showcasing the work of the world’s most cutting edge designers and extraordinary new horticultural talent, here are the gardens that you won’t want to miss.
Going for gold …
The Resilience Garden
It seems fitting that Sarah Eberle has created the Resilience Garden (main picture) for the Chelsea ‘grande dame’ is the only designer to have won medals in five different categories at the world-famous flower show.
This year, Sarah marks her return to Main Avenue to celebrate The Forestry Commission’s centenary by turning the spotlight on the challenges that forests are facing. ‘I feel strongly about climate change and the problem it poses with pests and diseases,’ says Sarah, who also holds eight RHS gold medals. Inspired by revolutionary Victorian horticulturist William Robinson, Sarah’s varied choice of exotic planting alongside native species illustrates the diversification needed to create resilient forests of the future.
‘We’ve also included zones in the garden to reflect the variety of conditions that come with climate change. We have some dry zones, but also damper, wetter zones too. People can look at the groups of plants we use in each of these areas and apply them at home.’
The space is dominated by a seven-metre high farmyard grain silo. The recycled and natural materials reflect the rural setting of this leafy paradise, which also offers potential solutions to protect the UK’s woods against climate change. ‘It’s a really important and topical garden to do,’ adds Sarah. ‘I see this as a project, which launches over generations and raises awareness of these issues.’
Out of Africa…
The CAMFED Garden: Giving Girls in Africa a Space to Grow
Zimbabwe’s vibrant colours and exotic flora and fauna provide a stunning backdrop in Chelsea newcomer Jilayne Rickards’s homage to rural Africa.
Supported by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, this garden highlights the work The Campaign For Female Education does to empower the mainly female agricultural workforce. And it offers sustainable and climate-smart farming techniques so they can provide food and income for their families. ‘It’s an exciting challenge to bring a corner of rural Africa to Chelsea,’ says Jilayne.
‘Every element of the garden is functional as well as beautiful. The core message is the importance of horticultural education and how this can lift women, families, and communities out of poverty.’
Jilayne combines bold foliage with productivity, choosing plants with edible fruits, flowers, leaves or roots to emphasise the importance of horticulture as a source of food. Bio-fortified beans and maize feature alongside banana and papaya trees, adding texture to the space, which is framed by deep blue walls.
At its heart is a rural Zimbabwean classroom, drawing attention to the urgent need to empower young women in some of the world’s poorest communities most affected by climate change.
‘There are low-cost elements here that can be incorporated into anyone’s back garden,’ says Jilayne. ‘Some of our items have been sourced from eBay and skips.
‘The inclusion of bio-fortified crops and low-cost solar lights also show how scientific advancements are benefiting rural populations in Africa.’
The design was born following a meeting in Zimbabwe with a farming entrepreneur called Beauty.
‘It prompted me to consider gardening with a fresh perspective,’ she says. ‘Beauty’s determination to benefit her community through the plants she grows is remarkable.’
The royal dig
The RHS Back to Nature Garden
In a Chelsea first, The Duchess of Cambridge has teamed up with Andrée Davies and Adam White to co-design this woodland-themed garden which encourages families and communities to grow plants and reap the health rewards of connecting with nature. Inspired by childhood memories and special moments triggered by the natural world, the Back To Nature garden promotes physical and emotional wellbeing. Sensory elements to help children learn include a beautifully crafted hollow log for them to climb through, a den, waterfall, stream and a treehouse.
A peaceful palette of blue and green creates a calm mood while the diverse planting includes wild trees, wild strawberries and plants used for craft activities and forest scents. A path weaves through the foliage around stepping stones and the natural carpet of flowers, fruits and seeds provides food and cover for wildlife, as well as nectar for bees and butterflies.
‘We were delighted to be designing with The Duchess of Cambridge,’ says Adam. ‘We spoke about our childhood memories, being outdoors and exploring nature. She was very open and hugely collaborative.’
Garden of dreams
The Greenfingers Charity garden
Inspired by the importance of access to nature for all, Chelsea veteran Kate Gould has created a playful, uplifting space for life-limited children and their families. The split-level hospice garden is decked in calming tones of green, white and yellow. ‘Usable green spaces in every sort of environment are key to uplifting and enriching the lives of the people who use them,’ says Kate. Dotted with topiary, the garden is also showcasing the Greenfingers’ charity’s new plant, Choisya Greenfingers.
The two levels are linked by a lift and sloped walkways, enabling children with complex needs and their visitors to play, relax or simply take time for quiet reflection.
Fun is explored with porotherm bricks casting interesting shadows on the garden and a hanging chair in the shape of an apple. Kate — a three time Best In Show Chelsea winner — has mixed low maintenance, hardy tropicals, textured foliage and grasses to create an exotic feel alongside a magical water feature. Kate says she and the team are
excited to bring the garden to life. ‘We hope we’ve done it justice.’
Art in nature
The Kingston Maurward Garden
Kingston Maurward College has taught generations of aspiring artisans how to work with beautiful materials. So it’s fitting that their students have helped designer and college lecturer Michelle Brown achieve this glorious garden, celebrating 70 years of land-based education at the Dorchester institute.
Drawing inspiration from across the globe, it combines metal, stone and wood and fuses modern and traditional fauna. A pathway culminates in a place of rest and reflection under the bespoke metal cupula — made by students in the college’s forge. ‘It’s a chance to show what an amazing team we have got at the college,’ says Michelle. ‘We really hope it will inspire anyone who wants to build their own garden.’
■ The RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place from today to Saturday, rhs.org.uk
Five beautiful new blooms debuting at Chelsea 2019
Pretty in pink
Plantagogo’s Heuchera Cool Dude boasts large bell-shaped, dusky-pink flowers on tall stems with cool green, silvery foliage, which can change through the seasons.
Paeonia All That Jazz is a pretty little peony from Primrose Hall Peonies and has apricot tones, a dark centre and perfect pink flecks.
That’s the spirit
Lupinus Bishop’s Tipple created by Sarah Conibear at Westcountry Nurseries in Devon, has lilac flowers with a hint of yellow and is a hardy perennial for sun or partial shade.
Salvia Amethyst Lips is a stunning shrubby perennial from Hardy’s Cottage Garden boasting rich purple and white flowers.
By royal appointment
Clematis Meghan is a dark red flower from Thorncroft that was cultivated to celebrate The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s marriage last May.