What can we learn from Chelsea?


The 99th Chelsea Flower Show took place in London last week in the grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital. Five hundred exhibitors and 34 show gardens were created on the site during the three-week build-up. Next week, instant grass will be laid across the site, returning it to green belt parkland along the banks of the Thames River.

Many of the dismantled gardens will be donated to charities. The Brewin Dolphin Garden will be renamed Horatio’s Garden and rebuilt at a spinal treatment centre where it will honour Horatio Chapple, the Eton schoolboy who was mauled to death by a polar bear while on a school trip to Norway in November.

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The workplace of tomorrow is a patio with a vertical wall garden and a wildflower meadow on the roof. Picture: Kay MontgomeryThe best garden on show at this year's Chelsea Flower Show included a meadow garden, topiary, dramatic art and a spectacular gate. Picture: Kay Montgomery.

Trends at Chelsea each year influence gardening across the world. The following trends may influence local gardeners:

Topiary is back

Not seen for at least a decade, topiary has returned to Chelsea. By far the best examples were four giant column topiaries which dominated designer Clive West’s garden,. The focus on topiaries and shaped hedges this year is undoubtedly influenced by an invasion of fungal blight which has decimated box (Buxus spp), the major hedging plant used across Europe. Horticulturists are scrambling for alternatives to box, and various gardens showcased alternatives (Teucrium spp). This notwithstanding, the return of topiary ensures that Italian formal gardens across Gauteng are firmly back in fashion.

Water conservation as a lifestyle

After two seasons of low rainfall, the water-stressed south-west of Britain is on drought alert with hosepipe bans in place and publicity campaigns that encourage gardeners to use water responsibly.

Not surprisingly, there were four dry-climate, Mediterranean-style gardens at Chelsea, including two formal Italian gardens with cypresses, a rustic romantic Corsican garden, and a dry garden created for the Teenage Cancer Trust which featured brown bearded irises, a rock water pond and gravel paths under four bold cedar wood frames.

The Blue Water Garden showed how excess rainwater could be channelled into bioswales in the garden instead of rills and canals, while the Slovenian Soft Machine Garden demonstrated how to use wetland plants to purify water. A Climate Calm garden showcased how a garden with a minimal carbon footprint could include wildlife-friendly, drought-resistant plants dissected by Persian-style rills fed from a water butt that harvested rain water off the roof.

Up the wall

Gardening up walls and across roofs is now a mainstream trend. Over a dozen gardens were to be found on the roof tops of show gardens and there were four spectacular vertical gardens planted up alongside outdoor patios.

Designer Diarmuid Gavin produced a vertical garden with his five-storey high pyramid of scaffolding called The Westland Magical Garden. Cloaked in trailing star jasmine, the urban garden included a lift, water harvesting units, a Japanese retreat garden, bamboo forest and a stainless steel tube slide for a rapid and adventurous descent from the third storey.

Go caravanning

Two gardens extolled the virtues of escaping into the rustic beyond – in a caravan. The first garden featured a caravan named “Doris” and showcased the ease of holidaying in recessionary times down rose-lined country lanes. The second garden took its inspiration from the Thomas Hardy classic, Far From the Madding Crowd. The caravan was a wheeled shepherd’s hut.

Bring back the bees

Backed by a Royal Horticultural Society campaign to develop bee-friendly gardens, over 70 percent of the show gardens included rustic meadow planting with an emphasis on bee-friendly pollinating flowers. - Saturday Star

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