Landscape architect Craig Wilson takes us through the top trends from the UK’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
It would be hard to argue there’s a more influential event on the international garden design calendar than the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show. The 2016 event was no exception, and now is a good chance to catch up on what was trending and what ideas could be applied to our Antipodean gardening and landscape context.
Commentators have pointed out the following design elements as key markers of the 2016 Chelsea garden aesthetic.
Large rocks were used to create both structure and feature in many display gardens. This was in both natural and altered forms, and included a 44-tonne granite cube – with an almost completely hidden internal rejuvenating woodland – in the ‘M & G garden’ by Cleve West. Catherine McDonald used large, perfectly rounded smooth stones in the middle of her ‘Hartley Botanic Garden’ to contrast her selected delicate perennials.
Many of the designers employed the trusted use of clipped evergreens to create a link between the built structure of the displays and the often naturalistic plantings. An element of formality was also noted with the use of ‘pleaching’ (entwining branches to form a hedge) to elevate the clipped forms and create strongly defined spaces.
Garden sculpture was used in many displays to great effect. While looking amazing, it is hard to surpass the ability of a well-crafted garden sculpture to communicate its artist’s message and elicit an emotional response in the viewer. John Everiss in the ‘Meningitis Now Futures Garden’ beautifully creates a sense of empathy for sufferers of the disease by depicting a wooden figure caught in the middle of a stone wall trying to break free.
Responsible plant selections were also well represented with an ‘arid’, low-water garden, which took out Best in Show. ‘The Telegraph Garden’, designed by Andy Sturgeon, made reference to geological processes, climate change and the possibility of garden design being responsive to the environment.
These elements can, and have, all been successfully applied to landscape and garden design in our Canterbury context. A show garden is never meant to be real and in reality only lasts a few days, but if well-conceived the underlying principles may be timeless in their relevance, regardless of setting.