12 lessons from Chelsea Flower Show that will transform your garden

·7-min read
chelsea flower show - Reuters
chelsea flower show - Reuters

As ever, the 2022 edition of the Chelsea Flower Show is a bustling hive of ingenuity and invention, and visiting gardeners will find plenty of inspiration amongst the flowers and trees.

We've examined everything the show has to offer in detail to discover the biggest trends of the the year.

Lavish front gardens

Chelsea Flower Show 2022 - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea Flower Show 2022 - Heathcliff O'Malley

We should be lavishing the space in front of our homes with as much attention as our back gardens, according to designer Andy Smith-Williams, who has created a gorgeous vision of a cohesive, community garden for Front Garden Revolution.

“Our front gardens are outward-facing, and can be enjoyed by the whole community,” he says. He encourages ripping up paving (and repurposing it) to allow more plants – with trees, native hedges, grasses, ferns and wildflowers - as well as head turning flowers such as iris and gladioli.

Eat what you grow

Chelsea flower show trends - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea flower show trends - Heathcliff O'Malley

Edible plants were a huge trend at Chelsea this year. In the Alder Hey Urban Foraging Station, a concrete “blanket” planted with wild garlic, mint, and chamomile nestles amongst a backdrop of hawthorn and crab apple trees. Hugh Miller says the garden was designed with their grandfather in mind: “The smell of tomatoes instantly takes me back to being a kid in his garden.”

Similarly, the Wild Kitchen Garden by Ann Treneman features edible plants, from daisies and fennel, to aquilegia, elderflower and dog rose, while Lottie Delamain, who created a garden for Fashion Revolution, demonstrates how the same kinds of plants can be used as dye for clothes.

The return of the border

Chelsea Flower Show winners - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea Flower Show winners - Heathcliff O'Malley

Designer Richard Miers makes a bid for the return of formal borders, with several laced throughout his formal design, The Perennial Garden With Love. “I think for gardening people who love flowers, borders are a joy,” he says. “They are actually easier to maintain than that totally wild look, too.” He points to hardy plants in his scheme, including clipped Portuguese laurel along with fennel, violas and foxgloves.

Groups of the stately plum lupin ‘Masterpiece’ are complemented by the purple centres of Centaurea montana, a fancy knapweed. “Repeating flowers helps your eye move along and unifies the whole border,” he says.

Create multipurpose spaces

Chelsea flower show swimming pool - Matt Dunham
Chelsea flower show swimming pool - Matt Dunham

Various lockdowns reminded us that gardens can become extra living space for different leisure activities. Kate Gould’s garden features a swimming pool (raised up and cleverly semi-concealed under a pergola), exercise bars and a yoga pavilion. “My clients are asking for ways to incorporate all these things – as well as fantastic plants – into their gardens,” Gould says.

She uses lush, sculptural palms, bamboo and ferns to create a tropical theme. “I want to show people that if they want a swim spa for example, or a space to do yoga, they don’t need to choose between having that and a beautiful garden,” she says.

Add structure for drama

chelsea flower show - Heathcliff O'Malley
chelsea flower show - Heathcliff O'Malley

Many of the show gardens used structures to great effect, such as designer Michelle Brown, whose giant pergolas and arches “create rooms within the garden.”. Brown positioned a white wisteria to climb up a central arch to create a floral entrance to her garden. “As the flowers die back, the leaves start to grow longer and it creates a curtain,” she says. “It at once invites you to peer in and shields you when you are inside.”

Rewild our back yards

Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley

Manicured gardens can often miss opportunities to support native wildlife, but Adam Hunt, from Urquhart and Hunt which designed the A Rewilding Britain Landscape garden for beavers, believes we can use them as “an opportunity to create habitats”.

He suggests adding a water feature to attract bird life, wood piles to encourage beetles and plants that encourage different kinds of insects, from valerian to viola, nettles to honeysuckle. Jennifer Hirsh, botanist and designer of The Body Shop’s Re:generation garden, adds “select plants that stretch across the seasons to ensure early and late wildlife and microfauna has choices.”

Subtle water features

Chelsea Flower Show inspiration - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea Flower Show inspiration - Heathcliff O'Malley

Water features are back – but in a more subtle way than before. “Now people appreciate beautiful, calmer designs that don’t waste too much water or electricity,” says sculptor David Harber, whose A-list clients include Jeremy Irons and Judi Dench. “When you put water in a garden, it instantly creates a calming, reflective atmosphere.”

The designs at the show ranged from naturalistic in the Meta Garden and Place2Be to more formal in gardens such as The Stitchers’ Garden designed by Frederic Whyte, with its transparent pool with three fountain jets bubbling away.

Create a sanctuary

Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley

Stepping down into designer Jamie Butterworth’s Place2Be with his planting scheme of calming greens, with white and purples feels like stepping into a private sanctuary. “The act of stepping into a sunken space into a place of intimacy, surrounded by tall planting including trees, gives you a very calm feeling,” Butterworth says. “These moments are really important ways to connect to our mental health.”

Focus on soil health

Blue Peter Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley
Blue Peter Chelsea Flower Show - Heathcliff O'Malley

While leaving patches of soil bare as Juliet Sargeant has done might not be for everyone, “the major take-home message is about composting,” she says. She thinks we should be making our own – in hot composters or using wormeries – as well as digging less. Soil matters even under the paving we put down. “It’s really important too that we allow the soil to breath because it is alive and so we should use permeable paving wherever possible,” Sargeant adds. Smith-Williams agrees: he encourages the use of “crack-fillers” to green-up paths, including Raoulia australis, leptinella and thyme.

You don't need a garden to garden

chelsea flower show balcony - Heathcliff O'Malley
chelsea flower show balcony - Heathcliff O'Malley

Increasing numbers of us are likely to live in houses without gardens: recent research by ONS found that one in eight people in the UK has no access to a green patch of their own.

But Jason Williams, who recreates his 18th floor balcony in Manchester for his Chelsea debut, packed with flowers and arches, an herb tower and even his fishpond, is determined to show what is possible. “I’ve got marigolds, petunias and even dandelions, because that is what is available to urban gardeners on a low budget,” he says.

Nearby, The Potting Balcony demonstrates how to use a balcony as functional place to garden, with a potting table and mini greenhouse. Ocean Plastic Pots, one of the contenders for sustainable product of the year, make fun coloured pots (that look more ceramic) that will enliven a small space, while Plant Box, can help you create a living wall, thanks to stacking planters that sit atop a 1.8l water reservoir base.

String up your houseplants

chelsea flower show - Heathcliff O'Malley
chelsea flower show - Heathcliff O'Malley

What to do when you’ve got so many houseplants that they take over your worktops? Suspend them from the ceiling, according to Antonia Adams, from Planted House, a botanical shop in Penzance. “By hanging them from the ceiling you get a sense of space, and it often suits the plants, many of which are epiphytes, better.” Adams uses rattan cane, which naturally twists, as plant support and advises placing a bucket underneath when watering – then “give them a good drenching.”

Go big with containers

Chelsea flower show 2022 - Heathcliff O'Malley
Chelsea flower show 2022 - Heathcliff O'Malley

Container planting is bigger and better than ever – even in small spaces. Kate Gould recommends going large to save frequent watering. “Small pots can dry out in less than a day in hot weather,” she says. Smith Williams uses giant planters to collect rainwater, and packs them with moisture-loving plants.

Hayley Green from The Plant School advises choosing evergreens to give structure in winter and underplanting to allow room for growth. “Make sure you choose the spot carefully before you fill it with soil and plants,” she says.

Architectural Heritage have beautifully designed big copper pots based on a Sissinghurst design while Pots and Pithoi sell Cretan terracotta pots in 240 sizes.

For a full round up of the 13 show gardens this year, see Tim Richardson's piece. For the Gold medal-winning gardens and soon-to-be announced Best in Show award, see Jack Rear's piece

What garden inspiration have you spotted at Chelsea or other flower shows this year? Let us know in the comment section below

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