The biggest trend to emerge from this year's Chelsea Flower Show...

·4-min read
Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle
Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle

Whatever the season, there are always trends you can take away from the Chelsea Flower Show to try at home in your own garden or outdoor space. But for RHS Chelsea's first-ever autumn show, there's one common theme across a few gardens on the showground – pergolas.

Available in different shapes, sizes and materials, a pergola is synonymous with the rise in outdoor living; a trend that was around way before the pandemic but has definitely heightened since lockdown as the nation spent an increased amount of time enjoying their garden.

It's perhaps not surprising that the pergola has taken centre stage at Chelsea Flower Show 2021, but it has taken on a new modern form.

'The 21st century is making its mark on what used to be seen as a rather static and traditional garden feature,' Gareth Richards, Royal Horticultural Society's Group Features Editor, wrote. 'Pergolas have been popular for more than a century – and at this year's Chelsea they seem to be getting quite the modern makeover.'

With an often elegant structure, a pergola acts as the perfect foundation to grow vertical and to trail climbing plants on, plus it's the ideal spot to embrace alfresco dining.

This multifunctional garden furniture can cast enough light shade to make a sunny afternoon enjoyable, it can give extra height to an outdoor space, and it's a great garden screening idea, offering privacy and a sense of security.

The pergola is a significant feature in the Parsley Box Garden designed by Alan Williams. Here the outdoor kitchen sits adjacent to a dining/entertaining area, which is sheltered with a black-painted wooden cantilevered pergola and flanked by aged brass tiered planters.

Photo credit: Brian Whar
Photo credit: Brian Whar

Alan recently discussed how the pergola is a piece of garden furniture that can grow with you, explaining: 'Much like a tree, a pergola also provides us with that sense of enclosure. It can be completely open, like mine on the Parsley Box Garden, or it can be clad in fragrant climbers or shade sails for a particularly sunny spot. When placed over a particular area, such as an entertaining space or play area, they can provide practical solutions such as somewhere to suspend lighting or heating to extend those alfresco nights further into the year.'

Elsewhere, the restorative and tranquil Florence Nightingale Garden, designed by Robert Myers, is surrounded by a 60-foot sculptural timber pergola on three sides for strolling through and sitting in, with shaded places, naturalistic planting and water to engage the senses. It's a sculptural art piece in disguise, thanks to the curved wood and stainless steel structure.

Photo credit: RHS/Neil Hepworth
Photo credit: RHS/Neil Hepworth

The Finding Our Way: An NHS Tribute Garden designed by Naomi Ferrett-Cohen is a space to reflect on the events of the pandemic. This clever design incorporates small copper rills into the sides of the pergola, while matching wood has been used to make the cantilevered seat, overall creating a cohesive look.

There are no rules when it comes to pergolas, as seen in the RHS COP26 Garden, designed by Marie-Louise Agius. A black-painted wooden pergola is used to frame a walkway, which provides contrast to the beautiful rich autumnal planting.

Photo credit: RHS/Neil Hepworth
Photo credit: RHS/Neil Hepworth

How small can you make a pergola? There are no rules, as is shown in The Landform Balcony Garden designed by Nicola Hale. This balcony garden shows just what is possible for city dwellers with small spaces and an impressive feature is the narrow metal pergola, less than 30cm (12") wide, that's framed with beautiful star jasmine.

Photo credit: Brian Whar
Photo credit: Brian Whar


In the colourful Arcadia balcony garden designed by Martha Krempel, a simple pergola covers the balcony's suspended chair swing and provides support for climbing Virginia creeper, which sports bright red foliage at this time of year.

Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle
Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle

The same can be seen in the Sky Sanctuary balcony garden designed by Michael Coley. A pergola provides height and is used to hang a swinging egg chair and lights, providing a quiet place for contemplation.

Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle
Photo credit: RHS/Sarah Cuttle

So will the trend continue? With all its benefits and versatile uses, a pergola is the perfect way to extend your living space into the outdoors, and as Chelsea Flower Show's garden designers have shown, it can be used to suit a variety of spaces. Certainly in the pandemic we've spent more time than ever in our gardens. In fact, in our very own Big Gardening Poll, 56 per cent said they intend to use their garden all year round, making the garden pergola a worthwhile investment.

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