4 Chelsea Flower Show designers on what to expect for their gardens at this year's show

·11-min read
Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

Last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was held in September due to the pandemic, but this year it’s back to its usual spring slot and promises to be a glorious riot of colour and ideas, underpinned by themes of sustainability and biodiversity.

We spoke to four female designers about the thinking behind their gardens and how we can all be more inspired by our own outdoor spaces.

Chelsea Flower Show garden designers on what to expect for 2022

Chelsea Flower Show garden: A Rewilding Britain Landscape

Photo credit: Rewilding Britain
Photo credit: Rewilding Britain

Lulu Urquhart (together with Adam Hunt) has worked with the charity Rewilding Britain on a spectacular show garden in which beavers – who are natural rewilders – have been reintroduced. The garden features a brook that flows through a copse of hawthorn, hazels and field maples and then under an Exmoor stone wall. A family of beavers has built a dam to form a pool, and rivulets spread out across a riparian meadow.

Where did you get the idea for this garden?

We travelled to places in England where beavers had been reintroduced and saw the huge environmental benefits. They help with soil erosion and open up bare soil so that plants can feed and thrive. And fish are flourishing in shallow beaver pools because of the change in soil texture. It’s the resilience of nature – rewilding is a piece of hope.

Which plants are you using?

The native plants we chose support a wide range of insects, birds and mammals. The beavers have built a lodge under the Salix alba (white willow) – it’s extraordinary when you see how they use the landscape. They’ll take down trees such as alders, which will then start regenerating and coppicing back up. We’ve also got the most incredible multi-stem hawthorn in the garden, which is a home and feeder for insects and birds.

The aesthetic is less important to us than showing plants that provide habitats, such as the Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis). Its pollen is lovely for many insects, but the leaf is the food for the caterpillar of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, which is an extremely rare species in the UK now. We want to start changing people’s lens on how they look at a landscape.

How can people bring these ideas into their own gardens?

Even if people don’t have a large space to work with, they can look for ways to bring habitat in and really celebrate native plants. We should start seeing ourselves as nature networkers – nature needs corridors and passages.

Nature should be reciprocal – it does so much for us, think about all that pollination! Early bulbs like wood anemones and even dandelions are great in gardens; they’re vital foods for when bumblebees come out of hibernation. People think they need to get rid of them, but they’re a bounty for insects and for us.

What’s your own garden at home like?

My garden is woodland, basically. We’re lucky to have a stream too. I have a couple of borders by the house, but I’ve kept the woods entirely native. When the bluebells seed we pick the seedheads and scatter them around. We have a lot of ash trees and we've put in a native underfloor of trees like yew and sweet chestnut.

What are the big themes at Chelsea this year?

I’m really happy to see how many gardens are dealing with bigger nature issues, and also the importance of having a connection to nature for mental health.

What other projects are you working on?

We’ve releasing beavers at another project in Dorset at the moment, so we’re enjoying working on the landscape down there.

Chelsea Flower Show garden: The Mothers For Mothers Garden: ‘This Too Shall Pass’

Photo credit: Pollyanna Wilkinson
Photo credit: Pollyanna Wilkinson

Pollyanna Wilkinson has designed a garden with the charity Mothers For Mothers for Chelsea’s new ‘All About Plants’ category, which champions the positive impact of plants. The garden is inspired by the expression ‘This too shall pass’, with the planting taking the viewer on a journey from despair to hope.

How does the theme of motherhood translate into the garden?

I'm a mother of young children myself, and I used to be a counseller working with maternal mental health, so this issue couldn’t be closer to my heart.

The garden explores the fragility you can feel when you have kids, that complete loss of identity and trying to figure out who you are as a person. We’ve used these huge bronze arches that are meant to be a play on how mothers are home a lot and home can feel like a sanctuary or a cage.

But the planting feels very feminine. One side of the garden is very green and blue, quite subdued. But then as you move along a pathway, the colours become much more exuberant and colourful, with lots of peonies, roses, iris – the real cottage garden crowd-pleasers. I designed it around the flowers I love.

What other plants will you feature?

We're going to be using Angelica, Daucus carota (wild carrot) and all sorts of different grasses, with Aquilegia, Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and some fairly fantastic Baptisia as well. I hope it will really make people smile.

What have been the challenges?

The weather has been so warm recently, so it's a sort of dance with which plants are going to be over by Chelsea, and which are going to be ready. You never know if it's going to be a cold or warm spring, and we had a warm one so everything's really far ahead.

How can people get inspiration for their own gardens?

The planting is all things that people could have in their own gardens. It's designed to look at its best in May, but there are plants in there that will look beautiful in autumn and some structure for winter too. People can pick and choose their favourites, it’s very frothy!

What tips can you give budding gardeners?

Make sure the plants you choose are pollinator-friendly. Some of the roses I'm using in the garden are more open varieties, as opposed to the very closed ones that are difficult for bees to get into. And consider the benefits your plants offer wildlife. As well as looking nice in the summer, do they have interesting seedheads that birds can feed on in the autumn and winter? Gardens are becoming more of a shared space with wildlife, as opposed to just ours.

What do you like to plant in your own garden?

I'm looking at huge pots of tulips. I have an urban garden, so it's not as large as I'd like, but I do have a lot of pots to bring in the seasonal colour and then I flip that over to summer annuals. I’m also forced to have a lawn because my children like playing football!

What trends are we seeing at Chelsea this year?

I think it's going to be a Chelsea of two halves. On one hand, it's seeing things moving to a more naturalistic style, with lots of rewilding. And then you've also got gardens to inspire those of us in urban settings, with more structure.

What other projects are you working on?

We're working on a couple of big gardens in Sussex, which involve quite a lot of rewilding. We’re focusing on bringing in huge swathes of wildflowers and native hedging so that the dormice have a habitat. And another very exciting project we're working on is a castle in Wales, which was completely dilapidated. But the walled gardens are there and we're slowly unearthing them and bringing them back to their former glory.

Chelsea Flower Show garden: A Swiss Sanctuary Garden

Photo credit: Swiss Sanctuary Garden
Photo credit: Swiss Sanctuary Garden

Lilly Gomm’s garden is inspired by travels to Switzerland and demonstrates how you can create a sanctuary of your own within a small space.

How does this garden encapsulate Switzerland?

The garden represents a personal sanctuary that someone's created after coming home from a trip to Switzerland. The Italian and French-speaking areas of the country have completely different climates, from Mediterranean to Alpine, and this garden pulls them all together.

We've got Alpine sections, meadow, woodland, and then an interpretation of the Mediterranean but with plants from all over the world. It includes Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine), Camellia japonica (Japanese camellia) and in the meadow will be Achillea. A lot of native plants in Switzerland don't like being grown in a pot, they like craggy rocks, so I've tried to use alternatives that are sourceable in the UK.

Is this achievable for UK gardeners?

Yes, it’s important to me that visitors get some realistic inspiration, so hopefully this garden will encourage people to have a play with plants and experiment.

If people want to recreate gardens they’ve seen on a holiday, I’d advise them to look at the different foliage types and textures, and use that as a base to build up their own interpretation at home. Obviously you’ll need varieties that are happy within your own garden conditions. That's where the experimental element comes in – some things fail, some things really work.

What do you like to plant in your own garden at home?

I've recently moved, so my garden is not looking its best at the moment! But I've started collecting different Epimediums, which are the most beautiful flowers, they’re so delicate.

What trends are you seeing at Chelsea?

We’re becoming more aware of how we should work with what we have, and thinking about pollinators. The naturalistic movement is going strong, I can't see that fading away anytime soon.

Chelsea Flower Show garden: JAY DAY Balcony Garden

Photo credit: Jay Day
Photo credit: Jay Day

Bird-loving landscape designers Alison Orellana Malouf and Su-Yeon (Angela) Choi – known collectively as Flock Party – are exhibiting in the Balcony and Container Garden category with their garden JAY DAY. The balcony is carpeted with moss to attract Eurasian jays, who store their nuts in Hypnum moss. Other plants provide food and habitats for a variety of birds and insects.

What’s the thinking behind your JAY DAY balcony?

Alison: We're both pretty avid birders and we’re constantly delighted by the funny behaviour of birds! We’ve noticed the particular way birds inhabit cities. I live in Amsterdam and I’ve seen birds crawling into unused laundry chutes – they're surprisingly well-adapted to the manmade environment.

Su-Yeon: We wanted to utilise the jays’ charismatic character as a jumping-off ground for thinking about other bird species as well. We’re using whole plants, like sunflowers, rather than just their seeds, to show how much more utility an actual live plant can give. The plants bring another dimension with their growing cycles, helping birds survive during the winter when food sources are scarce.

We’re using Pyracantha (Firethorn) for its winter berries and we have a small hazelnut tree, since jays have a very tight symbiotic relationship with these trees. Eurasian jays cache nuts in tree crevices, so we have a sculptural snag with deep holes standing on the side of our balcony.

How can people achieve this on their own balconies?

Su-Yeon: This is totally possible on your own balcony; just get hold of the seeds and plant them until they grow. Some typical birdfeed plants are sweetcorn, peanuts, safflower and Niger seeds. A balcony doesn't have to be restrictive. Sometimes balconies are very elevated, even at the tree canopy level. That's a unique opportunity to try growing different kinds of plants. Also think about the larger context – maybe there's a park or water near you that will help you bring another species onto your balcony.

Alison: A balcony can be really exciting. If you’re in a city you might even get glare from a skyscraper’s windows, and suddenly you can grow cacti, even in the UK. Your particular balcony can have quite an extreme variety of microclimates.

What are your own outdoor spaces like?

Alison: Neither of us have a proper garden. I’m in Amsterdam and have a balcony, and Su-Yeon is in Basel, Switzerland and has a patio. So it's containers all round! I love planting a ‘bulb lasagne’, where you plant layered bulbs in pots. Then in the spring you have a succession of incredible colour coming at you.

Su-Yeon: I started growing tomatoes from seed when I was a child and I still enjoy growing edible plants, because it really connects the different parts of your life. It’s great to think about what you want to cook when your tomatoes are ripening.

See all of the Chelsea Flower Show winners from the last event and how to get Chelsea Flower Show tickets or how to watch Chelsea Flower Show on TV if you'll be following from home.

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