Can you make a Chelsea Flower Show Garden at home?
It’s show season & the horticultural world is gearing up for the biggest & most prestigious of all…. Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
We, as ‘garden mortals’, are going to look on in wonder at the ability of the professional horticulturalists and garden designers to produce the most amazing and utterly perfect looking plants. We will gaze upon beautifully constructed gardens that look like they have grown there for years and marvel at how they do all this, in just a few short weeks.
We will listen to experts eulogise over plants and the show gardens and tell us how we can be inspired to have a go at home…..but is this fanciful talk or could we really produce a garden of show standard beauty in our own back gardens?
Before we look at whether we can, what makes a show garden so spectacular?
Well the most obvious point, is that on average, show gardens can cost up to £250,000 and with an approximate size of 100m sq – that’s a whopping £2,500 spent per square metre!
So clearly barring a lottery win, this is out of reach for the vast majority.
Chelsea Show ground, for much of the year, is a large open expanse of green, which is utterly transformed every year by an army of landscapers, builders and garden designers. This give the designer a distinct advantage over the rest of us, they all have a totally blank canvas to work with.
Designers don’t have to fit a border around the tree roots creeping in from next door’s garden, nor do they have to consider how to disguise the ugly shed in the corner or prop up a derelict fence. It is so much easier to design a beautiful garden if you don’t have to compromise on anything!
Other key points that raise the show garden above the norm include planting density, you don’t ever see bare soil in a show garden. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to fill every patch of my garden with plants; the problem arising here though is that if you don’t fill with plants…the garden happily fills the space with weeds!
Plant perfection, plants are expensive, we buy in 2’s and 3’s usually. Growing plants for a show involves growing hundreds at a time and picking only the best few for the show.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, most if not all the plants on show have been ‘tampered with’, now by this I mean that plants are kept in artificial conditions (heat to accelerate growth and flowering or cool to restrict the flowering), so by the time Chelsea arrives, all the plants behave a bit like racehorses in the starting gate, champing at the bit to all burst forth and flower….
So in your garden at home, you will not be able to reproduce the flowering intensity you see at Chelsea, in a normal environment your plants will flower as and when they should.
Now before you are disappointed, consider this, Chelsea is all about the show – and it lasts for 1 week. So if the following week all the plants have finished flowering it doesn’t matter – but in your garden it does, you want it to look pretty darn good for more than 5 days in the year.
Show gardens are the ‘Supermodels’ of the gardening world, we know they look fab, we’d love to look like one but we all know we haven’t the time, patience, money or the right body shape to be one. However, we can all take a few elements from the supermodels catwalk show and make ourselves feel a bit more glamorous.
These are just some of the design drawings for this years show, so what are the trends and the best bits you can take with you.
It easier if you break it down into 3 categories, colours, shapes and fashion.
Colour: Aside from greens, pale pinks, blues, magenta, a hint of copper tones, oranges and the colours of a sunset are popular.
Shapes: Spirals and plant humps (as opposed to ball shapes) are in, formal ponds and straight water runways and monoliths; large tall structures that rise above the planting and there’s not a lot of lawn on show!
Fashions: The vast majority of the flowers used serve a dual purpose, not only are they pretty to look at but more importantly they provide a food source for wildlife. Gone are the big, complex flower heads – instead there is a focus on the natural shapes and colours of flowers.
Gardens are looking more natural, the plants look as though they could have self seeded and grown there on their own, (don’t be fooled though – this look is a product of expert plantsmanship), but it looks like we could recreate this at home.
Wildflowers and ferns are combined with delicate flowers to create a much more free flowing style of garden. It all looks very relaxed and not terribly manicured. The plants used are less showy, less ostentatious and aren’t high maintenance plant divas.
The overall result is to create a garden you can relax in, the plants seem to do the work all by themselves, leaving you free to wander round your estate with a glass of something nice; which is precisely the effect the designer has spent many sleepless nights trying to achieve for you.
So, what bits do I use?
This is where we start to take a look at personal taste and how things would fit in your garden. The colour scheme is entirely a personal choice, but just like decorating the inside of your house, have a colour theme. Green is the background colour but then have no more than 3 colours for the border. This year designers have combined cerise, magenta and pale pinks, also bronzes, oranges and purples, or pale blues, soft pinks and cream colours.
All the planting in the designs is in layers, the plants generally rise to mid thigh height, the second layer is created with tall monoliths. You could use natural materials such as stone or wood or you could be more creative and use sculptures or screens. The idea being, the low level planting moves and sways in contrast to the monolith. Then over all the canopy of small trees holds your eyeline inside the garden.
The key point is that you can’t recreate the effect of a show stopping garden with only the plants, you have to be a bit bold and make a statement. Be different from the neighbours gardens.
Where in the manual of gardening does it state lawns have to rectangular and lie parallel to the fences, or that one has to have a hedge that’s solid and green and 6 feet tall.
The whole purpose of a show garden, just like a fashion show, is to open your eyes and make you think differently. You don’t need a Chelsea Show garden at home but that doesn’t mean yours can’t become a show garden either.
So have a colour plan, make sure you create enough depth and width in a border. It is better to have one deep border that has real impact than a long thin border by the fence. Stand in the garden and look at the border – what do you see that’s directly in front of your eyes, the fence? If so, ‘plant’ something tall.
Most importantly remember it’s your garden, if you love what’s there, then who is anyone else to say that it’s not quite the done thing…?