Archives for June 2015

Modern Materials at the Chelsea Flower Show – “Take-Home” Ideas

So the crowds have dispersed, the designers and TV cameras gone, the gardens dismantled and the Chelsea grounds are once more returned to the pensioners for their retirement. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 is over.

But what can we take home from the show this year? What ideas, tips, tricks, themes can we borrow? And how can we re-create a slice of Chelsea in our gardens back home?

Is Grey the New Black?


Grey fencing in Alan Gardner’s Viking Ocean Cruises garden

Grey is not often a colour associated with gardens, but amongst the abundance of colour and frothy perennial planting at Chelsea, the backdrop of grey stood out. Or, should I say…..the frothy colourful planting was allowed to stand out, against the backdrop of Grey?

Chelsea Sean Murrays Garden Challenge Garden

Grey slate used in Sean Murray’s front garden design

Chelsea Darren-Hawkes-Brewin-Dolphin-Garden

Grey slate was dominant in Darren Hawkes garden for Brewin Dolphin

Slate, whether simply used as pathways (Sean Murrays Garden Challenge garden), or exquisitely hand cut and formed into giant foreboding platforms, (Darren Hawkes Brewin Dolphin garden) was a reoccurring theme. The coolness of grey gives room for the plants to shine and stand out which is always important – and they all look fabulous against it – from cool whites and fresh greens, to hot reds and fiery oranges.

At home, an area of your garden can be transformed with a simple slate mulch, interspersed with repeat plantings – grasses such as stipas or Deschampsias work particularly well with a splash of colour mixed in – try the bold Iris germanica or jewel-like orange Geums. Be bold and paint your fence panels grey to provide a backdrop for your plants to shine and stand out.

Dark Dark Pools….

Water always plays a huge part in Chelsea gardens, and this year was no different. A little tip that the designers use – dark blue/black pools give water features a sense of infinity and work wonders with reflection and shadow.


The M&G garden’s dark pool with decking walkway

Look how the M&G garden pool draws you in and the Breakthrough Breast Cancer water provides exquisite reflections. A dark pool sits beautifully as a centrepiece amongst lush foliage, providing a reflective mirror finish. A few white stemmed Betula alongside….and you have a thing of beauty.

To create the illusion in your own garden – consider lining your pool/water feature with black – whether it be tiled, a black lining or simply painted inky black…

And here’s the secret weapon – designers use natural dyes (Hydra black water dye) within water pools, to give maximum reflection. Water dyes are harmless to pets, fish, children and are available readily to transform your water feature.

If you are lucky enough to have a still pool of water, think carefully about your reflections – a careful, considered choice of planting can make all the difference.

Chelsea M&G-garden-pool

Exquisite reflections in the dark water of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer garden

Must-have Meandering Pathways

Paths and walkways are often given little consideration in our gardens – but please take time to think again! The meander, the turns, the width of a path, can all make a dramatic difference in our gardens.

A very wide garden path for example, like Charlie Albone’s in his garden for Husqvarna and Gardena, means that you can allow the planting either side to get exuberant and flop over the edges in a really pleasing way.

Look how the plants creep into the pathway. Another trick used by the designers is to plant in cracks and crevices between pathway stones – they leave purposeful gaps of fine gravel to fill with sprawling ground coverers such as Thyme, Sempervivum and small varieties of Sedum. Much more interesting then pointing every single stone.

A meandering path, rather than a straight line from A to B, is just so much more pleasing to the eye, and how nice to slow things down a little, and take time to stop and admire the plants – a time for quiet contemplation.

On a practical level – creating a journey around the garden in this way also makes your garden appear so much BIGGER (one note of caution – don’t make the curves and turns too tight; a gentle meander is the objective, not a wiggly path!)

Chelsea Husqvarna-and-Gardena_

The wide pathway was a dominant feature in Charlie Albones’ garden


Chelsea Charlie-Albones-garden

Matthew Keightleys’ garden with meandering pathway

Front Gardens Don’t Have to Be Boring!

Don’t save all your design enthusiasm for the back garden – be inspired to inject some colour and personality in front of your house too! BBC Garden Challenge show winner Sean Murray produced this stunning front garden; with room for parking cars (check), water rill (check) seating area (check) wildlife habitat (check).

Now, we may not all have this amount of space out front, but simply replacing hard standing with a permeable mulch such as slate or shingle – with just a few well-positioned paving slabs, interspersed with sporadic planting – et voila! – you have created a naturalistic front garden that can accommodate cars (without the usual wall-to-wall paving) – but is also good for the environment and encourages wildlife.

To provide a little structure to this naturalistic approach – include some clipped topiary cubes or spheres in clusters, as Sean has, and the whole design will be pulled together.

Chelsea BBC-Garden-Challenge_Sean-Murray

Front gardens can be interesting too!

Chelsea BBC-Garden-Challenge_Sean-Murray_2

A great idea for a front garden path…

Tiny Seating Areas!

Even the smallest of spaces can provide a tranquil spot to have a cup of coffee or enjoy a good book, You don’t have to have the biggest garden or even the biggest budget, to incorporate great design. Even hidden amongst the huge plots at Chelsea, I found the tiniest of seating areas, some only 4ft wide – it doesn’t matter.

With plants wrapping all around you like a warm cuddle; who wouldn’t want to enjoy an alfresco drink in this spot? Be bold with your planting – a small area doesn’t mean small planting. Sitting in a quiet spot with foliage and fronds all around you, is just divine.


A tiny circular seating area, nestled under a tree


Be bold with planting around your seating areas!

So do not despair! It is often overwhelming to see so many beautiful creations at what is the pinnacle of all Garden Shows – so many ideas to take in, so many different design styles and planting styles, so many gorgeous plants. But there is a little bit of Chelsea that we can all take home.

Choose just one little idea, and go for it with gusto! For me, I’m off to buy that grey paint to give my fencing panels a facelift…now then, just one decision left… what exact shade to choose…….?!!

Which was Your Favourite Garden at this Year’s Show?

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[DESIGN SHOW 16] – Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

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Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

Have you not had a chance to visit the Chelsea Flower Show this year? No worry. In this episode garden designer Ali Conway takes you on a tour of the World’s premier gardening event, the Chelsea Flower Show that was held in London last month. You’ll be able to see all the latest trends from top designers in garden design that will hopefully give you many great design ideas for your garden.

Want to see stunning and professionally designed gardens in person and learn a few design and gardening tips? Make sure to visit the Chelsea Flower Show next year.

Design Ideas for Small Garden

Sticking with the theme of smaller space gardens, in this episode designer Rachel Mathews will also help a friend do a roof terrace makeover and show you in details just what can be achieved by rearranging the space a bit.

Design Ideas for Balcony Gardens

Have a balcony that you would like to turn into a beautiful garden? Rachel will also give you some ideas for balcony gardens from the lovely Spanish village of Jimena de la Frontera.

Need Help with Your Garden?

If you want to learn how to design your garden on your own and transform it into the beautiful garden you’ve dreamt about, our Online Garden Courses will show you step-by-step how to create a perfect garden. If you have a small garden and look for design tips for a tiny space, Small Garden Design Formula course is perfect for you.

What Would You Like to See Covered in Future Shows?

We’d love to get your ideas for future shows so that this can be as beneficial to you as possible. Leave a comment me know what topics you’d like me to delve into in future episodes in the comment boxes below?

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden  please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).

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Chelsea Flower Show 2015 – top trends to transform your garden

Clipped perfection OR nature gone wild? There was a garden style to suit each taste this year…


The RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It is always fabulous…

Beautiful designs, beautiful flowers, and beautiful people! The epitomy of style in the world of garden design, but what are the overall re-occurring themes? What are this years ‘trends’?  And are we all still wild for Chelsea?

The return of Naturalistic Planting

The trend towards naturalistic style gardens continues with more fervor than ever. Even bordering on the untidy and unkempt in some gardens…

The L’Occitane garden from southern France and the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth garden case examples.


Noticing the comments from the people around me…”Well, I could do that’ ‘who knew that my weedy garden would be so trendy?!”

Comments like that makes me wonder if these gardens are taken seriously by the public at Chelsea. Is this what we want to see? We are so nit picky as an audience, so scrutinising. We want perfection; expect perfection, yet….is that what gardening is all about?

The pure perfection reminiscent of the growers shows where five perfectly proportioned potatoes line up alongside ten perfect carrots… has long frustrated me at Chelsea. This preened perfection is not ‘real’ – it is fake, it is the Botox of gardening… 

Gardens Gone Wild


And yet…hoorah for the real glimpse of gardens at Chelsea this year; what plants should really look like, and what they DO often look like.

James Basson was brave enough to include real plants, with real imperfections. His gorgeous naturalistic landscape from southern France, made with volcanic stone, and a trickling stream running through it – even had some somewhat straggly specimens that we have all encountered.

The slightly ‘leggy’ lavender that we have let go beyond it’s neat round haircut.  Did the judges mark him down for this imperfection……? No. They awarded him Gold. I celebrate their bravery!

Perfect Planting Borders


In sharp contrast we had Chris Beardshaws’ Morgan Stanley garden and Adam Frosts Homebase Garden garden – both of which giving us a lesson in absolute perfection.

Each bloom; a perfect height and colour. If this was a catwalk model show, there would not be a hair out of place. Perfect grooming. This is the Chelsea we used to know – and it still has its place.

From the people’s point of view, it’s what they ‘expect’ to see at Chelsea. Again, I noticed the comments around me when viewing these gardens… The ‘wows’ the ‘oohs’ the ‘ aaahs’. We can take a little slice of this perfection and only dream to be able to recreate something as perfectly beautiful, back home.


So, from one extreme to another – on one hand, we had the recreations of natural countryside, but to recreate this, you need something that most of us just do not have in abundance….SPACE!. On the other we had the perfectly manicured borders – each bloom a precision piece, and for this, you need something else that most of us just do not have in abundance….TIME!


And then, there was something ‘in between’…

Natural Planting Style in Your Garden


For a few years now, the trend of capturing a little essence of naturalistic, meadow planting within the confines of a neatly clipped hedge or crisp modern path, has evolved.


This continued with a VERY strong presence at Chelsea. Gone are the days of the traditional border…going from ground level planting at the front, to mid tier mid-level planting, to large shrubs at the back. GONE. Vanished. Old Hat. (What? This is what we all know and love, it is how it is meant to be, surely?).


Designers have moved on.

Inspired perhaps by the great connoisseurs of prairie style planting – the Dutch designer Piet Ouldolf and our very own Tom Stuart-Smith. We have an abundance of this soft, scattering of perennials in amongst grasses, each jostling for space and vying for attention, sprawling across each other and inter-twining.

The cultivated cow parsley in abundance (Anthriscus sylevestris ‘Ravenswing) seemingly being the all important ingredient to really pull this off, along with Angelica ‘Ebony’ and the soft feathery sprays of grasses (Deschampsia cespitosa).

This flurry of naturalistic planting, confined within borders and edges, is in my mind – simply – exquisite. The judges thought so too – my favourite garden – The Cloudy Bay Garden designed by brothers Harry and David Rich – pulled off this style with ease – and were rewarded with a Gold.


So, forget trying to recreate the country landscape in your back garden, and forget trying to create perfectly manicured borders with perfect specimens. My advice is to follow the trend – create strong shapes and designs and fill with exuberant, naturalistic plants…that are, a little on the ‘wild side’!!!Chelsea-white-wall

Next time…

In my next article – we’ll get down to materials – the building blocks of a great garden. What materials were used at Chelsea? What can we learn from the designers? What tips and tricks can we steal from the Chelsea Designs on Main avenue?…

Which was your favourite garden at this year’s show?

Leave your comments in the boxes below…

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden  please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).

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