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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Ali Conway
Ali Conway

Professional Garden Designer with over 15 years experience, working for Successful Garden Design offering design layout plans, perspective sketches and full planting plans to clients all over the world. RHS Chelsea Flower Show silver medalist, blogger and contributor to the Design Show. Take a look at our Postal Design Service for more info.

    2 replies to "Modern Materials at the Chelsea Flower Show – “Take-Home” Ideas"

    • Rita Moore

      I like the info on your excursion. Also liked the blog on the Chelsea Garden show. Is it out doors? Our Pacific Northwest Flower and Garden Show is on February so it is always indoors.

    • Thanks Rita, it certainly was a fantastic day out – I thoroughly enjoyed the show this year – so much to see, so much inspiration…!

      It is held outdoors, in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, which is home to our Chelsea Pensioners (war veterans). The grounds are completely transformed each year, for the show..then put back to normal again. There is a large indoor marque – which houses the displays from nurserys and growers all over the world. Well worth a visit, if you ever get the chance!

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