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 click on the image below.



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.

    4 replies to "Chelsea Flower Show 2015 – top trends to transform your garden"

    • Susan Egerton

      My favourite was by Sean Murray, the winner of the RHS garden challenge

    • Ali Conway

      You're right Susan – I agree, Sean did an amazing job with his front garden Design. I talk about that in my next article …

    • Ingrid Waymark

      OMG – I love the perspective of a more natural-looking landscape, something that is not overtly manicured, like the Cloudy Bay Garden. It is lovely!

    • Successful Garden Design

      The natural looking landscape has been gradually coming in to the mainstream consciousness for a few years and it's definitely arrived now, hasn't it!

      I must admit I'm a little torn by it, I love it but at the same time wonder what it looks like when everything has finished flowering – one of my next jobs is to work a formula that people can use to get the natural look and feel but still have it look good all year… wish me luck! 😉

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