Have you been watching the coverage of the world’s greatest gardens, the Chelsea Flower Show in London? What do you think of the gardens this year?

Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago...
Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago…

I hate to admit it, but I’m really not enjoying the gardens. In fact, if I’m really honest, I haven’t for a few years now…

After watching the garden coverage on TV, I think I’ve turned into a ‘grumpy old woman’ (though that might be the result of a recent significant-ish birthday). If my grumpiness isn’t a result of the ‘0’, then is it because we are getting the same old gardens repackaged at Chelsea each year, but with slightly different gimmicks?

The Chelsea Flower Show used to be the highlight of my year. I’d go down to London, full of excitement, with an armful of cameras and film, fight my way through the crowds and walk round in awe at the amazing and inspiring gardens. Now I’m sitting in front of the TV, yawning or muttering, “They did that garden three years ago. That one is a re-hash of so and so’s garden and why on earth did they do that!”

What’s the problem?

Is it age that’s making me fed up with all the gimmicks and metaphors that designers seem to be spouting on about, or have the gardens lost their true essence these days? Has anyone designed a Chelsea garden this year for no other reason than to create a stunning garden to inspire people?

I feel when designers are focusing too much on the concepts and trying to add things they wouldn’t normally, for the sake of their theme, the gardens lose something as a result.

Bad design examples

What’s really making me grumpy is seeing gardens that don’t flow and work as a garden that well. I’m seeing designs that are nothing more than a series of unrelated features. They don’t utilise the space well. Some shapes even make the garden look narrow and awkward. And don’t get me started on the practicalities of actually mowing those odd shaped lawns!

Now, in fairness, I haven’t yet seen all of the main gardens on TV yet, so I am really hoping that there will be a garden that’s well designed, so I can say “Wow, I want to design a garden like that!”

I know how incredibly hard everyone involved with the show works. It’s no mean feat getting a garden built to the high specifications, deadlines and pressure that goes with the world’s greatest garden show. I just want to see less gimmicks and metaphors (when did a garden EVER need a metaphor) and more inspiring design.

I want REAL gardens.

Perhaps then, Chelsea isn’t the place for that. It is a show after all.


What do you think about this year’s Chelsea Flower Show?

Hopefully, it is just me that’s feeling jaded with the Chelsea this year. I hope that other people are feeling inspired. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    8 replies to "Gardens that disappoint – the Chelsea Flower Show"

    • Judy horrod

      A very good garden too visit would be one in Selsey where I live, the details are below
      http://www.standrewslodge.co.uk and email is
      You can say that i recommended them and I was a visitor last year on the open garden day, it is also a bed and breakfast place which is excellent, please let me know if you come and I could meet you! Judy horrod

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thanks for the suggestion Judy – it does look lovely. I will definitely let you know if I’m in your area and we can meet up for a cuppa! 🙂

    • Olga

      Hi Rachel,

      sharing your thoughts about disappointment with show gardens – Chelsea in particular, I might have a few suggestions for you. Well, recently I’ve started searching for, visiting and writing about interesting gardens in Europe (Netherlands and France, so far) – so my readers could fetch the ideas and get inspired, plus some practical tips from the creators. I write in Russian – for Russian-speaking audience, so I couldn’t just refer you to the website 😉 But if you are in the Netherlands, by any chance, I could make you a little list of links to check out, in various styles and sizes. Like a garden of my neighbour Piet Pattings (excellent example of self-made, tasteful and clever Japanese garden – small space, nice ideas) Here is the links and you can mention my name, so Piet knows where you coming from 🙂 : https://www.zen-garden.org/ and my photos of the garden: https://www.flickr.com/photos/olgavansaane/sets/72157627482199027/
      I am pleasantly surprised every time when I discover a gem, created by gardeners, when they are free from any cheap metaphor or pretense. I’ve seen many private gardens which are both decorative and practical, and this no-nonsense approach results, naturally, in proper, long-lasting beauty and calm. now when I am retired, I will continue on my path to discover self-made gardens and will be sharing with you, Rachel – so you might pick some place to visit and write about. 🙂



      • Rachel Mathews

        Thank you Olga. I would love a list of gardens to visit – anywhere in Europe that you’ve been to and think are worth writing about! I’m not sure if I will make it as far as Netherlands on this trip, more likely next year’s one, all depends on the weather. If it gets really hot, then I will be heading northwards quickly (I’m starting out in southern Spain)!

        Which part of the Netherlands are you in? I spent a lot of time working near Rotterdam and Tiel in my late teens, lots of fond memories from my time spent there.

        I look forward to your garden suggestions Olga 🙂

        • Olga

          Nice to know! Small world, isn’t it 🙂 I’ve recently moved from Amersfoort to a new house (and garden) on Ijsselmeer lake, the closest towns are Lelystad, Urk, Enkhuizen, Zwolle, Kampen – so I live in the polder, amid tulip fields, prairie and on water.
          I will be making notes with you in mind, so whenever you decide to be in the Netherlands, just give me a shout and i will send you the list of local gardens. Meanwhile, I am just back from Normandy, writing about two very different gardens I’ve visited, and while one is a chateau garden – magnificent, of course, I loved it, though it could serve the readers with inspiration and feeling rather than with practical things (chateau is not exactly a city backyard, even when a large one!) While the second, which I liked less (personal thing ;), strangely enough could provide more ideas and practical advice about planting schemes and creating rooms in the garden, plus – very interesting plants, I took many notes for myself. Both are interesting to write about, for sure. The elements of style, practical solutions, birds and butterflies, water in the garden, plants choices, fusion of styles, the means used to create garden concept as a whole, in (dis)harmony of all the elements, – I think both are worth looking. The first of was Gardens of Chateau de Venvdeuvre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Vendeuvre#The_Gardens – and the second one Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge. https://www.lesjardinsdupaysdauge.com/ … So, these are my most recent visits 😉
          I will stay in touch, looking forward to read about gardens worth visit in UK or Spain, I’d love to, one day. Oh, and I always liked your website and writings, so no-nonsense, interesting and inspiring.

          Have a great weekend,


          • Rachel Mathews

            I don’t think I’ve ever been to that part of Holland Olga, so I will look forward to visiting and getting to see your local gardens!

            I agree about the second garden offering more ideas and practical advice for people. I’ve added it to my visit list. Thanks for the suggestion.

            The first Spanish garden, a beautiful little courtyard with a Moroccan influence, will be here on Thursday to read about 🙂

            Thanks again.


    • Hi Rachel! I’m a total novice to garden design myself, I actually started getting into it by accident because I have a patio furniture company here in the States (linked to in my name) and after a couple years I realized that nice furniture is great and all, but the garden is really what ties a patio together. So I started trying my hand with flower arrangements and gardening in general and I have to say I am completely dreadful at it right now, but it’s a wonderful hobby. But I’ve been noticing a lot of monotony and repetition in professionally-designed gardens, myself.

      Now obviously I can’t judge, because that would be hypocritical, but I see all these gardens at these shows, looking for inspiration, and I’m just getting bored with them. It seems to me that everyone is going in for this “hyper modern” look with perfectly clean streamlined deck edges and then pairing that with oddly-shaped flower beds, planters, and lawns that, yeah, are a total pain to mow! The looks I go for in my own amateur garden is a little more classic, built more to feature the natural beauty of my plants and to make everything feel more “natural” and less… “man against nature.” If that makes sense.

      Anyway, this is a very long rambling way to say that I think your blog here is fascinating and has great tips for a total greenhorn like me and also for advanced gardeners, and I’m really excited to hear about your plans to roadtrip around the gardens of the world. That sounds like a project that is definitely worth following! Do you think you may make it over to the U.S.? We have some nice gardens here in San Diego, California – you might like them! 🙂

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Mike, thank you for your comment – you’re absolutely right about the difference good design can make to a patio. Lovely furniture on your website BTW! I would imagine it looks fantastic on a modern patio. If you get any customers that need a design, do send them over here, I’d love to incorporate your sofas etc into a garden!

        Garden design, unfortunately is as prone to trends as anything, which I don’t mind particularly as long as the design works! There does seem to be a bit of a mismatch with some of the designing of the ‘hyper-modern’ gardens as you put it. I wonder if designers are so desperate to try to do something ground-breaking, that they are forgetting the basic design principles.

        As for visiting your part of the world, I’d love to! I’ve been to San Diego a few times and even lived in CA for a couple of summers about 10 years ago – I was near Laguna Beach, very fond memories of the area, particularly the ‘very berry’ fruit smoothies down at Dana Point! 🙂

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