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?

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Awkward shape garden design solutions – Case study

Awkward shape garden before design

Awkward shape garden before design

Having a garden that is an unusual or awkward shape can often feel like a nightmare to deal with.

Actually though, an awkward shape garden often as not is a blessing because it enables you to come up with a design that is very unique, that you wouldn’t have been able to do in a regular rectangular shape garden.

So how do you transform an awkward shape garden?


Step 1 The main thing to do here is take the eyes away from the awkward angles of the garden.

Curves and circles are fabulous at doing just that, as your eyes naturally follow the shape of the curves.

However, you can also use interlocking box shapes equally well. The most important thing to remember though, is to always, always follow the lines of the house i.e. you put the box at 90° to the house and not following the angle of the wall fence. If you follow the fence angle, you end up accentuating the look of the angle rather than disguising it.

You will, of course, end up with some odd shapes, but don’t worry about these because you can easily disguise them with planting.

In the plan examples below you will see two designs for the same awkward shape garden. One using interlocking ovals and the other interlocking box shapes. Whilst both work and do the job well, the oval design is a bit more pleasing to the eye, as it is softer to look at and the curves create more interest than just straight lines.


There is no right and wrong time to use curves as opposed to straight lines, it does come down to personal taste. Most people do seem to prefer curved shapes though. Straight lines are better if you have a very modern and angular house.

Step 2 Add some height to take your eyes away from any awkward shapes.

Adding a tree, pergola, archway or something that draws your eyes up, will also help take them away from any awkward angles. In our case study garden we had both a pergola and an arch with a seating area built in. Having strong focal points like these forces your attention on something else and away from the odd shape.

Step 3 Use the leftover spaces around the lawn and planting to create an interesting meander around the garden.

The beauty of an awkward shape garden is the angled leftover bits that you end up with once you’ve got a very defined lawn shape in place. You will see in the example garden that we made use of the space with a stepping stone path winding its way through the garden. Again, this draws the eye to follow the path and, because you can’t quite see everything in one go, it makes the whole garden look larger and more interesting.

Need more ideas?

If you’d like to learn more about exactly how you can transform your garden, then check out the online garden design courses we run here at Successful Garden Design.

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Garden paths – How to choose the right style for your garden

Garden-pathThere are many different styles of materials that you can use for paths. Garden paths can be made from anything from gravel, to paving, pebble mosaics, brick, timber to recycled church floor flagstones!

Before we get going on what type of materials you should use, we need to look at the most important part and that is getting the path in the right place.

How to make sure your path in the right place

This might seem like a really odd thing to be talking about because your path goes from point A to point B, so surely it is obvious where it needs to go!

It might be obvious where you need the path, for example from your patio to your garden shed. However, just because that’s where you need it to go, it doesn’t mean to say that a straight route is the best option visually.

If you can get a slightly more interesting shape into the path, or have it over to one side of the garden, rather than just having a straight line, it will make your garden much more interesting to look at.

Yes, you may have to take a few extra steps each time you go to your garden shed, but that’s a small price to pay if the position of your path improves the overall look and flow of your garden. Let’s face it, you will look at it a lot more than you will walk on it.

When you add anything into the garden it has to work with the whole garden, so it’s really important you take into account everything else that is there.


The biggest mistake that most people make is just to add things. First, they had the shed, then goes in the path, patio etc. This makes a very disjointed and uninteresting looking garden. If you take a little bit of time to plan the shape of all of these elements together, even if you don’t put them all in at once, it will make for a much better looking garden.

A well-designed garden is like a jigsaw puzzle, everything has to fit in it place or doesn’t work. Great looking gardens are not a series of unrelated features, everything ties in together and has been thought about.

So consider sweeping your path from one side of the garden to the other, or having it curve around a circular lawn to get you to the shed or the other end of the garden.

What materials should you use for your garden path?

This will all come down to your tastes, style of garden and budget. Traditionally, brick paths have been very popular. If you’re going to use brick, do not use house bricks because they are not frost proof enough and will crumble over time. You need to use clay brick pavers which are specially designed to cope with the frost. Pavers are solid and do not have the indentation underneath them that house bricks do.

If you’re looking for a budget path option, then gravel is going to be the cheapest option. It is not always the most comfortable material to walk on, so if you hate walking on gravel, then adding a few steppingstones through it will make it nicer to walk on.

If you want a contemporary feel to your path then smooth natural paving will work well.

Pebble mosaics can look fabulous, though they are very time-consuming to do, but if you’re feeling creative you can have a lot of fun with them.


Construct your path properly

A lot of times people think that they don’t need to use concrete when they build a path because it only has foot traffic on it and sand will do. Unfortunately, you can’t just put paving stones directly onto the soil or sand, because they will move and then become quite a dangerous tripping hazard. Brick paths can be laid on sand, but they will have a consolidated hard-core base underneath the sand and the edge bricks will be concreted into position to hold everything in place.

So, I encourage you to get creative with your path, but do put it on paper first and check that it’s going to work with the rest of your garden.

BUT do be warned, nice paths alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

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[DESIGN SHOW 14] Patio shapes that improve your garden

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To find out more about the Great Garden Formula course, please visit:

Does your patio look the way you want? Does it work with the rest of your garden or is it dull and boring?

The SHAPE of your patio makes such a difference to the overall look of your garden. It’s often THE most overlooked aspect of garden design.

In this episode, international garden designer, Rachel from Successful Garden Design, critiques some design layout plans and offers solutions on how to improve designs.

Find out how to design a great looking patio for your garden in this brand new Garden Design Show episode…

To view all the online garden design courses visit:

Learn more! Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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