The Chelsea Flower Show 2013


The Chelsea Flower Show 2013 was a fantastic year for Australian garden design with the Flemings’ garden, designed by Phillip Johnson, winning an RHS gold medal and ‘the best in show award’.


I was lucky enough to follow the team as they created their award-winning garden from day one and as exciting as it was I’m not going to say a thing about it as come Australian spring time there will be two one hour specials on the LifeStyle channel for you all to enjoy. I will however take this chance to tell you about some of the other amazing gardens I saw.

I had two favorite gardens at the show, one designed by Kate Gould was a community garden based around an industrial wasteland that will, after the show, actually be donated to a community to be used as a garden. To me the highlights of this garden are:

The flooring had two main sections concrete and crazy paving (as well as some recycled timber). During the setting and curing stage the concrete was ‘played with’ so give it a texture and look like expensive marble, it certainly was a great addition and very intriguing. The crazy paving was softened by having planting growing through it which helped to slow you as you walked into the garden so you could take it all in.

The green wall – So many green walls I see these days are a bit of a busy mess with hundreds of different plants forced into them making them look scrappy. The best part about Kate’s green wall was that is used only one species of plant adding impact and lowering maintenance, which is perfect for a community garden.

Water ran through the garden from a vertical rill down into a pond lined with crushed recycled gravel. The reflective quality of the water helped to add a certain calm to the space and a steel mesh walkway was a great way to bring the pond into the garden rather than having it as a tacked on afterthought (which I see a lot of in peoples gardens!)

Having a garden based around an industrial wasteland could come across as incredibly harsh if the planting wasn’t plentiful and delivered in multiple layers. Small trees (Betula nigra suitable to be grown in Australia from Sydney to the cooler regions) all the way down to shrubs (Enkianthus), perennials (Peonies) and ground covers soften the hard elements and show that by adding lots of plants to a small space it actually feels bigger.

Kate’s garden had a great amount of small detail in it that made it a gold medal-winning garden my favorite being a sculpture come plant support made from old mattress springs – an easy element any one could add to their garden.

Another Favorite garden was the M and G sponsored garden, designed by Rodger Platts. This garden celebrated garden design through the ages of The Chelsea Flower Show. My highlights were:

The rear of the garden had an old ruin wall with planting spilling over that really looked like it had been there for 100 years. It’s very difficult to construct something new that looks old and it added character and a sense of history to the space.

Below the wall was a naturalistic pond that was fed by a rusted old pipe, and it looked fantastic! The planting in the pond was excellent and the way the water overflowed out of the pond into a rill that was hidden with moss got my imagination firing.

The main structural element to the garden was a thatched cottage with oak posts and windows. My favorite part of this structure was its smell. The thatched roof emanated an amazingly calming smell reminding me that gardening really excites all the senses.

The quality and detail in the construction made this garden stand out but it was the quality of the planting that made the space a gold medal-winning garden. Rodger is well known for his style of planting and pictures really don’t do it justice, what was really magic about it was how he combined and mixed an older style of planting at the back of the garden using things like Rhododendrons and more modern plants at the front like New Zealand flax seamlessly.

Another garden that excelled in its planting scheme was Chris Beardshaw’s garden for arthritis research and the public thought so to awarding the garden the ‘peoples choice award’. The thing I loved about the planting was the way the Echiums acted as a vertical accent rocketing out of the garden beds like fireworks this effect was then mirrored by richly coloured lupins lower down in the beds. I tipped my hat to the Australian hop bush that cornered each of the front garden beds and also noted a few more plants that would do well in the Australian climate such as Pittosporum ‘Miss Muffet’, Ajuga, Euphorbia, Yucca and Rosemary to name just a few.

The blue water Roof top garden had some great elements that I thought could easily translate into an Australian garden. The whole site showed how water needs can be captured and used in the garden not just stuck down the nearest down pipe and best of the entire pond was only 300mm deep so could be achieved in Australia without any pool fencing. I also liked the wall sculptures come insect homes adding biodiversity that helps to keep the garden in a happy balance and the recycled clay pipes that housed succulents like a green wall.

The Homebase garden named ‘sowing the seeds of change’ designed by Adam Frost was greatly received as it was an achievable garden – that’s not to say it wasn’t impressive in any way but out of all the gardens at Chelsea this year it was the one where I think people will be able to replicate certain elements such as having a practical layout that was also aesthetically pleasing, mixing edible plants with ornamentals, having inviting entertaining areas and having a garden the whole family could enjoy.

There are so many great parts to The Chelsea Flower Show I could write for pages and pages but instead I will leave you with a picture not many get to see and that is one looking out from the studio in ‘the best in show’ Australian garden.

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