Essence of Himalayas inspires Chelsea Garden

Designer Jonathan Snow talks about his Show Garden for the 2020 RHS Chelsea Flower Show for sponsors Trailfinders and the appeal of the flora of the Himalayas.

Jonathan Snow will be returning for the third year to Main Avenue at the 2020 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with a garden inspired by the Himalayas. Sponsored once again by tour operator Trailfinders, the garden celebrates their 50th anniversary in business and will reference Trailfinders first commercial destination, Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is considered the gateway to the Himalayas, a mountainous region spread across five countries: Butan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. In the show garden, Jonathan aims to capture the essence of the Himalayan foothills, through a representation of its plants, culture and landscape.

The most exciting thing about designing a Show Garden like this has to be the plants” says Jonathan, “When Trailfinders asked me to design a Himalayan garden, it didn’t take long to work out that we had a really interesting selection of plants to choose from.” Jonathan has since been on two plant hunting recces to Nepal (see picture left): “I still get a buzz from finding plants I know, growing in their natural habitat, and my eyes were on stalks when I visited Nepal last year,” he says.

Due to the extreme ranges of altitude, the climatic zones of the Himalayan region vary from alpine at higher elevations, through to tropical at lower levels. For the Chelsea garden, Jonathan will be using plants that occur in the temperate zone. So, look out for Rhododendrons and Pinus wallichiana among the key trees and shrubs and expect to see bamboos, philadelphus, buddlejas and deutzias among the shrubby understory. Jonathan also hints at some potentially exotic surprises as well as euphorbias, meconopsis and ferns.

Hard landscaping will feature some of the more recognisable features found in the region. Water will be ever present, mainly in the form of a stream running through the garden, but also as man-made rills that channel the excess water along and across stone paths.

Jonathan explains that these rills are everywhere in the Himalayas: “We use them in UK gardens for a touch of formal (but ultimately frivolous) elegance, but for people who live in the Himalayas they are a necessity; it rains so much there that they have had to become very good engineers in order to prevent their homes from being washed down the mountain,” he says. So, Jonathan plans to use water both in its natural forms, and also show how water has been managed by human intervention.

While he was in the Himalayas, Jonathan noticed the intricate network of stone paths connecting villages, cut into the sides of mountains. He was struck by how (unintentionally) sculptural they were: “Of course there are no roads so these paths have been built to last and are often centuries old,”he says. “Seeing them wind through the dense forest, contrasting so well with the surrounding lush vegetation, has left a lasting impression on me and I want to try to evoke the essence of these paths in the garden.

Towards the back of the garden there will be a timber shelter, built in the style of some of the more significant and religious buildings in the region. Jonathan’s aim is to create a structure that will sit in the garden, without dominating it. Other features will include a water driven prayer wheel and a discrete array of prayer flags.

Jonathan Snow Design Ltd is a landscape design practice specialising in high end town, country and overseas commissions. Jonathan has worked for garden design luminaries Tom Stuart-Smith and Arne Maynard and set up his own practice in 2008. For more information on Jonathan’s practice please visit:

Images: All images are strictly ©Jonathan Snow and reproduced here by kind permission.