RHS Chelsea 2019 invigorating soul and senses

I came away from Chelsea Flower Show press day this year with a lightness of heart and a sense of wellbeing that I don’t think I have ever experienced before, writes Sandy Felton.

This year the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) wanted to make sure that show gardens really did emphasize regeneration, the value of nature, the wellbeing we can all derive from our gardens and their importance to our mental and physical health. I’m pleased to report that they and everyone associated with Chelsea has succeeded in spades.

The diversity of the gardens this year is a joy with relaxed planting on many giving a definite soothing and calming feel. Water was a major theme on several gardens and added to the soothing effects on the mind and senses. There are some amazing trees with Pinus very popular – the Savills and David Harber Garden is a veritable forest – I loved it. (pictured left: Bronze Shard plays with light). There is realism in the planting too on many gardens and yes there is the exotic and unusual but there is also a good dose of what some might consider to be weeds, or to the more informed our native wildflowers bringing a sense of realism we all identify with in our gardens and along our roadsides.

Some gardens are a riot of colour and joy, such as the CAMFED (designed by Jilayne Richards – Gold) and Montessori (designed by Jody Lidgard – Gold) gardens, others are calming and relaxed such as the Viking Cruises Garden, (designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes – Gold) the Morgan Stanley Garden and the Savills and David Harber Garden (Bronze). I wanted to linger and sit in the Family Monsters Garden, (Gold and Best Artisan, designed by Alistair Bayford) – thankyou Alistair for letting me – tarry and watch the amazing water feature on the Facebook Garden (Best in Category, designed by Joe Perkins (Gold) and discover the delightful planting and spiritual design of Jo Thompson on the Wedgwood Garden (Silver-Gilt) with its soft shades of peach – dreamy.

Mark Gregory’s ‘Welcome to Yorkshire Garden‘ (Gold) (above) will definitely be a contender for People’s Choice as will Chris Beardshaw’s ‘Morgan Stanley Garden’ (Gold). The star on Chris’s garden is the Pinus Nigra, with its dramatically curved trunk. In the production of the garden, resources were managed sensitively with environmental principals ensuring a lighter footprint. As many sustainable practices as possible have been used not only in the garden features but also in the finishing touches with stunning results. Other trees to look out for are Acer griseum and Cornus alternifolia. (The Morgan Stanley Garden pictured banner top of page).

The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden wasn’t so much a garden as a piece of stunning landscape but hey this is Chelsea and the team certainly knew how to ramp up the wow factor. Totally enthralled me this and brought out the Yorkshire blood in me.

Andy Sturgeon’s ‘M&G Garden‘ (Gold) to me is mean, moody and magnificent and is a worthy winner of Best in Show (pictured above). Here too there are some cracking trees and the burnt oak timbers representing ancient rock formations offer a striking contrast to the diverse range of pioneering plants Andy has used from around the world. Stunningly different!

Sarah Eberle’s amazing ‘Resilience Garden‘ (Gold) at first looks starkly industrial but then you delve into the interior and look at the clever planting.

The garden looks at how forests and gardens can be made more resilient to challenges posed by climate change. There is so much to see here – Ginkgo biloba (or maidenhair tree), a Monkey puzzle, Cryptomeria japonica, or Japanese cedar, Euphobia palustris, red yucca, Gladiolus com. Byzantinus and Geum ‘Fire storm’. Woodland planting abounds with Aralia cordata and Clematis integrifolia. The centre piece is a six metre tall grain silo, repurposed as the designer’s studio with an oak floor.(pictured right).

I loved the nod to Frank Lloyd Wright on Helen Elks-Smith’s ‘Warner’s Distillery Garden‘ (Silver Gilt, pictured immediately below) and raved over the Greenfingers Charity Garden (Silver Gilt) designed by Kate Gould, with its two-storey façade and amazing green and black design wall. (pictured below bottom of page)

(above) Warner’s Distillery Garden

I enjoyed a trip to Latin America with Jonathan Snow on his Trailfinders ‘Undiscovered Latin America’ garden (Silver) and once again enjoyed spotting some very unusual plants and trees. (pictured below). Nothofagus antartica (antartic beech) and Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle) were evident with an understory of large shrubs and ferns. The red walkway enabled tree-top visuals – all in all a stunning garden.

(above) Trailfinders ‘Undescovered Latin America’

Tom Stuart-Smith’s special garden celebrating RHS Bridgewater took up the difficult triangle site and once again the relaxed yet careful planting style perfectly complemented a stunning variety of trees and shrubs. Double the size of Show Gardens, the design was a collage of the proposed garden around the new Welcome building at RHS Bridgewater.

There was a constant buzz on the ‘Back to Nature garden’ (pictured above) co-designed by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and landscape architects, Andree Davies and Adam White. Positively an adventure for children and adults! Again, we have a woodland setting encouraging all generations to connect with nature – it certainly seemed to have a positive and healthy effect on press day.(above)

The standard in the Space to Grow category was extremely high and varied with five gold medals awarded out of nine gardens. Best Show garden in this category was Joe Perkins for the Facebook: Beyond the Screen Garden. Mesmerised by his water feature on this garden and the detail in small planting areas depicting the coastal habitats.(above)

I was delighted for Japanese duo Kazuto Kashiwakura (left) and Miki Sato (right) (pictured above) who were awarded a Gold for their Kampo No Niwa garden depicting the route to health and happiness through plants. This was their first Chelsea Garden and it was delightful. All the plants have medicinal qualities and Miki took a lot of time to explain to me the importance of the plants and the garden design where Feng Shui principles are applied to scale and proportion. Stunning.

Just when you think it can’t get better you move onto the Artisan Section where the genius with the moss Mr Kazuyuki Ishihara produced yet another amazing Japanese garden, Green Switch (Gold). Perfection right down to the last detail but I was intrigued by the picture of the Beatles in the little tea room – obviously a fan.

I thought the Donkey Sanctuary garden designed by Christina Williams and Annie Prebensen (Silver) was also a joy and very colourful. (pictured above).

The High Maintenance Garden for Motor Neurone Disease Association (Gold) designed by Sue Hayward is not only nostalgic in its way but perfect in conveying the message the limitations of someone suffering the disease.(above)

(pictured above: Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden)

The whole Show gave me an uplift and certainly made me more aware, if I didn’t already know it, how important horticulture, the environment and the plants around us are for the mind, soul and body.

(above: Monsters Garden and winner of Artisan Category)

So what do we take away from the Show this year? Thoughts about the calming influence and health benefits gardens have for us all, the power of trees and the gentleness of water. Nothwithstanding, the awesome power of the plants themselves.

(above: Kate Gould’s Greenfingers Garden)

Visitors will take away a lot from this year’s RHS Chelsea and I feel sure they will all be as uplifted and happy as I was when they leave.To finish, below the delightful, colourful and totally uplifting CAMFED garden designed by Jilayne Richards (Gold).

All images are ©Reckless Gardener: credit Emma J Campbell Photography

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