Trailfinders brings Chile to Chelsea

Following his successful Main Avenue debut at the 2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, designer Jonathan Snow returns in 2019, again for sponsor Trailfinders, with a Show Garden inspired by the temperate rainforests of South America.

This year, Jonathan and Trailfinders want to transport visitors several thousand miles west around the globe to Chile, a destination that’s increasing in popularity with visitors. The “Trailfinders ‘Undiscovered Latin America’ Garden” is set to do just that.

Chile is a long thin country, narrower than 100 miles in places and something of a bio-geographic island. The country is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Andes mountain range to the west and east respectively and to the south by the freezing Antarctic, while to the north there is the hot and arid Atacama Desert. As a result of millions of years of isolation, the country has a high number of endemic plants.

Jonathan (pictured left) points out that for him, Chelsea has always been first and foremost about the plants and this year he wanted to do something completely different if he got the chance of another Main Avenue garden: “We actually know quite a few Chilean plants, here in the UK, so I started to read up on where they like to grow naturally. I discovered a land of snow-capped mountains covered in ancient forests and dense vegetation, dotted with dramatic waterfalls, and serene, gin clear lakes, and that was the start of the design.” explains Jonathan.

He has re-enlisted the help of Mark Richardson’s Stewart Landscape Construction and Dave Root’s Kelways Plants for the 2019 garden and has been on two plant hunting expeditions to Chile: “I absolutely love finding plants I know, growing in their natural environment and I think this knowledge is the key to becoming both a better gardener and a better designer,” Jonathan adds.

The temperate rainforest zone of Chile occurs towards the south of the country and is characterized by not just high rainfalls, but relatively cool temperatures – a climate not dissimilar to parts of the UK. Jonathan is looking forward to showcasing many well-known plants in their natural habitat so visitors to the Show can look forward to looking out for gunneras, ferns, fuchsias, geums and a few other surprises.

The show garden will present Jonathan and his team with a few significant challenges. First is the water – as Jonathan points out the landscape he is trying to represent is dramatic and he only has a limited area and height in which to convey the drama: “I want noisy cascading waterfalls sluicing down a steep rock face, plunging into a lake, so the garden will be situated on the Rock Bank, at the top of Main Avenue, to give us a bit of extra height,” says Jonathan.

The first task will be selecting the rock. In Chile, much of the landscape is composed of dark volcanic rock: “The closest we can get to that is a black sandstone from a quarry in Bolton, but I’m pretty happy with the match,” says Jonathan. The next problem will be to build a realistic waterfall: “My big concern is to make it look natural,” he points out. “I really want to get away from the ‘theme park’ or dry stone wall look.” Once the rock face has been built it will be the turn of Martin Kelly from Fairwater to weave his magic, with the correct array of pumps, balancing tanks, submersible chambers, filters and header pools. Martin built the water features for last year’s Yorkshire garden so Jonathan is excited to be working with him for the first time.

The garden features a red walkway, winding its way around the rugged landscape and Jonathan explains that the temperate rainforests of Chile are dense and in all the national parks it is not unusual to see a lot of timber walkways which have been constructed in order to allow visitors to get up close to the flora: “As you would expect most of the walkways are functional, but I want to elevate this into something a bit more sculptural and beautiful and juxtapose it with the lush natural planting. We’re still in the early stages of building it but it’s exciting to see my drawings come to life.”


(pictured above)  South African Wine Estate Garden, RHS Chelsea 2018

Finally, Jonathan and his team will have to create the lake that the waterfalls fall into which has to be gin clear, not only for judging but also because that is how they look in Chile. Then it will be down to Mark Richardson to find a way of installing Jonathan’s walkway without puncturing the liner where it spans the waterfalls. Everything has to be choreographed, hour by hour, on this challenging build: “I looked at various examples of treetop walkways and boardwalks cutting through forests. There’s one at Westonbirt, one at Kew, but they are huge and partly made of steel,” points out Jonathan. “There’s also the ‘Boomslang’ in South Africa’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which has been beautifully made and which has a lovely flowing quality to it, although it’s still on a different scale. Then during my time researching the plants in Chile I stumbled across the Termas Geometricas, a hot springs bathing area that has a series of pools connected by a simple timber walkway that has been painted red.” This walkway, together with the other influences has led to the final design for the show garden.

Jonathan hopes that the walkway will appear to float over the ground so he is keen not to show any supporting posts. All of which adds up to a much harder build this year compared to his garden from 2018.

Jonathan Snow Design Ltd is a landscape design practice specialising in high end town, country and overseas commissions. His garden – a South African Wine Estate garden (pictured above) for sponsors Trailfinders was awarded a Silver-Gilt at the 2018 Show. Trailfinders is a leading independent tour operator with more than 48 years in making tailor-made holidays.

Visit for more information on Jonathan’s work.

Picture credit: banner, design © Jonathan Snow; 2018 Chelsea South African Wine estate garden and picture of Jonathan ©Reckless Gardener.