It’s a five-day theatre set piece that just keeps going, aisle after aisle of garden displays by the top designers in the world, set on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in the London borough of Chelsea - and I was there in the crowd for my third time on May 23, 2018 armed with my iPhone camera and water bottle. What a show! Everything you’d ever wanted to see is on view. Every year the big displays jostle for the RHS Gold medal with varying themes, all within the same alloted space - a long rectangle; smaller displays abound as well, some of these are targeted at city gardeners (small space design) while others showcase artistic elements, specialty growers, seed companies, and a host of consumer goods.
For a designer, RHS Chelsea is a feast. I’m still looking through my photos and notes, thinking about adding some new-found plant cultivar to my trial gardens or recommending some others to clients. If you’ve never been but would like to, visit the Royal Horticultural Society homepage for more information. I’ll be giving a slide talk of the Chelsea Flower Show through ACCESS CVU on March 21 from 6:30-8pm with highlights of my trip. Meanwhile here are some scenes and notes.
Every major display had some kind of water feature, the most dramatic was this cascade making a vertical sheet near a paved seating area surrounded by lush greenery for a tropical spa-like feel. The subdued color choices here also make it very modern - graphite, dove grey, chartreuse.
Creating a framework with vertical elements to enclose spaces is what makes a garden feel private. Many designs featured places to sit by yourself or entertain friends or even grow edibles in rooftop containers in the middle of the bustling urban experience with hedges of privet or hornbeam, pergolas made of steel, and lush plantings where foliage offers softness, complexity, and a scent. The RHS Gold Medal winner went to an arid garden designed by Sarah Price which had rust-colored plaster walls and xeric plants surrounding shallow pools.