Chelsea Flower Show: Up Close with Garden Design Views & Trends

The Chelsea Flower Show in London represents the pinnacle of garden design and is, without question, an annual opportunity to check in with many of industry’s leaders to see what they are thinking about and how they choose to represent their artistry and influence in the world. My personal experience of Chelsea was life changing (it is the reason I am in this industry at all) and taking time out annually to studying every piece of it from every angle brings me not only personal joy and satisfaction, but it is also an opportunity to reconnect with myself and remember why I have chosen my career path.


The plants, the ideas, the personal stories, the triumphs and the failures fill hours of British television and countless pages of magazines and newspapers across the world.  I’m interested in it all but to start, I like to focus on trends and ideas that I see emerging.  I’ve been pouring through the images of the gardens and exhibits (mostly on the RHS website) from my desk outside of Boston and taking in the perspective that is to be had when you are looking through someone elses lens.  Gillian Carson of My Tiny Plot made the trip to England this year and in part 2 of this little series, she is sharing her thoughts from press day and being on the grounds. Part 3, will go extremely close with Carrie Preston (of Studio Toop) who helped to build one of the show gardens and saw the event from an entirely different angle.   

Have you been following show coverage?  What trends do you see?  Feel free to leave comments!



The Sculptor's Picnic Garden by Walker's Nurseries designed by Graham Bodle

It seems the concepts behind hugelkultur are continuing to permeate into our collective minds. Stumps and sticks and what once would never be put on display as something beautiful are increasingly taking center stage.  Stumperys, (similar to a rockery but made from parts of dead trees.) which were first imagined in Victorian times are being revisited and the structural form of upturned trees and unfinished edges has quickly trickled from trendy interiors into trendy exteriors. It has left me wondering if, at long last, garden fashion might be catching up with or *gasp* perhaps even taken a lead role in setting general lifestyle and fashion trends?

Image: Graham Bodle uses reclaimed oak branches and tree roots, reminiscent of a stag’s antlers, to create an unusual semi-enclosed garden, which is planted with pines, conifers and grasses.

Natural Texture

The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden by Dan Pearson and built by Crocus

There were, as always, gardens that had shiny sleek curves, imported stone terraces, and generally modern lines everywhere, but the places that seemed most of the moment, (and also took the big prizes for people’s choice and best in show) were gardens that eschewed all this for a more natural look.  These gardens walked the line between the nostalgia gardens (that seek to recreate in great detail some long-lost time and place) and something more modern.  They (and specifically Dan Pearson’s Best in Show Garden above) didn’t shy away from combining manicured shrubbery and rock formations that would be extremely rare to find in untouched nature with planting that celebrates weeds, scrawny specimens and plants that are anything but the (often) over-amped hybrids that flood the market.  I personally find this line difficult to walk but something I admire tremendously.

 A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse by L’Occitane Designed by James Basson Built by Peter Dowle


The Perfumers Garden is another example of natural texture.  Rills made of hypertufa run through plants that were chosen for fragrance (again more wild and weedy than plump and voluptuous choice). The paths are hoggin (a compactable groundcover that is composed of a mixture of clay, gravel, and sand or granite dust that produces a buff-coloured bound surface – I’m stumped to think if we have an american-english version of this word?) and provide a semi-permeable surface that is low maintenance, inexpensive and ecologically preferable to many other types of paving.



Even where a more modern and look was created, as in the Pure Land Foundation Garden, the shaped and texture remained natural with stucco finish and smooth flowing lines.


Sentebale-–-Hope-in-Vulnerability_V0P0231_940x627 The Trugmakers Garden designed by Serena Fremantle & Tina Vallis built by Frogheath Landscapes Ltd

I’m not sure I saw a single garden that relied on the pastel tones that seem so popular (like, yesterday). If flowers took a central role (note that in many gardens they did not – see texture) they tended to be in dynamic mixes of orange (tangerine colored Geum was everywhere) purple, and red. There is a distinct vibrance with the planting and flowers that is notable across the entire show.

So highlighted and tweaked versions of weedy and wild, with an ever increasing nod to methods and practices celebrated by permaculturists are the messages I am seeing… what do you see?

images top:  Purple and orange and white combine in the Sentebale – Hope in Vulnerability garden designed by Matt Keightley and built by Rosebank.
bottom: Poppies, Geum and thistle make for an airy mix of planting in the Trugmakers Garden designed by Serena Fremantl and Tina Vallis and built by Frogheath Landscapes Ltd.

all images from RHS


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About Rochelle Greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.


  1. Margaret H on May 26, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I’ve always loved placing wild shaped driftwood in my garden and I confess one perimeter in particular of my garden shares the look of the design concept above but it is not design sophistication on my part, simply an inability to refrain from cutting scrub brush to make way for more plants! My spouse found a five foot rib bone of a whale on the beach and brought it back to the garden. We were hosting a retreat for our local animal shelter shortly thereafter and one of our buddies that is involved in Marine Mammal rescue work told us it was illegal to be in posession of any part of a whale – oops – my spouse put the rib in my garden shed and I’m not sure we’ve figured out what to do with it yet.

    I’m thrilled to read there is no hesitation to use bold colors, especially orange. I’ve been a bit obsessed with orange the past few years, geums of all varieties are planted through my gardens. (tried to post a pic but it wouldn’t stick)

    • The Editor on May 29, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks for sharing you story Margaret! I’d have had no idea about the whale bone too….and what a find!

  2. Adrienne on May 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    These gardens are breathtaking! So much inspiration. I,too, love the natural texture look. It gives so much life to a garden even when the flowers aren’t there.

  3. Fedora Sawyer on July 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

    I am working in a gardening company in Chelsea and my passion for the gardens started when I was a little girl. I was about six when my mother took me to an exhibition of flowers and I was amazed by the colors, the aroma and that magical feeling which cannot be even explained! I am glad that I had the opportunity to develop my career through the path of gardening!

  4. FILGIFT SHOP on September 29, 2016 at 11:30 am

    I love your blog, These are beautiful flowers and you give a precious knowledge and we also provide flowers so I have seen different types of flowers as a gift, I love flowers.

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