Naturalistic style to the fore at Chelsea Flower Show

Top designers evoke wild landscapes from Provence to Exmoor and New Zealand.

Best in Show: Andy Sturgeon’s Telegraph Garden evoked landscape of a different geological era a million years ago - image: HW
Best in Show: Andy Sturgeon’s Telegraph Garden evoked landscape of a different geological era a million years ago - image: HW

The naturalistic style of landscape designer Dan Pearson last year was back in force at 2016's RHS Chelsea Flower Show. A year after Pearson's Laurent Perrier garden saw him win Best in Show for recreating a slice of Chatsworth, wowing the judges but dividing critics and home gardeners over whether it was truly a "garden" or a wilderness, many of Chelsea's top designers developed the nature theme, with gardens evoking wild landscapes from Provence to Exmoor and as far as Marlborough in New Zealand.

L’Occitane: Lavender fields and Provence countryside

James Basson's garden for L'Occitane (built by Peter Dowle) transported visitors to the lavender fields of Provence, complete with dry stone walls and weeds that had already set seed, while Hugo Bugg's Royal Bank of Canada garden (Landscape Associates and Himalayan Landscaping) was straight out of Jordan. Sam Ovens used British natives to give a flavour of New Zealand's "rugged, wild landscape", with heathers and grasses such as Millinia and Deschampsia to create a heathland-like garden for Cloudy Bay (The Outdoor Room).

Cleve West's M&G Garden (Swatton Landscape) was inspired by Exmoor's landscape, which started his love of gardening, and was planted with downy oak, honeysuckle and whortleberry. The planting in Rosy Hardy's garden "Brewin Dolphin - Forever Freefolk" (Bowles & Wyer) had species from around the River Test near Freefolk in Hampshire.

Andy Sturgeon's Best in Show garden for The Telegraph (Crocus) took the theme further, with a garden set not only in a different space but a different geological era, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The garden is set within a wilderness landscape with geological features including striking bronze fins, representing an ancient mountain range, with a melt-water stream running through a gorge below and used plants from semi-arid regions in more than 30 different countries.

Many new or unusual species were used, particularly from drier regions, such as Leucadendron 'Burgundy Sunset' and the dwarf Acacia cognata 'Limelight' Charlie Albone used for his Husqvarna garden (Conway Landscaping) set in Melbourne, Australia.

The preponderance of pines and oak trees was noted by Landform's Mark Gregory. "I've never seen that before," he said. "There's lots of windswept pines - some really lovely trees. Chelsea never fails to inspire in that way."

Sam Ovens used full-sized 50-year-old Pinus mugo trees from Hamburg that remain small and can be used at home, while Hugo Bugg used Jordan's Pinus halepensis. Nick Bailey used Pinus sylvestris in his "Winton Beauty of Mathematics" garden (Gardenlink), while Basson used stunted, hacked back almond trees.

Vestra Wealth: gold-winning garden by Paul Martin

Deep russets and coppers and flashes of orange were still seen in many gardens, as in 2015, including Sturgeon's garden, Paul Martin's gold-winning garden for Vestra Wealth (Beautiful Horizon Landscape).

More "traditional" English planting with pastels and pinks was still evident. But many gardens that were romantically planted with roses, peonies and foxgloves were offset by strikingly modern hard landscaping - most notably Jo Thompson's gold-winning Qatari Diar garden (Landform Consultants) for the Chelsea Barracks, where rose-themed planting surrounded an elliptical lawn and rill representing London's lost River Westbourne.

RHS chief horticulturist Guy Barter said there was also "a healthy amount of green" across the gardens with rich fern plantings, adding: "Ferns don't tend to be readily stocked in plant centres so I wonder if this will now change as people are inspired by what they see at the show."

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