Chelsea exhibitors reveal shifting trends

The UN's year of biodiversity highlighted a "shift" in contemporary garden design at an RHS Chelsea Flower Show where few unifying themes emerged.

The continuation of naturalistic planting styles and the use of place-specific plants set in the context of the year of biodiversity served to highlight the fact that 21st century garden design has become imbued with a social conscience.

TV garden designer Chris Beardshaw was at the show to promote the Bradstone Biodiversity Garden designed by his 2009/10 scholar Paul Hervey-Brookes.

Beardshaw said: "That's a shift we're seeing in design - there is recognition that biodiversity can fit with it. In the past things were ridiculous in how they were so carefully clipped, which wasn't good for wildlife. But now we are seeing great designs that help wildlife. We are all much more conscious of the issues in front of us so this isn't a fad, it's a shift in a new direction."

He added that designers no longer set out to create gardens that will help biodiversity but it is almost an "automatic" part of design work now, as people have come to appreciate that wildlife-friendly can also be elegant and stylish rather than untidy.

James Wong's Tourism Malaysia Garden was widely praised for its deep and moody shades and he agreed that the ethics of design had changed. "Everyone is appreciating biodiversity and recognising that they should do their bit," he said. "A lot of the gardens here, like Tom Stuart-Smith's, are not untidy but really rich in biodiversity."

TV gardener Matthew Wilson also recognised the wildlife-friendly flowing designs. "It's slipped into the consciousness of designers so much," he said. "A few years ago you made a choice to make a biodiversity garden. But now the majority of gardens designed are good for biodiversity."

Garden designer Cleve West added: "It's only the really formal gardens that don't work for biodiversity now so there is quite a varied mix - there is no one theme you can really put your finger on."

Inside the Great Pavilion, the continuous learning zone brought biodiversity issues to the fore. Hillier Nurseries managing director Andy McIndoe said the promotion of biodiversity could present opportunities for garden centres.

"Biodiversity is perhaps a trend and something garden centres could capitalise on," he suggested. "The biodiversity angle might help people putting plants together and creating combinations. Things like wildlife programmes have helped - the bird seed market is huge."

Beardshaw agreed and said garden centres could promote plants by habitat with wetland, meadow or woodland ranges. "Or they could focus on educating the public and promote the use of even a single multi-stemmed tree in a small garden, which is great for song birds," he added.

Other comments on emerging trends at the show included:


"People are not talking about sustainability, they're talking about biodiversity. The big trend is putting logs in gardens. There's still lots of silver birch, lots of craft and less reliance on hard surfaces. There's still a bit of polished concrete but its softer this year."

ANDY McINDOE, Hillier Nurseries

"There will always be irises because they are in flower at the right time. The rhododendrons look better this year because they like the cool weather."

CLEVE WEST, garden designer

"I thought James' Wong's garden captured a mood beautifully. Tom Stuart Smith, Andy Sturgeon and James Wong really stand out - they have used a little bit more restraint. Some of the gardens are perhaps trying a little bit too hard."


"There is still a lot of naturalistic and meadow planting but using perennials. Birches seem to be making a bit of a comeback, as do bearded irises. Hard landscaping is always good here but there seem to be some great examples of things like traditional dry stone walling."

PAUL HERVEY BROOKES, garden designer

"There's an extraordinary amount of river birch this year. The other trend is a freer, looser planting style - people are letting go and having open and loose borders. It's all part of this loose naturalistic idea spurred on by the recession and people escaping their immediate life."


"Everyone seems to have thistle and conifers are another trend. This garden is all about accessorising and that fits another trend. Garden centres have a phenomenal range - it's amazing how much bling you can get for your buck. I like the irises because they are such understated plants. The bling I'm sure will be more and more popular."


"Peonies seem to be the trend - we are probably selling more than we have done for many years. People are going back to safety and back to what they know will grow - and they are buying delphiniums. They haven't gone for anything that isn't going to grow. The economy is probably responsible."


"There is more of a cross-section than normal, but not the grow-your-own thing. It has moved towards what is sustainable in your situation. People haven't got time for trendy exotics. "


"Silver birches and dry stone walls would be the trends for me."

- Biodiversity
- Dry stone walls
- Orchids
- Log piles
- Silver birch
- Extreme outdoor living kitchens, pizza ovens, swim-up bars
- Peonies
- Euphorbia
- Indoor plants outdoors
- Ferns
- Hideaways
- Thistles
- Grow your own
- Lots of hard landscaping
- Big garden buildings

Best in show

Andy Sturgeon's Daily Telegraph garden has won best show garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010. Sturgeon told HW the garden was his best yet staged at the event.

He said: "This is my best at Chelsea because we had the chance to get it finished in time, with enough time to do the tweaking."

Sturgeon now has five Chelsea golds and a silver gilt. He overcame the death of his partner Sarah last June to design the contemporary gravel garden featuring rusted Corten steel, Purbeck stone walling, Pinus nigra, Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow', Iris 'Action Front' and Verbascum 'Clementine'. Suppliers included Deepdale Trees. Crocus built the garden.

Tom Stuart-Smith, who won best show garden in 2008 and took gold for his Laurent Perrier garden this year, said: "Sturgeon's garden was a wonderful achievement given what he's been through in the past year. It's the best one he's done."

Best urban garden went to HW blogger Jo Thompson's The Unexpected Gardener, sponsored by Thrive. Best nursery exhibit was won by Medwyn's of Anglesey.

Golds went to Jane Owen's Green & Black's Rainforest Garden, Leeds City Council's HESCO garden, Tom Stuart-Smith's Laurent Perrier garden and Christina Williams's Music on the Moors garden, which won best courtyard garden.

Capel Manor/John Woods Nurseries Upwardly Mobile Generation garden also took gold.

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