Global theme for newly-confident RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Volcanic ash may have grounded flights last month, but an increasingly international flavour among this year's Chelsea Flower Show gardens points to a move away from the "staycation" trend.

The Kebony - Naturally Norway garden designed by Darren Saines - image: Darren Saines
The Kebony - Naturally Norway garden designed by Darren Saines - image: Darren Saines

Coupled with strong architectural structures and planting, the show is reflecting a wider return to confidence in the UK. RHS chief assessor Andrew Wilson told HW that the mood has moved away from the "black clouds" of 2009. "The architecture of the gardens will be quite exciting," he said.

Cancer Research UK's garden Enlighten - designed by Robert Myers - is one of those making use of a strong, architectural element.The garden is surrounded by a slatted timber cloister, while at its centre there is a terrace, covered with a dramatic canopy. Myers told HW that the finished structure would be "quite a feat of engineering".

Meanwhile, a re-creation of part of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is the central feature of Leeds City Council's The Hesco Garden. The expansive 600sq m Eden Project Places of Change exhibit will also feature an "interesting structure", according to Wilson.

Tom Stuart-Smith's garden for Laurent-Perrier includes a pavilion constructed from folded sheets of patinated copper, overlooking an elongated pool of water and spring woodland planting.

Returning to Chelsea with his second show garden is James Wong, who is creating an entry for Tourism Malaysia. "The idea is to attract people to visit Malaysia and also show Malaysian people that plants from the country can be given a presence at an international contest," he explained.

Moving up the Chelsea ranks is James Towillis, who exhibited a small garden for Quilted Velvet in 2008. This year he is creating a Provencal garden for L'Occitane - a new sponsor at the show.

"Last year was quite a sombre affair at Chelsea, so the idea is really to be the antithesis of that," he explained. "The aim is to give the garden a sense of being high on a rocky hillside - rugged but also beautiful."

Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory is also returning to Chelsea with a show garden after achieving a gold medal in 2008 in the urban garden category. The Japanese garden is intended to be part of an urban landscape found between buildings, but keeping out the stresses of everyday life. Most of its the surfaces will be covered with plants, creating a green room.

An entry from down under is back on the cards this year with the return of Fleming's and Trailfinders Australian Garden, while a new entry from Scandinavia will showcase Norwegian gardening. Wilson added: "It is nice to have the international flavour."

The Kebony - Naturally Norway garden has been designed by Darren Saines and its showpiece will be a 60-year-old stunted Pinus sylvestris that has been extracted from a Norwegian quarry. Three other German-grown forest pines will tower 12m above the garden, which also features a waterfall, pavilion and outdoor kitchen.

"You would be a complete liar to say your first Chelsea isn't daunting," Saines told HW. "You have read about the other designers, or seen them on television. He added: "Norway wants to put its best foot forward and show that it has a lot to offer the world."

Chelsea veteran Mark Gregory will be looking for success with his show garden for the Children's Society, after winning gold medals in 2008 and 2009 for small gardens for the charity. The pressure will also be on because his Landform Consultants team will build Wong's Malaysian garden.

"I've got lots of emotions - excitement, apprehension, fear," he revealed. "But the dynamics of the show this year will be great. There is some good pedigree there and it will be back to its usual catwalk extravaganza."

Roger Platts also returns as the designer for show sponsor M&G Investments, after a break of eight years, while Sue Hayward has designed the Stephen Hawking Garden for Motor Neurone Disease.

The total of nine courtyard gardens matches last year's entries, though the urban category is down by a quarter from 2009, with 12 gardens instead of 16.

Entrants include Jo Thompson for horticultural therapy charity Thrive, David Domoney's Ace of Diamonds garden and Nicholas Dexter's Brand Alley.

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