Show gardens display naturalistic theme

Relaxed planting regimes, nature havens and move from wild flower meadows to more domestic look feature at 2013 show.

Chris Beardshaw's Arthritis Research UK design secures Gold Medal - photo: HW
Chris Beardshaw's Arthritis Research UK design secures Gold Medal - photo: HW

An understated, naturalistic look and a muted feel were the overriding themes at the 100th RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week.

No one colour or plant dominated but designers leaned towards creating gardens that look naturalistic, even wild, although there was a move away from wild flower meadows to a more domestic look, with a focus on native British plants.

Best-in-show winner, the Phillip Johnson-designed Trailfinders Australian Garden, provided a rare burst of the wow factor with a habitat-creating waterfall and billabong framed by Australian blooms.

Landscape architect David Dodd of The Outdoor Room said: "In reality it's a little bit safe. I'm disappointed with a number of the show gardens. There's nothing for me that's really wow but the Australian Garden is amazing and quite a feat of engineering. That should be best in show."

Adam Frost's gold-winning Sowing the Seeds of Change design for Homebase, which mixed flowers and edible plants in an accessible design, proved popular.

Dodd said it was pretty and economical while Jo Thompson, whose Stop the Spread garden won silver, welcomed the move to "more realistic gardens" created by Frost, Rob Myers and Roger Platts.

"I think you can take a bit of that home," she said. "I've seen a lot of cow parsley and dusky pinks and crushed berry colours."

Platts, the only designer to focus on a 100-year theme for his M&G Centenary Garden said designs had a lot more plants in them than 10 or 15 years ago. "There is a natural feel with perennials. Some will stand the test of time and some won't."

Landscape architect Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture said he did not see anything "all about the flowers", but he added that meconopsis was "making a comeback" after being used by Nigel Dunnett and Platts.

Dunnett himself was among those who felt Chelsea had moved on from being influenced by his wild meadow design at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Chris Beardshaw, whose Arthritis Research UK Garden also won gold, spotted architectural forms but with more relaxed planting regimes. "This year is very varied, reflecting openness in design. Maybe the centenary has provoked that."

The B&Q-sponsored Sentebale Garden and the Homebase garden both have plant collections to go with them. B&Q's includes a limited-edition Chelsea Lily. Homebase's Chelsea Collection contains 140 products.

RHS Wisley plant centre head Nigel Eaton said the RHS centres will sell six "show stopper" plant selections from the gardens.

Show themes - native flowers in ascendency

Native flowers are popular but designers moved from the meadow to the cottage garden. Meconopsis, myrtle, cow parsley, dusky pinks and crushed berry colours were spotted, but there was no dominant colour or plant.

Straight lines and angles were common, along with rusty reclaimed materials, slanted hedges, living walls and roof gardens, but within geometric designs there was a more relaxed planting style.

Some felt that 2013 was not a vintage year but others welcomed a move to more accessible gardens. Tackling serious environmental issues - water shortage, sustainability, biodiversity, climate change and plant disease - was evident and likely to feature more in the second century of shows.

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