Former Country Life garden editor Katherine Bradley-Hole is writing her preview for the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show and is looking forward to a strong return to form in Chelsea with mouth-watering productive garden designs, fragrant Mediterranean plantings and even a new interpretation of the rock garden.
The most recent exhibitions in Chelsea have shown the enormous resilience and resourcefulness of British horticulture in challenging health uncertainty and irregular supply chains. This year, expect to see heightened joie de vivre, an energetic, confident event of commendable variety, and perhaps even a shift in focus.
End of “weed gardens”?
Lately we’ve gotten used to non-intervention, pastoral feelings, with an abundance of shaggy hedges and flowering meadows. Over the years, the wild-weed species has gradually gained popularity at the show. The Wild Places will be there next week, but this time they are being challenged with exhibits rooted in what constitutes a real garden. Shouldn’t this be a place for people as well as plants and wild creatures?
Gardens from soil to pitchfork
One topic that is gaining momentum in real life is the productive garden, which involves enthusiasts of all age groups. In The Savilles Garden, Mark Gregory interprets this trend as “a country hotel seasonal borscht that combines beautiful ornamental and edible plants.”
Occupying one of the largest plots, it has a small building on the border with a kitchen overlooking the garden, as well as a dining area with a covered veranda. His yard in Yorkston is adorned with pretty flowers around the edges and a short strip of fresh hedges on hornbeam stilts.
Potager occupies the second half of the garden, with a collection of small raised beds of vegetables, lettuce and herbs located next to a current “stream” crossed by rustic stone bridges. Fruits include espaliered apples, fanned pears, quince, figs, and vines. The layout is informal and compact, yet comfortable to use in many different home garden settings.
mediterranean herbal garden
The pleasure of eating outdoors in more southerly latitudes is celebrated in the Hampton Mediterranean Garden, designed by Filippo Dester.
Its formal square lot includes a central kitchen/bar and adjoining dining furniture surrounded by Mediterranean trees and shrubs such as slender cypresses, lemons, figs, myrtle, lavender and cistus.
Culinary herbs include rosemary, thyme, oregano, fennel, chives, mint, and sage. If the sun shines on the show, this fragrant, exquisite canal garden with crystal clear water will have great charm.
Jihae Hwan A letter from the past for a million years
Effective herbs are treated in a completely different way in Jihae Hwang’s A Letter from a Million Years in the Past. This is a piece of ancient landscape where about 200 tons of Scottish basalt form a magnificent hillside in miniature, imitating a piece of the majestic eastern Jiri mountains in South Korea. There are about 1,500 indigenous Korean plants with medicinal value in the region, many of which are currently in short supply.
A feature here is the traditional Korean herb drying tower, a slender but tall building with a pitched roof that lets in air but keeps rain out. The Korean artist’s previous exhibition in Chelsea was the unforgettable DMZ Garden in 2012, a vivid and wonderfully detailed expression of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. This time she draws attention to the ancient knowledge and healing properties of herbs in her homeland. It literally takes Chelsea’s 100-year tradition of rock gardens into new territory.
Gardens for Mental Health
Charities associated with health and wellness have a strong backing presence, and – still rocking – Darren Hawkes presents the arduous, rocky “journey” in the Samaritan Listening Garden, celebrating the charity’s 70th anniversary. On the rectangular site, the designer provided a “brutal and ominous” entrance at one end with steel beams and cables suspended from menacing chunks of concrete. Relief lies beyond, where the stage opens into a welcoming sanctuary, the listening area. Its gurgling water flows between a smoother and brighter rocky landscape with beautiful trees and modern grasses and perennials growing out of rocky cracks.
The calming influence of trees and abundant forest flowers is featured in Chris Beardshaw’s book A Garden Worth Living by Myeloma UK. A winding path of charred oaks leads to its two neoclassical pavilions, while the more open part of the garden includes a yew hedge and a traditional colorful border of early summer flowers.
A glass staircase leads to a cantilevered observation deck at the heart of Cavernoma On My Mind, the garden of Mystery Swanio and Ann Hamilton for the Cavernoma Society. From a bird’s eye view of a small and beautiful square area, there are spray roses, sage, peonies, herbs and other reliable Chelsea plants intertwined with graceful herbs and wildflowers.
A huge number of symbols and messages have been invested in the selection and location of each plant. This will of course be overlooked by most visitors looking for the overall effect, but the modern belvedere will literally take this garden to another dimension.
Thomas Hoblin’s British craft garden Boodles draws inspiration from mid-19th-century Pre-Raphaelite visions of an English woodland. Its naturalistic plantings include martagon lilies and an assortment of connoisseur ferns.
The craftsmanship includes a metal gazebo modeled from branches, a terrace made from fossil-rich Chatsworth limestone, and a “floating” pool by fountain creator Bamber Wallis.
Old-fashioned bearded irises are hard to see on display because their fluttering petals are delicate. Hardier, well-bred modern varieties tend to be more weather-resistant; however, for many, the subtle hues and potential brittleness of the best mid-20th century varieties put them in a class of their own.
In this regard, the irises bred by the artist Cedric Morris (1899–1982) in his Suffolk Gardens at Benton End are of particular attraction. Morris bred them, in his own words, for “shape, poise, color, texture, and overall design.”
One of the best gardens on show, but it can be something of a slug magnet.
More irises are on display in Nurturing Landscapes, where Sarah Price weaves them among herbs, purple gladiolus species, pastel-colored poppies, and tall, deep-bronze stems. aeonium tree, a majestic delicate succulent native to Macaronesia. Silver foliage illuminates the garden here and there through the olive-like shrub. Eleagn “Mercury” and juicy cotyledon species.
This exhibit can provide some of the most spectacular and original views in the show, but if you reproduce it at home, place it in a slug-proof area. A combination of grassy hideouts, described as “tousled, invading nature” and delicate succulents, for the shellfish is a five-star hotel with an adjoining Michelin-starred restaurant. Real nature can sometimes be a barrier, though part of Chelsea’s art comes from making the impossible possible, even for a fleeting moment.
What else to see at Chelsea 2023
- In the Great Pavilion ferns and tree ferns (driopteris And cyathea species) elegantly decorate a number of exhibits of gardens and nurseries.
- Caley Brothers – Gourmets mushroom pickers sale of a variety of fresh mushrooms and kits for growing at home. The family business, now run by sisters Jody and Lorraine, was founded by their grandparents in the 1950s.
- caribbean flower display from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Grenada enliven the tent with tropical warmth in heliconias and bright ginger
- Hoyland Plant Center is further heating up the situation with brilliant displays of clivia, agapanthus, amarina and nerina
- New exhibitor Lincolnshire Pond Plants shares wonders of water lilies for ponds of any size
- Derbyshire Bonsai and David Cheshire Nursery, both gold medal winners in 2022, are back with their miniature trees.
- At the central site of the RHS Monument is celebrating Women in gardeningincluding Gertrude Jekyll, the horticultural guiding force for the first three decades of Country Life.
Photo credits: Darren Hawks; Mark Gregory; Filippo Dester; Sarah Price; Getty; Jihae Hwang; Some images are computer generated.