Chelsea Flower

An insider's take on an autumnal RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

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Chelsea flower

The M&G Garden has been designed by Harris Bugg Studio as a shared green haven for people and wildlife, set in a busy urban environment.

Garden between continents

60° East: A Garden Between Continents was designed by Ekaterina Zasukhina with Carly Kershaw for Bodmin Jail and Bodmin Jail Hotel.

The landform balcony garden

The Landform Balcony Garden, designed by Nicola Hale

I must start by acknowledging the RHS’s bold decision to hold its flagship show in September, highlighting the season’s late flowering and not its early burgeoning. After two seasons of disappointment, we were all longing to be back in Chelsea.

And so here we are, it’s Monday 20th September 2021, and I’m writing this on what is a quieter day for we trade stand exhibitors – Press Day. The world’s press and celebrities are largely milling around the show gardens and Great Pavilion. I wanted to give those of who you are unable to attend a glimpse inside the show, as it looks and feels quite different this year. So here goes…

There are many familiar names missing from the roll call: no Peter Beales or David Austin with their show-stopping gardens of scented roses; no Bloms or the European bulb companies that made the promise of next spring seem close and always tempted me into ordering far more bulbs than I need; no islands of exotic flowers from the many tourist boards who tempted us with the best their nations could offer; no Hillier Nursery with its centrepiece of living, breathing trees and shrubs.

But there is an air of quiet anticipation around the show ground; exhibitors have made their plans with social distancing and smaller audiences in mind, and we are showing our support for the decision simply by being here.

And the September date does offer a new opportunity for some growers who might have felt neglected by Chelsea in the past (although one could argue that there are shows aplenty in the horticultural calendar).

Walking round this morning, I was struck by the vibrancy of the displays: enormous rudbeckias in every shade from lemon to deep marmalade (yes, I know they strongly divide opinion and I would only give garden room to the smaller varieties, but they are used to great effect combined with grasses); echinaceas are everywhere - some so exotic in shape and colour that I had no idea of their existence; salvias, a new favourite of mine, and there are some eye-catching varieties here and, of course, the grasses which are at their best now, and give a softness to the planting.

The six show gardens still showcase the very best of garden design and planting.

I love the use of grasses, rudbeckias, asters and autumnal foliage planting in the Harris Bugg-designed garden for M&G. As the RHS tells us, “It was originally designed for the May 2020 show, to stimulate conversations over the importance of urban green places – spaces that are vital to the infrastructure of towns and cities, but which are being lost in the push to build and develop. Eighteen months on from the start of the pandemic, the significance of urban green spaces is recognised as being more powerful and meaningful than ever.”


Arcadia, designed by Martha Krempel

NHS tribute garden

Finding Our Way: An NHS Tribute Gardendesigned by Naomi Ferrett-Cohen celebrates the relentless work of the NHS to provide care and support during the Covid pandemic not just nurses and doctors, but also physiotherapists, pharmacists, porters, technicians and other unseen and unsung staff who keep the health service running.

The calm of bangkok

The Calm of Bangkok designed by Tawatchai Sakdikul and Ploytabtim Suksang represents the spirit and frenetic energy of Bangkok conveyed through tropical-inspired planting, and its calm simplicity, which can be found in the shelter and hammock situated beyond the planting.

Elsewhere, I suspect the sheer lusciousness of the Bodmin Jail garden planting with its stunning water feature will make it a strong contender for The People’s Choice award. According to the RHS, the garden “draws upon east and west to create a unique blend of European and Asian planting palettes, brought together in a sweeping naturalistic composition evocative of the unsurpassed beauty of the Ural Mountain landscapes; its peaks, forests, rivers and slopes. Inspired by a garden in the heart of the metropolis of Yekaterinburg, 60° East is a green jewel amid towering architecture.”

To add interest and diversity to the show, RHS has introduced a number of new features.

Gardens for Balconies are a welcome introduction. In recognition of the time we have all spent at home throughout the pandemic – even the tiniest, loftiest of spaces can be peaceful sanctuaries, beautiful gardens and havens for birds and insects – there were five balcony gardens on show in total. Each one demonstrates how small spaces can be used imaginatively, making a garden on a balcony or in a courtyard.

Like the Balcony Gardens, the Serenity Gardens beautifully illustrate what can be done in a relatively small space and offer the visitor a sense of the tranquillity that only a garden can give.

Although the absence of overseas companies and seasonal exhibitors makes the Great Pavilion seem much emptier, it will allow visitors to get near to the exhibits and to stunning displays of autumn flowers and plants that are there.

Press and TV coverage always neglect the commercial trade stands and yet they, too, showcase the best design and manufacture in garden furniture and decoration.

Pheasant acre plants

A stunning display of dahlias and large flowered gladioli from Pheasant Acre Plants

Utterly desirable pots

A wonderful display of utterly desirable pots from our friends at Italian Terrace.

3 star trade stand

Last, but not least, our own exhibit in support of RHS Chelsea’s autumn show, and our 3 star trade stand award, awarded by the RHS judges!

Next year’s dates have already been announced. We’ll see you back here 25-29 May 2022! I get the feeling the time is going to fly by…

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