RHS Chelsea 2023 - Garden or Landscape?

RHS Chelsea 2023 - Garden or Landscape?

We’re back at RHS Chelsea for the thirteenth time. Every year there is a hot topic for debate and, this year, I am sure we will hear a continuation of the subject broached by Joe Swift and Monty Don in the last broadcast at the 2022 show and recently taken up by Alan Titchmarsh: is it a garden or is it a landscape and should the two be judged together? To my mind there is undoubtedly a place for heightening awareness of the fragility of our environment and of the benefits of welcoming in nature but most gardens simply do not have the space for grand rewilding schemes and both experienced and aspiring gardeners come to Chelsea to be inspired as well as educated.

Looking round the show gardens, I have to admire the concept and execution of The Centrepoint Garden designed by Cleve West; a commentary on homelessness in the UK through the metaphor of a demolished house (even the bird boxes have blocked their entrances). Similarly, the Samaritans Listening Garden by Darren Hawkes; the garden leads the eye from broken pieces of masonary back to an area where what has been broken is put back together again. But what is there for the aspiring gardener to take home from these wonderful displays?

Cleve West’s Centrepoint Garden - an admirable concept.

I think those who come to admire plants and planting will find plenty to inspire them in the ‘Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden’, although the very subtle colour palette is not everyone’s choice, or in Harris & Bugg’s ‘Project Giving Back, Horatio’s Garden’.  

Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden by Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson

Project Giving  Back: Horatio’s Garden by Harris & Bugg

‘The Savills Garden’ by Mark Gregory (who redesigned the King’s topiary garden on the Sandringham estate), is the show’s first ‘plot-to-plate’ garden. A kitchen garden designed to make the guest feel comfortable and connected with nature, it drops down into the safe harbour of the dining space. It feels enclosed and protective and is the purest definition of ‘a safe space’.

The Savills Garden by Mark Gregory

However, the garden that delighted me most with the beauty of its design and perfectly-realised planting scheme is Chris Beardshaw’s garden for the charity Myloma UK, ‘A Life Worth Living’. To quote Chris Beardshaw himself: ‘It’s very definitely a garden to be appreciated slowly. If there were a horticultural equivalent of slow food, this would be it’. A garden to luxuriate in and the one that I predict will be People’s Choice.

Myeloma UK – A Life Worth Living Garden

I am always asked which plants are trending this year. Two that have caught my eye are my great favourite, Cirsium rivulare, The Melancholy Thistle, which I have often mentioned in my journals and the Benton irises, bred by Cedric Morris in the 1930’s and 40’s. I love the airiness of her planting and my eye has started to love the muted tones of the irises that she has chosen. Another possible People’s Choice?

When Sarah Price left her role as head gardener at Sissinghurst,  she made it her mission to bring as many as possible back into cultivation. At this year’s Chelsea Show, Sarah has planted ‘The Nurture Landscapes Garden’, inspired by a forgotten garden, Benton’s End, once Cedric Morris’s home. Her interpretation of ‘a ghost of a garden’ will showcase traditional crafts and, in addition to the exemplary planting, she aims to make her project as sustainable as possible.

Sarah Price’s The Nurture Landscapes Garden

Sustainability at the core of the garden concept.

Whatever the eventual verdict, expect some lively debate this week.

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