Every year the Show offers something never seen before there and this year’s firsts included a wedding. The Hindu ceremony between garden designer and TV presenter Manoj Malde and his partner Clive Gillmor, was held in the RHS and Eastern Eye Garden of Unity. Malde designed the garden, as the RHS Ambassador for diversity and inclusivity, with a theme of unity between all communities, using a colour palette of orange and pink inspired by his Indian heritage.
Malde says: ‘Community gardens play a great role in helping people to meet and interact with others, building new social and supportive networks. Gardening has no barriers, no social classes, no religion. When it comes to gardening, we are all equal and I am honoured and humbled to have been invited to create this garden that I hope will be enjoyed and used by all communities where new friendships will be made.
In another ground-breaking move, the Savills Garden (silver-gilt medal), evidencing the ‘edimentals’ trend of mixing edible and ornamental plants together, has a fully operational kitchen, serving Chelsea Pensioners with meals made from the walled garden and potager. The colourful mix, including rainbow chard, nasturtiums, marigolds and wasabi, certainly looked good enough to eat.
Another initiative, designed to appeal to the younger generation, was the Chelsea Children’s Picnic on Monday for 100 excited children from schools in some of London’s most disadvantaged areas, including this writer’s primary school. RHS Director General, Clare Matterson CBE, said: ‘We know that spending time in nature leads to better wellbeing and creates a greater attachment and desire to protect and cherish the natural world. So, with the huge issues facing future generations of mental health, a changing climate and loss of biodiversity, we hope this picnic represents a beginning for children to connect to nature through a love of gardening.’
Purple takes pride of place in many designs, in all its hues from mauves (lots of foxgloves) to burgundy (Cirsium, in so many plots), royal purple (aquilegia in the Samaritans' Listening Garden, awarded silver-gilt medal), darkening to almost black (poppies and beech in the silver-gilt medal-winning RBC Brewin Dolphin Garden; Sambucus nigra, or black elder, in the silver-gilt medal-winning RSPCA Garden; irises in the Samaritans’ Listening Garden).
Purple spiked with lime is also a popular pairing, seen in gold-medal and 'best in show' winning Horatio’s Garden, which embraces the charity’s mission to nurture wellbeing in people with spinal injuries.
Softer shades are a soothing option seen in several gardens. A wealth of whites and creams is a fresh choice in the Memoria and GreenAcres Transcendence Garden, which was awarded silver-gilt, where rounded topiary is pierced by upright flowering spires, with flowers including Cistus purpureus (rock rose) and Dianthus deltoides ‘Albus’ (maiden pinks). Muted, soft pastels teamed with silvery greys created a restful palette in the Hamptons Mediterranean Garden, awarded a silver-gilt medal.
One unexpected hue was beige – yes, really. Beige and cream-petalled irises ‘Benton Olive’ and ‘Benton Susan’ dominate in the Nurture Landscapes Garden (gold medal), with papery-petalled poppy Papaver rhoeas ‘Mother of Pearl’ and drooping multi-flowered Allium siculum, backed up by earth-toned walls made of straw bales, another tick for sustainable construction.
In tribute to the often-overlooked contribution of women in horticulture, there’s a Women in Horticulture installation at The Monument. Among the key figures showcased here are garden designers such as Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Gertrude Jekyll, as well as scientists and campaigners.
Water, however small an area, brings a whole new level of interest to a garden: rippling in the breeze, with reflections, birds dipping in for a drink, a wealth of insects above, below and upon the surface, feeding hedgehogs and bats, and entire life cycles to observe: fascinating for all ages. And they also help fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide.
Small wonder, then, that so many gardens included a pond, pool, rill or cascade, even in smaller spaces. In the Balcony and Container Garden section the Feels Like Home Garden, which was awarded a gold medal and best in category, featured a central large bowl filled by a sculptural trickling spout, and the Restorative Balcony Garden sponsored by Viking, awarded silver-gilt, had a cube-shaped container filled to the brim. On a larger scale, the RBC Brewin Dolphin centred around a sizable circular pool.
Wild about weeds
Reflecting the RHS’s new philosophy that weeds are welcome too, ‘wild flowers formerly known as weeds’, such as dandelions, buttercups, nettles and herb Robert, spring cheerfully from many a border.
The Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden, ‘affordable, inclusive and ecologically rich’, has weeds such as nettles mixing with classic wildflowers such as poppies in its silver-medal-winning design. The Centrepoint Garden (gold medal), for the homelessness charity, is set amid a demolished house, and interplants dandelions, nettles and herb Robert with plants originally planted in the house’s garden such as blue aquilegia, hostas and hydrangea.
Reclamation and recycling
Salavaged building materials like rubble, concrete and old bricks appear in several gardens, highlighting the possibility of working with the materials you have rather than opting for newly bought options. Slabs of concrete with successively smaller holes form a viewpoint in the Samaritans’ Listening Garden, which uses 85% reclaimed materials with little chunks suspended from an overhead metal framework – adding interest to the space above the plants. The Saatchi Gallery featured work by artist Catriona Robertson using recycled newspaper and reclaimed metal.
And after their brief spell in the Show spotlight, this year, for the first time, every single one of the 36 Show gardens will be reinstalled in permanent homes.
If you can't make it to the Show in person, catch up on the BBC's coverage on iPlayer here.
|What||RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023, Royal Hospital Chelsea|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
23 May 23 – 27 May 23, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here for more information, and to book|