The RHS Chelsea Flower Show once again wowed visitors last month, as it presented a host of gardens to inspire and intrigue its reported 157,000 visitors. Like choosing a treasured painting, or a novel that touches you, a favourite garden is a very personal choice to make. Which plants catch the eye, how composition, colour and form are used, and the way a theme is woven through a design can all impact how strongly it appeals to a person. Over the years, a few Chelsea Flower Show gardens have really stood out to us. Here are our favourite winners of the last five years:
The Brewin Dolphin Garden, Gold, 2015
Last year, Darren Hawkes demonstrated that hard landscaping can play as important a role as foliage and flowers. The Cornish landscaper used around 40,000 pieces of hand-cut slate to create the bold platforms, steps and elegant terraces that formed the essential structure of his garden. Next, to lend the space a slightly unkempt and free ambiance, he added hedgerow planting, mature English elms and delicate fresh green shoots, which filled every corner.
The Tokyo Garden, Best Artisan Garden, 2014
The brainchild of Japanese landscape artist Kazuyuki Ishihara, the Tokyo Garden was created in homage to the aesthetic of rural Japan. Much of the work that went into the garden’s creation was concerned with the selection of plants and specific objects, some of which were verifiable antiques; a well that was placed in the garden is thought to have been 200 years old. Moss sourced from Norway and a maple tree from Italy added to the sense of classic Japanese garden design with its fine balance of colour, texture and composition.
The Wasteland, Gold, 2013
Recycling, repurposing and sustainability were key themes in Herts-based designer Kate Gould’s Wasteland Garden. Created on a shoestring, this garden successfully put a piece of urban wasteland to valuable use by transforming it into a communal garden, primarily using junk that would otherwise have been discarded. The items Gould collected included mattresses, broken-down washing machines, a storm drain and corrugated metal sheets. The creation of something beautiful using something ‘worthless’ gave this particular garden a very important message about waste materials, and how they are not always as disposable as they appear.
A Monaco Garden, Gold, 2011
The hot, vividly hued but compact gardens of the Principality of Monaco were recalled in Sarah Eberle’s Monaco Garden. This winning roof garden design drew heavily on the indigenous plants of Monaco and also took inspiration from the way architects in the region make intelligent use of their limited space. In Monaco, roofs are the ideal spot for residents to escape the hectic pace of the streets below and relax in the luxury of the Mediterranean sun. That’s exactly the ambiance captured by the Monaco Garden, with its lush living wall, lavender-scented warm air and elegant lap pool.
The Skyshades Garden, 2011, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) New Wild Garden
This sustainable rain garden proved extremely popular back in 2011 – and with good reason. Nigel Dunnett, the man behind the Skyshades Garden, took inspiration for this project from the Arts and Crafts movement, which demands that design must be both functional and attractive. A converted shipping container captured rain on its green-topped roof. The water was then used to feed the garden beds below. Rain gardens reduce run-off, saving water and lowering the risk of flash flooding, meaning this winning garden was as environmentally friendly as it was attractive.
This small selection of winners is testament to the sheer diversity of gardens out there, so whichever type of gardener you are, you’re sure to find plenty of inspiration at this iconic show each year.