Chelsea: My Favourite Show Garden

If you read my Anticipating Chelsea post, I expect you're not surprised that Future Nature was my favourite show garden. It doesn't look much like a conventional garden does it? But it's much more than just a garden: it's packed with lots of research (15 years worth) and ideas on how to tackle our really big gardening issues like climate change, coping with periods of flash flooding and drought, gardening for wildlife etc. etc.

Whilst the garden's rectangular in shape, within that there's a spiral design which deals with water entering the garden just like it drains out of your bath's plughole. At the top of the garden are areas representing green rooves which soak up the rainfall like a sponge, below that are planters and water pools which take up any runoff from the roof. Thus periods of intense rainfall can be coped with without overloading our drains and the water can be stored away to be used during times of drought. Everywhere there's a low maintenance, naturalistic planting of both perennials and wildflower meadows plus plenty of insect towers and bug boxes providing both food and shelter for the garden's insect life. Whilst it's not a conventional garden, the design and detail were incredible and there was lots of ideas to take away for both my own garden and public planting. I saw something completely different each time I looked at it.

Then came the real icing on the cake. I've come across Dr. Nigel Dunnett's (pictured) work whilst researching public planting, so I was very keen to talk to him about how I can lobby my council to adopt some of his ideas. I posed my question and got invited to onto the garden to sit and have a long chat. Can you imagine how excited I was about that! That's not me in the picture BTW, but my predecessor on the garden. H didn't have her camera with her so didn't record my top Chelsea highlight. Dr. Dunnett agreed it's hard work and most councils don't really 'get it' until they see his work for real. There's a seminar at Sheffield University on 5th August that I and anyone from my council (if I can persuade anyone to come) are most welcome to attend. Rest assured I'll be there at least.

Another garden deserving a more detailed mention is Eden Project's The Key. This garden looked a mess on paper, but the real thing was much better. What made this garden so special was the collaboration between so many organisations and people to make this garden happen. Homeless people and prisoners were involved in the design, growing and build of this garden which represents a journey from a bleak place to a more tranquil sanctuary. There's 10,000 plants, so you can imagine how many people it took for the grow your own aspect of the garden alone. I seriously covet the tomato tower in the vegetable garden. Several of the ex-prisoners and homeless were on hand to talk about the garden and their involvement which was very moving and another special feature of this garden. It was great to see them chatting (and being listened to for once) with 'very nice people'* - I wonder who benefited most from the exchange?

* = I'm trying not to sound patronising here and failing dismally, but it really was like class barriers were being breached in a big way simply through a shared interest in gardening. It was a very open and honest exchange and I loved it.

BTW did you notice the mention of public planting on the BBC's Chelsea coverage on Thursday? It turns out the Cancer Research UK garden is inspired by the fantastic Portuguese pavement designs and plantings in Rio de Janeiro. In addition, Joe Swift suggested the Perfume Garden would be perfect for public planting, possibly a roundabout. I'm not quite sure what the designers of such a meticulously researched garden would make of that suggestion, but I for one am pleased that the need for better public planting was recognised on national TV, no matter how briefly :)


  1. Very interesting! I think I would love those gardens, too.
    P.S. Don't you hate it when there is no camera exactly when you need it the most?!

  2. Your reports make me feel like I'm there! I love both the Key and Future Nature gardens are really cool. I love that tall bee home/sculpture thingie. Unfortunately the videos are "not available in my area." ITV also locks out their videos for US web visitors. I don't know why. Oh well!

  3. I enjoyed Chelsea this year. I thought the Future Nature tower was a work of art as were the various filled boxes on poles! The vegetable garden in the Key was lovely too. Can't help but wonder if the various helpers are feeling a bit let down now the project is finished. I would like to think there was some long term benefit.

  4. Someday when the boys are grown and taking care of themselves, I hope to see it for myself.

  5. Thanks for explaining Future Nature, VP! I'd never seen anything like the insect tower and was bemused when I saw some photos on another blog. Way cool! Ditto for The Key. I wish all prisoners and homeless people could be involved in community gardening and have a chance to have mutually respectful interactions with other gardeners over a shared passion.

  6. I loved Future Nature too, from what I could see of it on telly, so I'm not surprised that you liked it so much. ;-)

  7. I agree VP Future Nature was a lovely garden - full of colour and interest and I would have thought that kids would love it too. It was the one that stood out as being quite different apart from the Quilted Velvet garden which I thought was quite interesting but you couldn't live with it.

  8. Tatyana - I was cursing all the time I was in the garden!

    Monica - it's a shame that happens, but at least I can give you something of what it was like. The insect tower's just fab isn't it? Puts mine to shame!

    EG - I believe some of them have acquired qualifications/jobs along the way so there's been a lot of benefit from this garden. That's why it's so special. I enjoyed your report on your visit :)

    Deb - I'd love it if you did :)

    OFB - I could have said a whole lot more about these gardens, but I hope I've done them justice with my short summaries!

    Yolanda - I'm seeing new stuff in there just from looking at my photos!

    Arabella - a great garden and a challenging one as there's a lot there which people wouldn't normally associate as a garden, but I think we'll have to going forward. I like how the accompanying literature has practical solutions for where each component might be used. And the garden's going back to Sheffield afterwards which is fantastic. As for Quilted Velvet, you could see elements of the Hampton Court conceptual gardens that the designer's done couldn't you? I'm still making my mind up about it!


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