In May 2013 the renowned RHS Chelsea Flower Show celebrated its centenary and once again gave us a superb spectacle of horticulture and garden design at its very best. However, do flower shows like Chelsea affect how we design our houses, or is it merely theatre by the garden layout elite?
We may not mirror the gardens that the designers create, but without doubt we are affected by changing garden designs and fashions born at shows like Chelsea. In my small backyard, these trends and fashions out of over the years can be found woven in its layout and plantings. Since beginning my new backyard in Devon, England, nearly seven decades before, I have been affected by the contemporary garden design I’ve seen at the Chelsea Flower Show. From the total style of my backyard to the option of the plant substance, I have been affected by the trends seen at the planet’s most renowned flower show.
Little gardens aren’t easy to design, as they can easily look cluttered and busy. Display garden layout tends to be quite organized, with solid lines and simple shapes balanced with gentle plantings.
My backyard is small at 30 by 30 feet, so it was critical that the layout was simple and practical, based on these powerful lines, as in the timber rill and the simple rectangular deck.
Topiary balls. Topiary balls, mainly with boxwood, are a favorite of designers at Chelsea in recent decades. I first saw them used en masse at Diarmuid Gavin’s 2005Hanover Quay Garden, in which the entire garden was planted with 2-foot-diameter, closely clipped boxwood balls put into a sea of lavender. He later reused the clipped balls into his 2008Cafe Garden.
Chelsea at 2012 again watched the use of topiary balls in many gardens, such as Thomas Hoblyn’s Arthritis Research U.K. Garden.
I have grown my boxwood balls out of small pot-grown plants, because they may be costly to purchase as specimens.
Though I have used mainly boxwood balls, then the ball at the foreground of this picture is Lonicera pileata, that will be a shrubby honeysuckle. It’s evergreen but tends to be a bit more rampant than boxwood, therefore it needs more clipping at the growing season. It makes a fantastic substitute for boxwood, as it doesn’t suffer with box blight, which may be a problem in some countries.
Additional evergreens that were used at Chelsea for topiary balls include Osmanthus x burkwoodii; Hoblyn used it from the earlier mentioned garden.
The “new English” style. The reduced planted boundary here follows the “new English” style that we have observed at Chelsea in gardens like Andy Sturgeon’s2012M&G Investments Garden.
The clipped evergreen balls give structure while being underplanted by means of a combination of grasses, herbaceous perennials, small shrubs and herbs. These are permitted to naturally intermingle, producing a tapestry of color during the growing season.
Cloud-pruned boxwood. Among my bigger boxwood balls has been permitted to return to a more natural form and is now cloud pruned following the methods used by the Belgian garden designer Jacques Wirtz.
I first saw this feature from Tom Stuart-Smith’sLaurent-Perrier Garden at Chelsea at 2010.
The foreground planting is mainly of hostas, appreciating the moist, shady place at the base of the raised wooden pool. The hostas are interplanted with blossoms to give a combination of form and texture that’s reminiscent of contemporary show garden planting.
Water includes. Most reveal gardens include a water feature of some kind, and in the past couple of decades they’ve tended to be formal and plant free, designed to mirror the surrounding garden.
I’ve used these thoughts in my garden with a narrow rill that edges the deck and then falls in a sheet into an easy wooden pool below. It serves more than just a decorative purpose; being shallow, so it gives a perfect drink channel for wildlife, and it’s great for cooling bottles of beer when I am using a barbecue.
Iris germanica. The stately flowers of Iris germanica, the bearded iris, have made it a firm favorite recently Chelsea show gardens. This year they can be discovered at Susannah Hunter’s and Catherine MacDonald’s backyard for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, in which they’ve used the gorgeous purple variety ‘Superstition’.
Planted in groups of the identical color, they not only make a statement when flowering in early summer, but also earn their keep throughout the year with their spiky architectural foliage.
Planted at a run down the side of my deck, so they balance the rill on the opposite side in addition to helping direct the eye back into the backyard. I chose a blue selection to reflect the deep blue sky we get in a Devon summer.
Exclamations of color. As the Iris germanica flowers fade, other flowers take their own place. Above the green of these boxwood balls and lush new-English-style planting, the vibrant red flowers of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ create a stunning exclamation mark.
That is just another display garden design idea I’ve made from Chelsea; a solid color makes a statement among a combination of foliage and pastel plants.
Green walls. The last idea I’ve brought back from Chelsea is that designers really seldom leave walls unclothed unless they’re a design feature in their own right.
I am blessed with high walls on either side of the backyard, which offer not only privacy but also a great canvas for climbers and wall shrubs. Clothing the walls really helps to create my small garden seem bigger.
I’ve layered my climbers, beginning with Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ in early spring followed by Clematis montana (displayed here); afterward the wild Fallopia baldschuanica tries to battle its way through to give me a covering of white flowers through the summer.
Two other styles I love in the 2013 show. Of the numerous layout and planting thoughts from this year’s show I could move to my backyard, two’ve caught my eye: pillow-shaped topiary and ornamental cow parsley.
Having extolled the use of evergreen topiary balls, such as my own, I’ve really been blown away by the pillow-shaped Buxus used by designer Robert Myers in his Brewin Dolphin Garden. I know the ball-shaped plants were brutally ruined in the nursery and trimmed back into some flattened pillow shape — that the outcome is quite stylish.
The white lacy flowers of Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ were used in Robert Myers’ backyard in his stunning planting of British sailors, while Christopher Bradley-Holepreferred to utilize Orlaya grandiflora, the French cow parsley, in his Daily Telegraph backyard; he used them to contrast against big trimmed blocks of boxwood and yew.
This is how I want to utilize them in my backyard — drifting about and above my topiary balls and perhaps bringing a bit of the Devon countryside inside my backyard walls.
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