Robert Kennett ~ Garden Designer

Garden design and landscaping from RHS Gold Medal winner
Telephone: 01747 858215

Chelsea Flower Show review

Well, the hot, overwhelming scrum that is RHS Chelsea Flower Show is over for another year. What to take from this years offering?

The Chelsea Flower show is a coming together of the disparate and sometimes antagonistic sides of the horticultural world - those with a passion for gardens and garden design, and the sometimes more eccentric world of plant lovers, including those devotees with a lifelong obsession for a single species.

Some media have criticised this year’s show for its lack of imagination though I found at the very least a refreshing lack of repeated planting trend. Mostly gone were the obvious blocks of naturalistic planting, grasses and cow parsley. The only evidence of shared ideas was the widespread use of dark colours, especially burgundy and dark purple Lupins, in some places with perhaps insufficient light relief. However, the gardens in general were pleasantly varied and created an interesting show. I especially loved the delicate, sparse planting of the Monet-inspired Mediterranean garden by designer Sarah Price. I just wonder whether some of the leading lights of the garden design world have moved on to the competing new RHS show which launched last year at Chatsworth in Derbyshire. Knowing how exhausting it is to put on a show garden though perhaps they’re just having a well-earned break.

Imagination and creative flair was certainly displayed in flourishes in the smaller Space To Grow gardens. One that really caught my eye was the Pearlfisher Garden, in partnership with Plastic Oceans, its goal to highlight the irrevocable impact of plastic waste on our precious aquatic ecosystems. The garden featured a statue of a diving pearlfisher suspended over the roof a sunken ‘underwater’ garden where shelves of multi textured and colourful cacti and succulents made a delightful representation of our now rapidly disappearing and bleached coral reefs. Bubbling columns of water held live fish and the boundary was contained by ‘tanks’ of blue Perspex in which were suspended ‘jellyfish’ made from sea urchins with dangling tentacles of the airplant Tillandsia.

One always hopes for surprises at Chelsea and this year didn’t disappoint. There was some very diverse planting styles and some that was certainly challenging on the eye to my mind – one combination of pinks, oranges, purples and yellows might have been extending the experimental nature of the late, great Christopher Lloyd to new levels of questionable taste. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if nothing I love Chelsea’s relentless ambition to challenge the horticultural status quo. 

The one element that I find missing at Chelsea more than any other is the emotional connection. I appreciate it’s hard to connect when visitors are scrambling four deep around each garden holding aloft phones to record that which they can’t see first hand. But I have seen gardens that utterly stop you in your tracks. That you wish you could almost literally become part of, or which transport you to another place all the while whispering their secret message of hope in your ear. That’s the kind of garden I’d like to create. I have been developing a design for three years in which I aim to bring together a stunning but almost monochromatic landscape with a crucial environmental message. All I need now is the £300-400,000 needed to stage a show garden. Any (extremely) generous philanthropists out there?

Sarah Price's Mediterranean garden inspired by Monet's colours

Part of the Pearlfisher garden