In spring 2012, landscape designer Cleve West, that not only won Best Show Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 but also continued the effort at the 2012 series, addressed a meeting of the British Society of Garden Designers stating that he doubted that backyard shows, headed by Chelsea, had any influence on how we examine garden design in our gardens. In other words, trends don’t emanate from such occasions.
In part I concur. Some of these series gardens just pick up emerging trends and so magnify their impact and rate their uptake. However, other trends, such as the planting of alliums en masse, have blossomed from the seeds sown from the show gardens at Chelsea.
It is very simple to get bogged down at the series in minute details and miss the wider themes or trends. The trends that I’ve picked up from Chelsea this year would be the usage of conventional topiary in various forms, the production of “new English” style and the planting approaches of insistent planting and plant communities.
The Resurgence of all Topiary
In several of the year’s display gardens we saw that the resurgence of topiary. The Brewin Dolphin Garden, made by Cleve West, brings back full-scale 19th-century topiary forms.
The 8-foot-high yew sentinals were sourced prepared grown from a Belgian nursery and also provide a real permanence to the design. The rustic limestone pillars hint at the undercurrent trend of this resurrection of this classic English country garden and also the arrival of this new British fashion.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden; designer: Cleve West; gold medal winner and Best Show Garden
Place at a sea of mixed perennials, big topiary shapes also appeared in Arne Maynard’s Champagne Laurent-Perrier Garden. The magnificent feature backing the backyard, however, is a long copper-beech stilt hedge using the exact same mixed planting flowing beneath.
The Champagne Laurent-Perrier Garden; designer: Arne Maynard; gold medal winner
Low, trimmed evergreens are set one of the perennials. They had been a signature planting of the year’s show.
Sui Kee Searle
Cheaper trimmed evergreens, which we can introduce in our gardens, were revealed at the Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden, made by Joe Swift. The finely trimmed evergreens have both form and substance, and permit that the bronze-colored bearded iris and verbascum to take center stage.
The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden; designer: Joe Swift; gold medal winner
Not all trends start at Chelsea, but a few — such as this type of topiary — have been bolstered as stylish by their usage at a series garden.
Tom Stuart-Smith’s Laurent-Perrier backyard used cloud-pruned box, Buxus spp., in his tasteful and intimate 2010 Chelsea backyard.
Cloud pruning was originally a Japanese method of shrubs and trees into shapes resembling clouds, but the mounded hedges of box at the Jacques Wirtz backyard in Belgium were potentially the inspiration for the relaxed form of cloud pruning from his Chelsea show garden.
Shaping a cloud-form hedge is easier than you think. Imagine billowing clouds as you form, cutting just into high layers of this bush. It is easier to do this using a hedge which has grown out for a few years; then you are able to create the undulations as extreme as you would like.
In Thomas Hoblyn’s Arthritis Research U.K. Garden, we see the usage of clipped topiary, both enhancing the boundary planting and as boundary hedging. But influences also have the amazing Renaissance gardens of Italy — this backyard captures the classic formality of the historical gardens at Villa Lante and Villa d’Este.
The planting follows a more English style of herbaeceous mixtures rather than trends from Germany and the Netherlands.
The Arthritis Research U.K. Garden; designer: Thomas Hoblyn; silver-gilt medal winner
This long, nevertheless rectangular pool reflects the stillness of the backyard, while the floating stepping stone bring a modernistic touch.
In the back of the backyard we find one of those Italian influences of the design: the use of this Italian cypress, Cupressus sempervirens. These thin conifers are classic Italian, long used for formal hedges, reaching 70 feet tall but growing just about 6 ft wide. Slim conifers, such as these cypresses, are perfect for producing punctuation points in your backyard.
The New English Design
Andy Sturgeon’s M & G Investments Garden in certain manner echoes what we’ve observed in the previous gardens, strengthening the yield to conventional Arts and Crafts style — what’s being called the new English fashion.
It has the exact same rather easy rectangular pool, clipped evergreens (yet again) and also an almost unobtrusive mixed planting, now with a great deal of umbellifers such as ornamental ‘cow parsley’, Anthriscus sylvestris.
We have observed the end, for now, of this color-theme boundary, which has been replaced over the last few years with repetition planting, where only three or four key plants are used to create a more pragmatic appearance.
The M & G Investments Garden; designer: Andy Sturgeon; gold medal winner
This image shows the link between the use of clipped evergreens and another trend — the gradual shift from insistent planting to the usage of plant communities.
Here, the irregular planting of this globe-headed alliums contrasts against the dark foliage but also mirrors the curved, clipped shapes.
Repetitive Planting and Plant Communities
Repetitive planting has become a captivating trend over recent Chelsea Flower Shows. A backyard from 2012 reveals how cleverly the interweaving of just three to four key plants makes a naturalistic theme. Harmony is acheived by restricting the color range in addition to the species.
Plant community planting is about selecting a variety of plants appropriate to a specific situation, be it a marshy wildflower meadow or woodland glades. The choice is usually very restrictive, without being more and with an irregular repetition of this planting. This trend was seen in quite a few gardens, including the youthful designer Sarah Price’s Daily Telegraph Garden.
The Royal Horticultural Society and the Chelsea Flower Show are not known for extremes or for pushing the boat out, but they have once again allowed the bad boy of British garden design, Irishman Diarmuid Gavin, to build a backyard. Last year he created the renowned hanging Sky Garden.
His design for Westland Horticulture is a superb pyramid made up of seven terraces, together with stairs, a lift to the upper floor and a spiral steel skid to come down. Trees, such as birch, grow vertical in multilevel planting boxes which connect the terraces. Trailing climbers cover the scaffolding pole construction, turning it into a contemporary Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
I guess there is not a great deal for us to choose from this particular garden except it uses its footprint really nicely, and it does remind us that gardens may be great fun even when they’re somewhat zany!
The Westland Magical Garden; designer: Diarmuid Gavin; silver-gilt medal winner