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2014 RBC Waterscape Garden, RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designed by Hugo Bugg. Sponsored by: Royal Bank of Canada. Show Garden
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The ten best RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gardens

Published: February 6, 2022 at 10:39 am

Ahead of Chelsea Flower Show, writer Annie Gatti picks the ten best RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden since 2000

A gold medal is the highest award (apart from Best in Show) a Chelsea Flower Show garden designer and his or her sponsor aims for and each year several are handed out. But even though a garden might be flawless in terms of its planting and construction it may not have that magic third ingredient, call it soul or spirit, that makes you want to step right in and own it. Here is my list of gold medal winners since 2006 that have taken my breath away.

RHS / Luke MacGregor

Tom Stuart Smith, 2006, The Daily Telegraph Garden

This garden opened our eyes to the beauty of rusted steel, used as feature walls, water tanks and a stunning 30m-long rill, combined with plants in various shades of green and herbaceous blooms in shades of bronze, purple and orange. Eye-catching too were groups of multi-stem Viburnum rhytidophyllum, pruned to show off their kinked branches which were silhouetted sculpturally against the Corten steel wall.


Ulf Nordfjell, 2007, A Tribute to Linnaeus

A walkway of polished granite through umbrella-trained crab apples sums up the elegance of this garden that brought a Swedish aesthetic to Main Avenue. Ulf Nordfjell used timber screens, painted rusted red on one side and cool grey on the other, to divide the garden into a woodland area and garden room, with a pebble-lined formal stream linking them. The sublime planting, mainly in tranquil greens and whites, was built up in layers.


Sarah Eberle, 2007, 600 Days with Bradstone

Known in the media as the Life on Mars garden, Sarah Eberle’s garden for astronauts chilling out on Mars was unlike any other Show Garden we had seen before. Featuring beautiful burnt-red rammed earth walls, rusted iron sculptures and steaming pools, it brought a new palette of spiky, drought-tolerant plants that convincingly popped up in the shallow pockets of soil in the baked-earth landscape. She scooped up Best in Show for this one.


Cleve West, 2011 The Daily Telegraph Garden

Cleve West created a garden inspired by Roman ruins in Libya that combined stunning contemporary sculpture (towering concrete pillars from French duo Serge Bottagisio and Agnes Decoux), traditional Cotswold stonework and jewel-like planting that celebrated the ephemeral nature of self-seeding plants. This is the garden that showed us all the beauty of the velvet red alpine Dianthus cruentus and the starburst blooms of the humble parsnip.


Luciano Giubbilei, 2011, The Laurent Perrier Garden

Clear-stemmed Parrotia persica framed a meditative space at one end of this garden of two halves where Kengo Kuma’s exquisite bamboo-panelled pavilion took Chelsea’s garden buildings to a new level. Counterbalanced by Peter Randall Page’s swirling boulders and a clear pool, this was a masterclass in less is more. Soft, romantic planting in shades of bronze, pink and rust lined the waterside approach to the pavilion and sculptures.


Sarah Price, 2012 The Daily Telegraph Garden

Evocations of landscapes are a popular choice for Main Avenue gardens and this one, a distillation of various parts of the British countryside, was one of the most romantic. Although the dreamy planting was loose and naturalistic, mainly featuring familiar waterside and woodland edge native plants, the designer’s hand was firmly in evidence through the geometric, copper-edged pools, the straight paths and the contrast between sawn and natural faces in the stone.


Hugo Bugg, 2014, RBC Waterscape Garden - Embrace The Rain Garden

This garden had a strong environmental message about the global need for storm water management. Hugo’s take was both excitingly contemporary and stunningly beautiful. A sequence of geometric platforms and walkways provided the journey over and beside the water which was slowed down and retained in the garden by areas of moisture-loving plants in shades of blue, lime green, white and yellow, and most dramatically by a ravine of irises.


Dan Pearson, 2015, Chatsworth Laurent Perrier Garden

Not only was this distillation of the wilder parts of Chatsworth Garden a triumph of scale and sense of place, it was also the garden that drew you back again and again, to glimpse another view, another detail. On the tricky Triangle site, Dan Pearson assembled monumental rocks, huge trees, shrubs, wildflower meadow grass and a winding stream to create an awe-inspiring whole. Watch the short video of its construction to appreciate what goes into creating a Best in Show garden.


James Basson, 2015 A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse

James Basson’s first two Chelsea show gardens for L’Occitane were evocations of the Provençal landscape, both exquisitely conceived, with superb attention to detail. But this first one was the one that made me want to step in and follow the red earth path through the herby scented plants to the simple metal table and chairs under mature olive trees. Here surrounded by wildflowers I could imagine myself whiling away the day, listening to the trickling water in the man-made rill and the buzz of insects.


Andy Sturgeon, 2016, The Daily Telegraph Garden


Andy Sturgeon’s show gardens are a marriage of bold architectural elements with glorious, often unusual planting and this Best in Show garden was, for me, his most stunning. A pathway of sawn limestone blocks, at varying angles, led through a rocky terrain covered with wiry, bushy plants in shades of grey to green and shot through with burnt orange Isoplexis canariensis, to a fire basket and a shadowplay backdrop of bronze fins.

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Annie Gatti is an award-winning garden writer and co-author of the RHS Your Wellbeing Garden


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