Gardens Illustrated team's favourite Chelsea Flower Show Gardens
This year has been a bumper crop of beautiful gardens at Chelsea Flower Show. The Gardens Illustrated team went up to look around and have picked the gardens they loved the most
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is in full swing and the Gardens Illustrated team have been enjoying the Show gardens, marvelling at the plants, writing about trends, and basking in the buzz of horticulture over the course of the week.
While the medals have been announced, with lots of Golds scattered across the categories, and the best show garden has been revealed, the GI team have picked the gardens they loved the most from across the Show. It was a hard decision to pick just one, in such a bumper year, but the team have gone for the gardens that tugged at their head and heartstrings.
Gardens Illustrated team's favourite Chelsea Flower Show gardens
Sarah Price's Nurture Landscapes Gardens
Chosen by editor Stephanie Mahon
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The Nurture Landscapes Garden designed by Sarah Price is, at first glance, an elegant garden with an unusual but captivating colour palette. Keep looking, however - and it is difficult to pull your hungry eyes away - and the longer you linger on all the painterly details, the contrasting rough and smooth textures, the juxtaposition of flowers with succulents, and most of all, those incredible Cedric Morris irises, the further in love you fall. It’s a soulful, exquisitely beautiful space, which also just happens to have excellent sustainability credentials, and a covetable potting bench.
Read our guide to Sarah Price's Nurture Landscapes Garden
The Savills Garden designed by Mark Gregory
Chosen by content producer Molly Blair
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The Savills Garden designed by Mark Gregory is my favourite of the Chelsea gardens because it is exactly like the type of garden I’d happily have myself. The large area for socialising with the beautiful outdoor kitchen and covered seating area was really inviting. I also enjoyed the potager feel to the planting which was more ornamental closer to the social spaces with more formally planted edibles as you moved through the space. The edges of the garden were planted up with nettles, buttercups and other wild plants where a couple of old rhubarb forcers really caught my eye. Generally, I just wanted to hop over the ropes and start harvesting pak choi.
Here's more on the trend for edimentals
The Green Gap Garden, designed by Tayshan Hayden-Smith and Danny Clarke
Chosen by commissioning content editor Veronica Peerless
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The Green Gap Garden, an installation in the Discovery area, is the smallest garden ever created at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was created by Grow to Know, the grassroots gardening organisation set up by Tayshan Hayden-Smith in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. This tiny garden aims to serve as reminder that there remain stark inequalities in the access to beautiful and healing green spaces: at just 4.2m2, it is a 1:10 scale representation of green space available to the worst served residents of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. That’s the equivalent of an area of just three parking spaces within a 12-minute walk.
I found the simple installation of concrete and wildflowers (that are found growing locally) incredibly powerful. I’d spent two days seeking out inspiration for gardens large and small for our magazine and website readers, marvelling at the vision of the designers in tackling important issues of our times. And yet here was a poignant reflection of the fact that many people still have incredibly limited access to green space within the borough that hosts the show: a small but mighty reminder of the huge amount of work that is still to be done.
Read all about The Green Gap Garden
The Biophilic Garden Otsu - Hanare, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara
Chosen by digital editor Daisy Bowie-Sell
I'd put myself down as a fairly well behaved person, who wouldn't dream of walking on the grass if told not to, and would always ask before touching. But I surprised myself at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show when I arrived at Kazuyuki Ishihara's Sanctuary Garden at Chelsea. I just couldn't keep my hands to myself. I immediately stuck my hand out to stroke some deliciously spongy green moss. Luckily, I didn't have my knuckles rapped, as the Biophilic Garden is in fact inspired by biophilia - the concept of interacting with other forms of life in nature. Being close to anything that is growing within the garden is at the heart of its message.
Everything about this delicate, inherently tactile space is focused on the feeling of being immersed within nature. From the Japanese Hanare, or small studio, nestled amid the rock and acers next to a waterfall surrounded by irises, to those impossible to resist undulating rocks covered with deep green moss, it is a synaesthetic wonder, and a deeply mindful space. It sits perfectly within the Sanctuary Gardens category and I just wanted to sit in it and breathe.
Here's the full list of Sanctuary Gardens at Chelsea
The Hamptons Mediterranean Garden designed by Filippo Dester
Chosen by deputy art editor Niki Goss
While the impact and drama of the main show gardens at Chelsea always draws the crowds, I often find myself pulled towards the smaller gardens, with ideas more relatable to my own small suburban back garden. The Hamptons Mediterranean Garden by Filippo Dester in the Sanctuary Gardens category really caught my eye this year, with its warm-toned lime-rendered walls and Mediterranean planting surrounding a selection of zones for cooking, dining and relaxing. The planting was brought right up to eye level behind the outdoor cooking area, with an attractive mixture of edibles and herbs, along with drought-tolerant perennials and scented shrubs. A clever rainwater harvesting tank doubling as a water feature, surrounded by cooler-coloured planting, provided a peaceful space to sit, separated from the more sociable eating area by a wonderfully textured pale terracotta chevron-block screen wall – a delightful modern take on the 1960s concrete leaf screen wall blocks!
Jekka McVicar highlights ten herbs you'll find growing at Chelsea
The RSPCA Gardens deisgned by Martyn Wilson
Chosen by deputy editor Sorrel Everton
Many of the gardens at Chelsea were promoting a more obvious approach to wildlife-friendly gardening – pollinator-rich planting, a variety of habitat spaces, an acceptance of weeds and dead wood. Designer Martyn Wilson took a more gentle, yet no less impactful approach to his garden for the RSPCA. This was a garden focused on incorporating wildlife but in a more subtle way – perhaps one that people still wanting a beautiful ‘traditional’ garden space could feel more comfortable with.
The corten steel laser cut benches were both artful and cleverly fill with dead wood and prunings to provide more hidden wildlife habitats, while the nesting boxes along the back wall had an almost gallery-like appeal (although it would be worth checking if this neighbourly approach would actually appeal to nesting birds).
The water butt with rain chain (also a winning feature at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival) had real appeal and showed that collecting rainwater needn’t mean mundane plastic butts. The planting was colourful and appealing too while also being great for wildlife as it blended to more woodland style at the edges. I particularly loved the sophisticated wildlife observation shelter. Not a dank slightly neglected hide but a gorgeous space to relax and observe with the added bonus of the rooftop balcony allowing you to get a great overview of the garden – plus the green roof to give an additional, varied wildlife habitat.
The key thing to remember here is that every garden has its benefits for wildlife. A recent biodiversity study at Great Dixter found that the species count in the ornamental garden was the richest of all the garden’s areas. It’s all about planting a flower-rich, plant-filled, diverse space, however large or small.
Delve into the wonderful world of insects with our focus on aphids
Cleve West's Centrepoint UK garden
Chosen by art director David Grenham
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I thought Chelsea 2023 was such a strong and interesting year due to the variety of themes and quality of the planting. Therefore, choosing one is hard! But there were some wonderful details. There was such a strong message from this brillilant garden but Johnny Woodford's bird boxes were just a true work of art and the highlight for me. Great to hear that they will be opened up and used when they go to their new locations at Centrepoint hostels.
Read our guide to the Centrepoint Garden
Listen to Cleve West talk about the garden on our podcast
Jihae Hwang's A Letter From a Million Years Past
Chosen by production editor Juliet Giles
There are gardens at Chelsea this year that will stop you in your tracks, while others will quietly pull you in and fill you with wonder. This love letter to the healing power of nature is one of the latter, offering you a moment of calm in the middle of busy showground. Inspired by South Korea’s Jiri Mountains – home to some 1,500 species of native Korean plants with medicinal value, many of which have been threatened with extinction or habitat loss – Jihae has used 200 tonnes of Scottish granite to create a hilly landscape, complete with mountain stream, though which she’s woven a rich mix of plants, from Magnolia sieboldii to Geranium shikokianum var. quelpaertense that is found only on Korea’s highest mountain.
Plants have come both from Jamie Butterworth’s Form Plants and Crûg Farm Plants, whose owners Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones collected seed from Korea 30 years ago, and some of the 300 woody and 3,000 herbaceous plants they have supplied have been nurtured from that seed on their Caernarfonshire nursery. Blending in with the greenery is the wonderful wattle and daub tower, crafted by Alex Gibbons, that’s based on traditional Korean herb drying tower, and according to Jihae “offers a window into our earliest lifestyle, one deeply rooted in nature”. The garden is full of mesmerising detail, from the moss on the rocks to tiny seedlings growing in the walls of the tower, that draws you to look closer. Every detail is perfect but completely natural. It’s a garden that not only brings a sense of calm but encourages us all to think deeply about our relationship with the natural world. After the show many of the plants will be bringing some of nature’s healing power to those taking a respite from their cancer care at the Maggie’s centre in Nottingham while other plants may be sold to fundraise for the charity.
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