Floral window Helen Clarke, Edie Rose.

Our Chelsea 2021 Highlights

Gardens Illustrated's Acting Editor Sorrel Everton reveals her highlights from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021.

As the first-ever – and perhaps the only – September RHS Chelsea Flower Show draws to a close, it has been wonderful to consider all that we have seen in a late summer show. It’s good to mull it all over and see what lingers in the mind once the razzmatazz has passed and we are back home in our own gardens.

Advertisement

Foliage

Autumn hasn’t quite kicked in yet, so while many designers had trees whose autumn colouring could have been striking but hadn’t turned, it was other foliage combinations that came to the fore. Striking shapes and textures of more tropical-looking plants and ferns were evident on many of the gardens.

Schefflera rhododendrifolia on Jonathan Snow’s Trailfinder’s 50th Anniversary garden – a Gold Medal winner.
Schefflera rhododendrifolia on Jonathan Snow’s Trailfinder’s 50th Anniversary garden – a Gold Medal winner.
Rhus typhina – with tree ferns, Tetrapanax and Hydrangea paniculata providing additional texture in Tom Hoblyn’s Boodles Secret Garden.
Rhus typhina – with tree ferns, Tetrapanax and Hydrangea paniculata providing additional texture in Tom Hoblyn’s Boodles Secret Garden.
This Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ caught my eye in the Great Pavilion with its striking silvered leaves.
This Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ caught my eye in the Great Pavilion with its striking silvered leaves.
Schefflera trevesioides on Martha Krempel’s Aradia garden in the Balcony Gardens section.
Schefflera trevesioides on Martha Krempel’s Aradia garden in the Balcony Gardens section.
Brilliant shapes on the Surreal Succulents display in the Great Pavilion including one of their newly developed x Semponium – a cross between a hardy Sempervivum and Aeonium.
Brilliant shapes on the Surreal Succulents display in the Great Pavilion including one of their newly developed x Semponium – a cross between a hardy Sempervivum and Aeonium.
Lots of exotic-looking treasures on the Botanico plant cart including the brilliantly named Doodia aspera ‘Rough Ruby’. Harris Bugg included a Doodia media on their M&G garden – a useful evergreen fern. Quite apart from being a cool-looking fern, the genus is actually named after Samuel Doody, botanist and first curator of the Chelsea Physic Gardens.
Lots of exotic-looking treasures on the Botanico plant cart including the brilliantly named Doodia aspera ‘Rough Ruby’. Harris Bugg included a Doodia media on their M&G garden – a useful evergreen fern. Quite apart from being a cool-looking fern, the genus is actually named after Samuel Doody, botanist and first curator of the Chelsea Physic Gardens.

Tree of the show

Alongside the RHS’s Queen’s Green Canopy Garden designed by David Dodd, which included 21 trees all destined to be replanted at the RHS’s newest garden Bridgewater as part of the countrywide initiative to ‘plant a tree for the [Queen’s Platinum] Jubilee’, trees were a striking feature of all the gardens.

Appearing on many of the gardens was Heptacodium miconioides, the seven son flower tree, chosen for its late summer to autumn clusters of fragrant white flowers and textured bark. It’s shrub-like habit makes it a good multi-stem candidate and it grows well in full sun or light shade making it suitable for a range of garden situations.

A key performer on many gardens – Heptacodium miconioides.
A key performer on many gardens – Heptacodium miconioides.

For drama though, it was hard to beat the display from Torc Pots and Form in the Great Pavilion. Here, beautiful tree shapes, both multi-stems and topiary were celebrated in oversized pots underplanted with swishy, tactile grasses – proving that even a non-typical garden space could indeed be turned into a green oasis.

Perfectly clipped topiary at Torc and Form.
Perfectly clipped topiary at Torc and Form.
Another delightful angle from Torc and Form.
Another delightful angle from Torc and Form.

Flower of the show

Autumn’s palette is very much those strong reds and oranges and those were indeed what everyone was anticipating and shone through as different to May’s more pastel palette. Perhaps though, no-one was expecting the sky-blue of Salvia uglinosa, a perfect late summer flowerer offering talk flower stems topped by delicate flower spikes. At the show it associated well with the taller grasses.. It’s common name of bog sage offers some useful clues as to how to grow. But a word of advice from The Botanic Garden, more usually known for their May display of Digitalis – at this show offering a stunning collection of salvias. “Most of the more normally grown salvias prefer a well-drained soil, but S. uglinosa needs a moist, well-drained soil (although not a bog as its common name suggests. A bit of richness to the soil too.”

Salvia uglinosa.
The fabulous sky blue of Salvia uglinosa.
Salvia uglinosa on Boodles garden.
Salvia uglinosa as part of Boodles Secret Garden.

A mention should also go to Amsonia illustris, used to brilliant effect by Hugo Bugg and Charlotte Harris on their garden for M&G. This was perhaps the garden that best embraced that end of season appeal using lots of plants beginning their gentle senescence from an earlier peak of appearance. Amsonia is more usually chosen for its blue-tinged, starry flowers in early summer. Kept in Charlotte and Hugo’s planting scheme from the original May garden, the amsonia in September added tawny tones and just the right hint of autumn to come.

Amsonia illustris.
Amsonia illustris as seen on the M&G garden.

Bright new world

With the launch of the RHS’s new Sustainability Strategy this month that sees the RHS shifting from purely a gardening charity to one with more of an environmental focus, the Yeo Valley Organic Garden designed by Tom Massey, supported by Sarah Mead couldn’t have been better timed. What originally had seemed quite risky – to produce the show very first 100 percent organic – proved a gold-winning triumph. Based on Yeo Valley’s organic farm garden down in Somerset, Tom and Sarah design showed how quality, creativity, plantsmanship and fun. The ‘scruffy’ grass edging that bordered the garden – lifted from the Yeo Valley fields – seems entirely appropriate when compared with the more usual immaculate grass edging on other gardens. It was a perfect segue to the more natural scheme of the garden.

The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.
The Yeo Valley Organic Garden at Chelsea 2021.

Chelsea gardens are known for suave pavilions. These can seem oversized and included more for show week entertaining than a ‘real’ garden. This year, the Yeo Valley Organic garden’s egg was spot on. A gorgeous steam bent seating pod designed by Tom Raffield, it was both fun, quirky and felt like something that more of us could replicate as a focal point in our own gardens. The perfect retreat and garden vantage point.

New categories

Do check out our stories covering the show’s new categories – Balcony, Container, Sanctuary and Houseplant Studios. All of these were full of inspiration and a really high standard, each taking their theme to imaginative and exciting levels. They definitely brought a new dimension to the show.

And in the Great Pavilion, the Floristry Installations and Floral Windows were gorgeous, masterfully executed and provided a moment of contemplation and close-up detailing just not possible in the show garden where you just can’t get up close. Congratulations to all the exhibitors.

Floral Charlotte Smithson Beauty of Nature.
Floral Charlotte Smithson Beauty of Nature.
Floral Installation Little Garden Flowers.
Floral Installation Little Garden Flowers.
Floral window Amanda Randell Cox Hotel Endsleigh.
Floral window Amanda Randell Cox Hotel Endsleigh.
Floral window Fairford Flower Collective.
Floral window Fairford Flower Collective.
Floral window Helen Clarke, Edie Rose.
Floral window Helen Clarke, Edie Rose.
Floral Window JamJar Edit.
Floral Window JamJar Edit.
Floral window Keiko Flower Academy.
Floral window Keiko Flower Academy.

And that congratulations goes to every single person involved in a hugely enjoyable September Chelsea. And now it’s back to our own gardens…

Advertisement

For all our Chelsea Flower Show Coverage head to our Chelsea hub