The RHS Flower Show has been delighting keen gardeners and plant lovers for years. It provides plenty of inspiration and wonderful fresh ideas in garden design and horticulture. The inspiring and beautiful gardens we have seen over the years are, of course, far too numerous to name. And everyone will have their own favourites. But here are just some of the gardens that I feel should be included on a list of the best ever RHS flower show gardens:
The Yorkshire Garden – Mark Gregory – 2018
Many people agree with me on this first choice. This garden, designed to evoke a country cottage garden in the Yorkshire Dales, was a Gold medal winner. It was voted best in show for People’s Choice in that year’s show, and has also been voted as the Garden of the Decade. Complete with wild ‘weeds’ and vegetable patch, dry stone walls, and bothy, a babbling beck, and flower-filled meadows and cottage garden, this was a truly stunning garden.
Back to Nature Garden – HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Andree Davies and Adam White – 2019
What I like so much about this garden is the way in which it highlights the importance of children and families spending time in nature. It highlights something that we should all remember in our gardens – wild woodland spaces and other ‘wilded’ environments are great places to play, learn and relax. The cool wooden treehouse, swing, stream for paddling, and balancing log were all fun features set among trees, shrubs, and woodland shade plants, including edibles and pollinator plants.
The Welcome To Yorkshire Garden – Mark Gregory – 2019
Also a people’s choice favourite, this was another great garden from Mark Gregory. This garden captured the beauty of Yorkshire’s canals and celebrated the rich industrial heritage of the region. This garden featured an authentically built canal, flowing water and genuine lock gates. A towpath, and a lock keepers cottage were complemented with a colourful cottage garden and vegetable patch.
RBC Waterscape Garden – Hugo Bugg – 2014
Pushing the boundaries of garden design, Hugo Bugg was Young Designer of the Year at Chelsea in 2010 and became one to watch. Pushing the boundaries of sustainable garden design at Chelsea, his 2014 gold award winner is another of my top picks. Ahead of the curve when it came to sustainability at Chelsea – now, of course, a hot topic each year, this garden highlighted the importance of embracing the rain, and integrating sustainable water management solutions in urban parks and gardens.
City Living – Kate Gould – 2017
This garden is one that really demonstrates just how much is possible even in the smallest of spaces. This Gold Medal winner shows how small urban spaces can be beautified and greened – utilising plants cleverly and carefully to improve the environment. If all of our cities looked like this, they would be far healthier and happier places to live.
The Greening Grey Britain Garden – Nigel Dunnett – 2017
This garden also sought to address many of the modern issues of living and gardening in inner cities and towns. Plant choices and strategies throughout this garden were carefully selected to tackle the pressing problems of flooding and drought, biodiversity losses and pollution. This is one Chelsea garden which has demonstrated solutions to some of the biggest environmental threats facing us today. It was crammed full of great ecological ideas, including plants to improve air quality, rain gardens and drought tolerant plants, edible planting, recycling and composting facilities, and bike storage.
Gardening Will Save the World – Tom Dixon – 2019
This interesting garden on two levels explored the use of technology in gardening and food production. The base of the garden was a hydroponics lab, showing the potential of growing food in water rather than soil. And the raised garden above crammed in plenty of trees, and flowering plants with benefits to our health and the environment.
CAMFED African Garden – Jilayne Rickards – 2019
This Gold Medal winning garden was voted People’s Choice in the Space to Grow category. It demonstrated how by growing edibles in raised beds and using crop rotation and companion planting, you can maximise yields and improve efficiencies. This vibrant garden drew attention to the work of the ‘Campaign for Female Education’ in Zimbabwe. It showed techniques used to grow edibles in that region.
Montessori Centenary Children’s Garden – Jody Lidgard – 2019
This is another great garden which can serve as inspiration for those seeking to grow their own in sustainable ways. This bright, vibrant and stimulating child-friendly garden is all about colour, texture, and childhood connection with the natural world. Celebrating Montessori schooling, it has many cool features. Including edible plants among vibrant flowers, two interesting greenhouses, living, edible walls, and an interactive wildlife pond area.
Sustainable Morgan Stanley Garden Chris Beardshaw – 2019
Another Gold Medal winner in 2019, this garden from well known designer Chris Beardshaw had a focus on sustainability. It looked at how to create a garden which managing resources in a more sustainable way. Many green products were incorporated, and waste was considered and reduced. This garden clearly demonstrated how moving towards a more circular gardening practice does not involve compromising on aesthetic or emotional rewards.
Future RHS Flower Show Favourite – Yeo Valley Organic Garden? – Tom Massey – 2021
For all the great things about the gardens we have seen so far at Chelsea, and for all the focus on sustainability that there has been in recent years, you may be surprised to learn something. Sustainable home gardeners have long been doing something that Chelsea flower show gardens have not. No one has so far ever managed to grow an entire garden that is organic, or with organic principles for the show!
Plants for a garden must have been grown using organic methods for two years previously. And sourcing all organic plants is – rather appallingly – not something that has yet been achieved. Fortunately, it seems this is about to change, with the Yeo Valley Organic Garden due to be shown at the postponed 2021 show this September.
Creating an entirely organic garden for Chelsea is a challenge, of course, and something long overdue. But I have high hopes for this garden. It will be entirely organic (and also use peat-free organic compost) – something that we should all be trying to do. Raising the profile of organic growing and organic food could catapult this upcoming garden to the top of my list.
Which are Your Own Favourites from the RHS Flower Show?
My list is of course highly subjective. Everyone will have their own favourites from the show, now and over the years to come. But the above gardens in my option are representative. They show the high quality of show gardens that we have seen at Chelsea. And are some of the best over the past few years. They are inspiring examples, which offer us plenty of ideas. They help us all grow our own, and garden in more sustainable and eco-friendly ways. But also highlight that when it comes to truly sustainable gardening – there is still much more that RHS flower show gardeners and designers can do.
Feel free to share your own favourite RHS flower show gardens in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.