It’s Chelsea time. Hip hip hooray!
The aim of the show is to ‘inspire more people to grow’. I’m not sure I can ever become more than one person, but I can certainly be become more inspired! Chelsea is such a melting pot of innovation and excellence in all things plants; there never fails to be innumerable ideas to take away and spur you on.
Of course, it’s the show gardens that really excite me. All those new ways of combining plants to create an impactful whole. Ever so slightly different, garden by garden and year by year. An infinite amount to learn.
So let’s take a look at the show gardens for 2023, one by one.
The Savills Garden
I’ve picked my very favourite first. I adored Mark Gregory’s garden. I tried to discern what I meant by favourite, and it’s the one that drew me back time and again. The garden I most wanted to be in. I’m not convinced it will get Best in Show (perhaps the People’s Choice, although a charity garden may scoop that) as there were a few bits of hard landscaping that didn’t quite sit well, but to me that didn’t matter one bit. I loved the flowery soft planting. I loved the lush vegetable garden. I adored seeing the Chelsea Pensioners in their smart red coats being treated to lunch. And I loved the details everywhere you looked – the paintings on the dining room wall, the petals on the water feature, the old timber door at the back of the working kitchen. It was a happy garden. Relaxed, with nothing to prove. And with a purpose to it, a dynamic, working garden, growing and cooking up a storm. The best for me.
I really wanted to love this one the most. Horatio’s charity is run by a wonderful lady for a wonderful cause: putting world class gardens into NHS hospitals. Harris and Bugg, a talented partnership of designers, have created a very special place here, which will be relocated to a hospital in Sheffield after the show. I think I was partly put off by the solid, wide pathways – it can never be as immersive with these – but they are designed to allow hospital beds to be wheeled out, which is pretty fabulous! The planting was beautiful, with lots of delicate colour, although perhaps nothing we haven’t seen at Chelsea before. In Sheffield, I think I’d give it 11 out of 10. But at Chelsea, perhaps it’s not quite got that innovative, all-consuming edge.
The Nurture Landscapes Garden
This was the garden I thought I’d like best. Sarah Price, the designer, is exceptionally talented and always on the side of naturalistic that I love. It is brilliantly executed, but just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I just desperately wanted a few more pops of colour in there. I adore apricot shades but the Benton irises were just a little overly dowdy for me. Beautiful in form, but as I overheard someone say, a little nicotine-y. They were just the shade that my pure white bearded irises go after too long in the rain and therefore felt a little un-fresh-and-Spring-like for me. I loved the looseness of the planting though and the wonderful choice of trees. Technically very good, just not quite to my taste this time.
The Royal Entomological Society Garden
When I saw the artist’s impression for this garden the outdoor laboratory’s structure – based on the eye of an insect – looked totally overwhelming. Yet in real life, it was perfect. A statement, but not outlandish. I loved how Tom Massey had sunken the laboratory a long way down, removing the flatness of the site and I loved the little details in the planting and hard landscaping that made it insect-attracting. It was natural, yet attractive. A clear garden rather than wilderness. And another functioning garden – the laboratory was equipped to study insects and indeed had a class of school children in it this afternoon!
Samaritans’ Listening Garden
This was a garden of two halves for me. I thought Darren Hawkes’ planting was beautiful: a really good balance of complexity whilst retaining a coherence; a nice mix of colours. A good friend of mine is a Samaritan and hearing her talk about her work gave this garden more meaning for me. It didn’t quite come to the top of the pile: behind where I took this photo had a large quantity of suspended concrete panels (you can just see one on the left). I’m sure they all had deep meaning for someone, but it’s just not what I want to see too much of in a garden.
Myeloma UK – A Life Worth Living Garden
You can spot a Chris Beardshaw garden a mile off and this year’s was no exception. They are beautiful, with really classically designed plantings, but they just look so out of date to me. He always uses large blocks of repeated plants and there is no doubt that they work, but I’ve fallen for the more complex intermingled plantings that we’ve seen for many years now and there’s no going back for me! Chris used outdoor wallpaper inside both ‘buildings’ which was a fun idea, but good as they are, I feel I’ve basically seen his gardens a million times before. Technically good, a really genuinely lovely man, but his Chelsea exhibits unfortunately don’t have the magic for me.
This fell into the Sarah Price category this year: a very clever designer (Cleve West) whose garden I thought I’d love, but it wasn’t quite right, to my eyes. The ruinous house depicted the homeless charity supporting the garden, but I think the planting was just too disjointed. There was much talk in the press of Cleve using dandelions and whilst I’ve actually acquired quite a penchant for the seed heads of these weeds this year and have no problem with them being used at Chelsea, I felt the whole garden was too far along the garden-wild axis. The garden did grow on me over the day as I noticed more and more thought that had gone into it – the peonies and cordylines remaining from the original front garden of the house, for example. It was created by a skilful, knowledgable chap, but I wanted more definition and less ‘random’ growth.
A Letter from a Million Years Past
This garden, containing a herb drying tower, was created by a Korean lady, Jihae Huang. There was much of it I adored, including some of my favourite style of planting with a dozen or more species crammed into each small space. I adored the live Korean music played by Koreans in eastern looking dress and the garden very much had a relaxing feel. But the overall lacked a little something to me. The greens a little dull with little contrasting colour to enliven them. They almost looked like they normally look at the end of summer to me – little of the fresh vibrancy you’d expect in Spring. A garden I felt very positively about, but not quite with the punch that Chelsea gardens can offer.
RBC Brewin Dolphin Garden
Paul Hervey-Brookes is another designer with a very distinctive style. I first saw his gardens at Hampton Court Flower Show, where he really did steal the show, but at Chelsea I’m looking for new, for innovation, for something a little bit different. He’s similar to Chris Beardshaw in my eyes – a style that works, but that doesn’t excite me. It’s nice, but I look at it and feel I’ve seen it a million times before. It doesn’t hold me or draw me in. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to Chelsea!
Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden
I’m feeling a little overly negative now, but this was another garden designed by very talented designers (Chelsea veterans Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson), but that was totally lost on me. In fact I took around 250 photos on my first walk around the show gardens and was somewhat horrified to find that exactly one was of this one! The cantilevered canopy was designed to be uplifting, but it was stark and out of all proportion to me. And the central path, which I’ve marginalised by the angle of the photo was so wide it felt there was hardly any planting. It was pretty, but sadly a one glance and you feel you’ve seen it garden.
The Fauna and Flora Garden
This garden was fun! Jilayne Richards had captured a little piece of Africa in this garden celebrating the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. Enormous leaves of bananas and figs brought such a lushness and the hut and artefacts immediately took you far from London. Some of the planting reminded me of Andy Sturgeon’s previous Chelsea gardens and I tried to put my finger on why Andy’s are solid Gold every time, and this didn’t quite have the same impact. I think it was that definition I mentioned earlier – real contrast in form and colour between neighbouring plants in Andy’s plantings; more of a green blend here. Some wonderfully energetic ideas, but technically not quite up there.
Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden
It was unfortunate for Jon Davies and Steve Williams, who designed this garden, that it was located away from Main Avenue and all the other show gardens, resulting in a lack of buzz about the place. They had gone for the wildflower look (weeds included!); flowers which are hard to dislike on an English Spring day. But they were a little sparse for my liking and I found it hard to get past the pink neon lights in the background. I hope they acquire a better site next year and show us what they can really do!
So those are the show gardens. Now I’m longing to know what you think. Are there some I’ve got completely wrong? Which has the magic for you? Have the RHS successfully inspired you? Do let me know!
13 thoughts on “Chelsea Show Gardens 2023”
Thanks for the tour! It took me back to the one and only time I went to Chelsea, 10 years ago now. The styles are very different from those used back then. Fascinating to see the gardens!
I always think those articles purporting to state ‘the garden trends of 2023’ to be such rubbish; gardens evolve slowly over time, not by annual trends. But when you put it like that, actually they do change fairly quickly! Do you think you’ll get over to another Chelsea one day?
Not sure if I will ever get to another Chelsea. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget!
Yes, Chelsea is a wonderful EXPERIENCE – the keen crowds of gardeners, the new garden gadgets, the new plants most of which will never get outside Europe now that we have such restrictive prohibitive plant quarantine laws. New garden furniture trends too. You could touch it, smell it, see the colours, sense the combinations of form and colours. It is important to get as much of the EXPERIENCE as you can.
Oh thank you so much Janna for allowing me to feel I was
Glad I was able to bring the show gardens a little closer to you, Christine!
Keeping in mind that we only have one photo to look at for each garden, these are the thoughts I came away with:
Saville’s Garden: Loved the first one – it just reminded me of a well-designed home garden where the house just nestles inside it. I could live with this one.
Horatio’s Garden: Loved the planting in the second garden; the paths were not in the photo so I possibly had a different reaction to you.
Nurture Landscapes: Didn’t like this one – like you, I thought the murky colour of the irises not great. Really though, initially it was the paving that put me off. Less paving, or a different colour paving, that didn’t hit you in the eye, and a few pops of colour, would change the entire look and feel of this garden as overall the planting, I thought, had promise.
Entomological Garden: This, with the insect eye in the background, would be good as a public garden. I liked the planting and could imagine this as a country garden too, but without the ‘eye’.
Samaritan’s Garden: loved the planting – but not the concrete.
Myeloma Garden UK: I agree with you on Chris Beardshaw’s garden – dated. It still looks good but seems a bit out of touch with modern design, although that may change again in a few years, as fashion always does. However because my sister has been through an awful struggle with multiple myeloma, I will embrace it.
Centre-point Garden: Yes, random growth, like the garden owner isn’t too fussed.
A Letter from the Past Garden: This looked like something you might stumble across in a forest – hmmm could be cleverer than first meets the eye.
RBC Brewin Dolphin: Nice planting I could see this in a suburban garden along with what appears to be a driveway. If you walked past this in the ‘burbs’ you would say “that’s nice”.
Memoria and Greenacres: I agree with you — too much concrete and paving. Nice planting but under-whelming
Fauna and Flora: Looked like a mess to me, but I have probably missed the point. I tend to look at gardens as gardens and not much else.
Balance Garden: If the planting was denser this would have had more impact – it had promise but you don’t expect that (jus promise) at Chelsea.
Thanks Janna – interesting to analyse these garden remotely!
I’m sorry – it wasn’t very fair to only give you one photo! I’ll write up a few in more detail when we hear the People’s Choice winner. But safe to say that we are most definitely on the same page. I like your idea of the insect eye in a public garden. I’ve actually looked it up in the Chelsea show guide and it states that the garden will ‘live on after the show as a publicly accessible teaching and learning garden at IQL Stratford’. That’s just by the London Olympic Park. So that’s good! Sorry to hear about your sister. I wonder how long before we do all like less natural garden styles again? I feel natural styles fit with both my character and love of ‘untouched’ landscapes, so find it hard to imagine going off them. I’m certain you are quite right that they will cycle again though! And A Letter from the Past Garden did get Gold. It was well done, just not really an impactful garden. I do want some ‘garden’ in my garden!
Thanks Janna. I am with you on the naturalistic style and oddly I never bought into ‘block planting’ even in my early gardens, and used to feel guilty that I was being crass or just plain wrong. I am continuing that practice here in my new garden which is literally from scratch — hope it works! Since writing the above (little) reviews I noticed too that some of those that received gold I would never have thought would. I must also say I saw a full video of Sarah Raven’s garden and came away with an entirely different view – I like it.
That’s really interesting that you never liked block planting. Well ahead of the game! Can’t believe you are starting from scratch AGAIN. Lucky Victoria that you have created so many gardens for so many people! Also interesting you liked Sarah Price’s garden on the video you saw. There is no question that it’s a ‘good’ garden, I just couldn’t get past the great expanse of ‘rotting’ iris petals!
Hahahahaha. Yes I get it. This is only a small garden here Janna, just 1000 sqm plus a verge about half that size again. So not the one to two or more acres I have done in the past. Hope your garden is doing well.
I thought the forewarning that NOT ALL THE GARDENS were suited to being copied in Home Gardens was most teeling. Seems we have now recognised 2 kinds of gardens – the Experiential Tourism Garden and the English Flower Garden. A way to go yet I think. Who says the English Flower Garden is top of the compost heap – only the English!. Horticultural Imperialism written by the English, for the English and promoted by the English. Such arrogance is breath-taking. And misguided.
Thanks for taking us on a photo tour of some the gardens. I really enjoy the naturalistic gardens, so I tend to agree with your thoughts. Of course I can only see one photo of each. I’m sure you get an entirely different feeling viewing them.