RHS Chelsea 2018: Ideas to steal

Wafty and romantic.

I know I sound like a fashion journalist (and that's NOT what you're here for) but bear with me when I use the words 'key' and 'trend' in the same sentence, and tell you that all things floaty and romantic had the upper hand this year at Chelsea. It was as if someone had sent out a secret decree that forbade hard lines (straight or curved) in the planting on the show gardens. Even the topiary balls were shaggy. It screams laid back laziness and I LOVE it.

Achieving this look requires doing LESS rather than more (hurrah!) but you do have to be careful that your organised, purposeful wafty haven doesn't descend into ACTUAL overgrown chaos.

Here are a few sensible shortcuts

1. Use grasses. See-through. Sensual.  I don't need to spell it out. 

Briza maxima in Matt Keightley's Feel-Good Garden

Briza maxima in Matt Keightley's Feel-Good Garden

2. Use water. It makes light move and glitter and pirouette. It bestows SPARKLE.

Trickles and dancing light in Sarah Price's Mediterranean haven for M&G

Trickles and dancing light in Sarah Price's Mediterranean haven for M&G

You don't have to have lots of time or money to put water in your garden. Although there's no doubt that movement creates magic, you can start off with a  large bowl (Waterside Nursery do purpose-built ones made of fibreglass, or you can use a glazed pot with the drainage hole blocked; (you don't even need to put plants in it...just water will do). 

3. Be intentionally lazy.

Leave your seed-heads standing - all those beauteous brown things that made winter just about bearable can have a different effect in summer...I'm really surprised how much I love this look; I would never have dreamt of doing it until I saw it yesterday. There's a poignancy to this bit of brown dead stuff that tugs at my heart strings. It's a reminder that life is messy, and beautiful, and complicated, and that we all carry the brown spiky bits inside of us all the time. There is also an elegant nonchalance to it - no primping or preening here.

Teasel seed-heads in Kate Crome's Epilepsy garden

Teasel seed-heads in Kate Crome's Epilepsy garden

And again here - same but different - the charred remains of plant material from the South African fynbos. The black is almost sculptural against that zingy orange. I'm won over.

Fynbos landscape on Jonathan Snow's South African Wine Estate for Trailfinders

Fynbos landscape on Jonathan Snow's South African Wine Estate for Trailfinders

4. Embrace shaggy.

It's an aesthetic that says "I'm far too busy living my life for all this clipping". On many of the show gardens, small balls of Pittosporum tobira 'nanum' were as smart as it got. The hard landscaping was left to do all the work of providing a foil to a mass of foliage. This really does still work, providing an alternative to box or yew, or any of their close-clip-friendly pals. Watch out though, before you purchase - this stuff is not fully hardy and you may need to fleece it in a hard winter. A well-tended Sarcococca confusa, which can be clipped into shaggy balls, or even yew, allowed to get a bit away from itself will be much less hassle for those who don't want the bother of worrying about frost.

Pittosporum tobira

x Laetitia

Chelsea 2014: Highlights

It was hot and sweaty...the kind of weather in which a lady in a corset would swoon. Luckily I was not in my corset yesterday...but I do want to salute the high-heeled brigade; extremely impressive...I am in awe.

The judges have their criteria, but I know nothing of that.

Here are my top ten Chelsea snapshots...views that made me go oooh; ideas I want to steal; things that I won't forget in a hurry.






























Take-home Chelsea: Cleve

Remember Chelsea?

I've been meaning to do a few blogs about doing Chelsea at home but, like the British summer, I am slow at getting into gear this year...

A few stand-out things have stayed with me since Chelsea, and they won't go away. I think this is an excellent marker of VERY GOOD STUFF. Hurrah for slowness.

Cleve West's garden for Brewin Dolphin was my instant favourite. Not JUST because of the frothy, billowing planting (which, if you know me at all, was bound to appeal), but more importantly because all that froth had a foil...

...my eyes could dance over bliss, and then have a rest

The planting was staggeringly beautiful (this IS Cleve after all)

Ferns and alchemilla creeping, with irises, euphorbia, poppies ammi and matthiasella holding their hands, and then the whole thing crowned by cirsium and crambe (which wasn't even out, but was all the more beautiful for that...I do love the PROMISE of something don't you?)
























To get this at home any time soon is tough without access to a Russian oligarch

...those amazing yew monoliths need years and years of growth and clipping...this is gardening for your grandchildren.

But you CAN do it small, and get the same effect.

This is one of those occasions where if you have little or no space, you win. You can fill a space with these, and get that same sense of majesty and softness because your garden is within each container. In the ground it would just look a bit embarrassing because the topiary would feel too small.


You need:

Container. Make them beautiful. This is one of those times where you should probably pay more than is strictly comfortable. Mine is from Crocus, for whom I regularly review products. Their own-brand terracotta pots are distinctly lovely, with a soft apricottyness about them. Get your pot first and then choose your plants accordingly.

A piece of topiary. Box or yew, but for Cleve-ness, choose dark, mysterious yew.

Some froth. Fine to go and find some frothy bedding like diascia or verbena at the garden centre, but for less faffing next year I'd go for little ferns, alchemilla mollis, or erigeron.


I use a half and half mix of multi-purpose and john innes 2, and I usually bung in a handful of fertiliser granules if I have them to hand. I plant slowly and carefully because I enjoy it. I water diligently and always put a big saucer under the pot so that the compost can soak moisture up from the bottom. With terracotta pots like these, I also water the outside of the pot when it's hot.

A courtyard full of these, or a long path lined with them? Fabulous.