How to get the most from garden shows like Chelsea, Bloom and Mallow

The shows are over for another year and hopefully, you took the opportunity to visit one of the showcase events over the last few weeks, be that Chelsea, Bloom or Mallow.

If so you will have enjoyed gardens of the highest standard, plants aplenty and many new ideas and products, but what now? 

What do you do with all those great ideas now that you are well and truly back down to earth and tending your own plot once more? 

What can you do with the energy and inspiration that you picked up at these shows?

Well, there are a few things to bear in mind after the event. 

Firstly show gardens aren’t real, they are made to fit certain predefined spaces for a set period of time and often, budget isn’t even a consideration. 

In the real world, budget is nearly always a consideration and often top of the list — real gardens need to look well and be of interest 52 weeks of the year and its most likely that your space is not the same as that of the show garden.

These gardens should be looked at in terms of style and detail. 

I would always suggest stopping when you see a garden or a feature within a garden that you like. 

Take stock, admire what you like and then try and break down exactly the elements that attract and why. 

Often it is the plant that jumps out at you but I would suggest that it is not just the plant, but how it has been used and what it has been used with. 

Has it been repeated through the planting scheme? Is it the focal point, or a plant used to compliment the focal point.

The bigger gardens in Bloom like the gardens on the main avenues in Chelsea are the stars of the show, the supermodels of the garden world strutting their stuff on the top catwalks, but I love wandering around the smaller gardens and displays where you see not the supermodels, but certainly high fashion.

These little artisan gardens are full of character and detail from little sedum walls to split levels to ensure best use of space and they offer tips that can be transferred to your own space. 

It may be something as small as how to bring added interest to your garden with a piece of sculpture and how best to incorporate that piece. 

Ingrid Swan’s ‘Sculpture in the Parkland’ garden at Bloom showed this to great effect this year.

Focal points and areas of interest are essential in any garden no matter what the size and these need not always be plants.

 Sculptures, pots and urns, even birdbaths and sundials can create that focal point, that specific point which the eye can focus upon and good planting can and should ensure that this feature works as part of the overall garden and doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Without these points of interest the garden won’t work, it will be too chaotic, no more than a collection of plants.

Andy Sturgoen’s garden for the Daily Telegraph at this year’s Chelsea won the Best in Show award and perhaps it deserved it. 

How to get the most from garden shows like Chelsea, Bloom and Mallow

The garden wasn’t for me. What I mean by that is that it was too severe, too designed, the angles and materials too sharp and harsh. 

I mean I wouldn’t like it in my own space but I totally understand what he was trying to do with this design and what he did achieve with the garden — creating a manicured garden within the broader, and wilder environment.

I can absolutely appreciate the design without particularly liking the creation, because, as I say, this is about show, about pushing boundaries, its about making the rest of us think — leading the way and sharing inspiration and he did all of these things in this garden.

The one thing that I did take from this garden however and I probably will use it in the future was the use of fire in the form of a gas fire pit. 

We are all used to seeing water, wind and soil used in gardens but were not too familiar with the use of that other element fire. 

Sometimes its the design, maybe its the plant combinations and sometimes other nuances but often it is quite simply the plants that stop you in your tracks.

Ornamental grasses were big again this year at Chelsea and one that really took my eye was Deschampsia flexuosa, used to absolutely stunning effect in Paul Martin’s Gold Medal winning garden at Chelsea.

A light and airy addition to lighten any planting scheme. It was used in this garden alongside striking bronze coloured Iris and white DIgitalis which had a lovely cool, calming presence in this Garden of Mindful Living. Alliums too were found throughout the shows in London and Dublin and its no surprise as their colour, form and texture makes them a dramatic and effective plant to work with for show gardens.

So much inspiration, so many plant names and notes written on the pads and on the back of envelopes and whatever else was to hand but now to work, now to source these sought-after beauties and to implement some design changes at home.


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