Multi-award-winning Chelsea dream team, Mark Gregory and Catherine MacDonald, from Landform Consultants, have created countless RHS gold medal-winning show gardens over the years, and will this year be bringing their creative magic to Mark’s 150th RHS show garden, the Hartley Botanic Garden, designed by Catherine. Here, they show how by following a few simple planting design rules you can bring that Chelsea edge to any garden
KEEP IT SIMPLE
We cannot stress this enough, the less is more philosophy will always come up trumps. If you are a plant lover then you’re probably guilty of cruising the aisles of nurseries and garden centres nationwide, scratching the itch that is satisfied only by a new plant purchase, but it leaves borders bitty and confused with mismatched beauties. We would always recommend that you limit both your colour palette and plant species and the effect will be worthy of the very best Chelsea border.
Not only helps with maintenance but the effect is always a lot more impactful. We will underplant a specimen tree with the same grass eg: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (pictured) for example and the effect is stunning.
PLANT ALONG PATHS
There is nothing finer on a balmy summer’s evening than the fragrance of an English garden (pictured). The scent that rises from Chelsea after a day of basking in the sun is something that everyone should experience at some point in their life. Flanking walkways with aromatics means that their heavenly scent is released as you brush past. Always avoid anything thorny, prickly or spiky when planting near people, however.
Without vertical height in a garden we tend to feel exposed. Chelsea gardens will often feature a specimen tree or trees that add that sense of refuge, proportion and balance. The right tree provides not just height but also year round interest with spring blossom, beautiful summer foliage, autumn colour and bright winter berries. Look at fastigiate (upright) varieties for smaller gardens; Malus tschonoskii is a winner.
Strategically placed topiary is a designer’s go-to failsafe. It can be used to frame a view, delineate a walkway or disguise an ugly tap or exterior plug. Clipped evergreen hedging can also act as the ‘bones’ of a garden offering interest even in the winter months when most of the flashy flowers are having a rest. It adds elegance and style, whether it’s a strategically placed box ball within the planting or crisp hedges that restrain the ebullience of the borders.
RESTRAIN YOUR BORDERS
Unless it’s a deliberate design statement you won’t see an unrestrained border in a Chelsea show garden. Use wood for a more traditional feel or steel for a contemporary look and you’ll be amazed at the difference both in feel and how it makes maintenance so much easier.
THINK ABOUT THE SHAPE
When planning a border, choose a variety of flower shapes: there are three basic shapes, umbels are flat like Achilleas (pictured), spires are tall and stately like Delphinium or Eremurus (pictured) and balls are round and bouncy like the indispensable Allium (pictured) or Eryngium.
AVOID ONE-HIT WONDERS
This slightly goes against the Chelsea theme but Chelsea is for May, whereas a garden is for life, so we would recommend that ‘show stealers’ for kept for containers, unless they are surrounded by plants that their earn keep in the border. There are so many species that have longevity in their flowering season that will flower from May to September and even have great seed heads that will look fantastic in the frosts; Eryngium giganteum, Phlomis russelliana and Echinacea purpurea all hold their shape well into winter.