Chelsea Flower Show 2016 highlights: the best garden ideas from this year’s show

There were plenty of ideas at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show for you to take home and try in your own gardens. Here are 10 of our favourites.

The distinctive Coccosphere (above) on multiple Gold medal-winning plantswoman Rosy Hardy‘s Silver Gilt-winning Forever Freefolk garden for Brewin Dolphin caught many a Chelsea visitor’s eye and the sphere will continue to be on public view when it is placed in its final home, the Horatio’s Garden Scotland, which garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair has created for the charity which builds gardens for NHS spinal injury centres.

Rosy’s garden, her first ever show garden, was designed to draw attention to the plight of the last 200 natural chalk streams around the world, streams such as the River Test which provide a perfectly balanced habitat for insects, water plants, mammals such as water voles and otters, fish, crayfish and birds. The purity of the River Test’s chalkstream water is such that it has been used in the making of paper, and our banknotes in particular, for hundreds of years, while the sculpture through which the coloured path flows is what phytoplanktonic organisms look like when they bind together; chalk is formed of the skeletons of these Jurassic period creatures.

The walls bordering two sides of Rosy’s garden are a clever way of using salvaged roof tiles and stones – chalk and flints, in this instance – gathered together in wire gabions.

Another serial Chelsea medal-winning plantswoman, herb specialist Jekka McVicar, made her début as a show garden designer at this year’s show, with her Modern Apothecary’s Garden for St John’s Hospice. The planting in her garden, which will be relocated to the hospice after the show, not only features fragrant and edible plants, many have proven medicinal and well-being properties that are still deployed in medicines and healthcare today and are easily grown at home so you can make simple remedies yourself. Rosemary, for instance, can be made into a tea which has been recently found to help improve the memory, while pears (espaliered pear trees line the back wall of Jekka’s garden, above) are proven to help prevent Type 2 diabetes in women.

Instead of using grass, Jekka used a herb ley, a combination of grass and herbs such as St John’s Wort, salad burnett, chicory and sorrel which, whether you cut it or not, makes for a lovely, fragrant sward when you walk on it.

Cleve West won his eighth Chelsea Gold medal this year for his woodland garden for main Show sponsor, M&G Investments. The deeply personal design, inspired by his memories of growing up on Exmoor and of his journey from teenage athlete to gardener and designer, is both a recreation and an evolution, with wild looking, stunted oak trees (Quercus pubescens) and rough-hewn sandstone (from a quarry in the Forest of Dean) that gradually metamorphose into a smooth-cut sunken terrace and pool edged by fully-formed, beautifully composed planting.

Notice how the sandstone ‘rocks’ have been carved in places, creating a natural seat here, a rockpool there, echoing the effect of rain beating down on stone over the centuries as well as providing natural stopping points for you to sit and enjoy the garden.

Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Morgan Stanley was another Gold medal-winning design and like several of the other show gardens this year, it too will be heading to a permanent location, on the roof of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, with the help of the BBC’s DIY SOS team in 2017. The garden was in fact designed for its permanent site first, and was only slightly adapted to become a show garden for Chelsea.

The oak tree has been a common feature at Chelsea this year and this garden is no exception. Oak leaves have been lazer-cut into the Corten steel screen and roof of the pavilion (above) and standing inside the building, you feel at once enclosed and protected, yet able to view the peaceful garden beyond quite clearly. The garden is intended to be a place of retreat and reflection for the parents of – and medical professionals caring for – children at the hospital and the designer has paid close attention to every detail, making sure the garden serves its purpose well. Notice, for instance, how the specially-commissioned sculpture of the girl, ‘Joy’ by John O’Connor, looks up to the circular hole in the roof above her, raising her face to the sun – or to the refreshing, cleansing rain.

Garden cabins of every possible shape, material and style were on show this year, and this thatched Pumpkin pod by Julian Christian was as cheerfully comfortable as you could possibly want. Designed to seat 10 people, the thatch is weatherproof and the canvas walls can be rolled back, depending on the weather.

Could Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Garage Garden (above) be an answer to our need to find inspired ways of living in habitats that are at one with Nature, practical and attractive, ecologically sustainable and affordable? The paved off-road parking is counterbalanced by the lush planting all around, which not only helps to absorb rainwater – thus reducing flood risks – it will help to keep moderate the internal temperature of the building itself.

David Harber‘s newest design, Iris Torus, kept a beady eye on proceedings from the sculptor and sundial designer’s garden on Main Avenue, which was designed for him by Nic Howard. The colourful mix of herbaceous perennials punctuated by topiaried box balls was the perfect platform for the sculptor’s imposing new work, handcrafted from hundreds of individually cut stainless steel petals that radiate from the central iris and which provide a kaleidoscopic reflection of anything before it. The inner part of the eye was coloured a deep blue and lit from the inside by an LED light, the effect is quite stunning.

Creating an interesting garden is a bit like telling – or writing – a story; it needs to have a theme or a storyline, and it needs to have a structure, or chapters, to help move you through from beginning to end. Sculptures such as Iris Torus act as points of drama, highlights in the story, and on Nick Bailey’s Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, one his points of drama was a raised terrace accessed by a circular staircase (above). His use of these structural pines helps to build the sense of drama and expectation. Their distinctive, almost cloud-pruned, branches of foliage and candlelike cones are a talking point all on their own, but arranged in allée form, they obscure the full view whilst drawing you down the path until finally, you reach the end and your destination – and the story’s end – is revealed.

Garden dining is not just a thing these days; it seems to be here to stay, and not just for the hot (we hope), lazy days of summer. If you are thinking of building a kitchen in the garden, then how about something rather like this, created by the barbecue cooker specialist, Big Green Egg (above), for this year’s Chelsea? Now that is cooking for fine dining al fresco.

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