Don't feel the pressure for perfection in the garden... aim more towards gardening with nature

There were big lessons at Chelsea Flower Show this year, says Olive Ryan
Don't feel the pressure for perfection in the garden... aim more towards gardening with nature

A Rewilding Britain Landscape' designed by Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt was the overall winner at Chelsea Flower Show 2022

THE Chelsea Flower Show returned at its usual time of the end of May this year, after taking place in autumn last year.

It was, as it always is, jam-packed with inspirational gardening ideas, beautiful plant combinations, new plants, innovative garden products, floral displays, nursery displays and of course the main attraction, the show gardens.

The over-riding theme at the show was biodiversity and rewilding, with the overall winning garden designed by Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt, ‘A rewilding Britain Landscape’.

It was made up of a stream flowing under native white thorn, field maple, willow and hazel into a pool which was dammed by beavers. Their dams create nature-rich wetlands and the garden centres on the presence of the beavers and evidence was found throughout with gnawed sticks (collected from the wild by the designers themselves), dams built and their influence on the development of the landscape with a riparian meadow developing as a result of the dam.

A timber walkway made its way through the wetland meadow to a corrugated iron roofed hut (a viewing hide) at the side of the pool.

 The planting was a mixture of native wildflowers, grasses, marginal plants by the pool and stream and native trees and shrubs creating the top and middle storeys.

It was a really big departure for the Chelsea flower show to have a garden so naturalistic win best in show, and a sign of the times and the direction gardening is headed. When the show finished, the plants went to a charity, Lindengate and the hut to a Rewilding Network project.

Valerie Keating Bond, from Cork, with landscape designers Adam Hunt and Lulu Urquhart, in their Rewilding Britain garden which won the top award at the Chelsea Flower Show. (Picture: Tammy Marlar) 
Valerie Keating Bond, from Cork, with landscape designers Adam Hunt and Lulu Urquhart, in their Rewilding Britain garden which won the top award at the Chelsea Flower Show. (Picture: Tammy Marlar) 

There was a big emphasis this year on the reuse of the gardens elsewhere after the show, making their creation more sustainable.

There was a ban on the use of artificial grass at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, stating that it goes against the ethos of the organisation, increasing the use of plastics. It really was great to see a large, influential organisation like the RHS taking a stand on an important issue like this, as it made us all think a little more about what we are doing personally. Something may be convenient and look nice but we need to look at the bigger picture. It does nothing to support wildlife in our gardens and every little helps.

There were 20 items on the Plant of the year 2022 shortlist this year and the winner was x Semponium ‘Destiny’, a cross between a Sempervivum and Aeonium to create a drought tolerant, deep red veiny leaved succulent.

Second place went to Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Dreamland’, a repeat flowering thrift, flowering for eight months of the year and tolerant of drought, frost and wind.

Third place went to a very attractive Salvia ‘Pink Amistad’, a pink version of the well known Salvia ‘Amistad’, and one for my wish list for sure this year.

All 20 were on display in the Marquee tent and many were available to purchase at the show from different exhibitors.

There was some Irish representation also with Iris siberica ‘Frans Gold’, discovered by Johnstown Nurseries in Kildare, one of the 20 plants shortlisted. It has attractive bright golden foliage emerging from the ground in spring before producing purple flowers with white and yellow markings in May.

In many of the show gardens, there was a lot of use of opium poppies, verbascums, geums, cirsum, nepeta, cow parsley, ferns, briza and other grasses. 

The overall impression was a very muted colour palate with a lot of cool greens and foliage plants toning down the drama and creating a calming effect within the spaces.

There were also nine balcony and container gardens at the show, providing ideas for smaller spaces for growing ornamentals, vegetables and fruit. An acknowledgement that not everybody has a large area to work in, and providing inspiration and encouragement for gardening in smaller places has never been so vital as apartment living becomes more commonplace.

This year, I felt the pressure for perfection was less at Chelsea, there was a more realistic, relaxed approach and a positive outlook to gardening with nature and encouraging biodiversity. 

Weeds were welcomed, there was not a manicured lawn in sight, native planting abounded. There was paving and built structures within the show gardens and they were all integrated more gently into their environment, with more consideration to the use of sustainable materials.

Attending events like the Chelsea Flower Show can create a pressure as well as inspire, and after coming home and working in my own garden, I did not feel so inadequate this year.

I looked at the corner of the garden filled with weeds and admired it, as I wondered when I will eventually get to it. I did not feel the need to trim and edge at such a frantic rate - nature and gardens can work well together.

Everything does not have to look perfect, there will always be jobs to be done. It is all about creating a bit of balance. Overall, it felt like the show was very in tune with what people want: sustainability, biodiversity, upcycling, reuse, waste reduction, planting native plants, taking care of the soil, cutting down on the use of chemicals in the garden, reducing the use of plastics, understanding nature, and working with it to make a difference for the good of the planet. A very enjoyable Chelsea Flower Show 2022!

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