Last week I had the pleasure of attending Chelsea Flower Show for the first time. For my friends in the States, this is a sold-out annual show over in London's trendy Chelsea area, where some of the best brands with a link to gardening and the outdoors exhibit everything from flowers and plants, to furniture, lifestyle, home accessories and fashion (and much more!). It was fantastic to be a guest and brand ambassador for Whistlefish and to be shown around by Hayley Scott, their PR Manager (big thanks for this!).
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is an iconic event that has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. Once Britain's largest flower show it has now been overtaken by RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, though it is still the most prestigious.
It will not come as a surprise that the show's average age is much higher than at 'design' shows, and you can't fail to notice this the moment you exit the tube at Sloane Square. But it's not all about pensioners who love tending to a garden, I can tell you that. Although the products are mostly geared towards a specific audience: those with at least one home of their own and highly disposable income for beautiful garden related products and gadgets.
But that's not to say that you should only attend if you're a home owner. Far, far from it. There is something for everyone and it could be a great day out with the family as there are hundreds of stalls with food delicacies, bands playing music and a general uplifting vibe - it must be all the pretty flowers!
During the show a number of landscape and garden designers create magnificent settings of around 30-60sqm each (some have more of course), these are the "Show Gardens". You can look at them but not walk through them unfortunately. Luckily I have captured them all for you so you can feast your eyes on some designer gardens! So here are My 10 takeaways from Chelsea Flower Show, that can help YOU create magnificent outdoors spaces.
1. Paths and Patios
Paths and patios will define the area in which you can then plant as well as the area where you can relax or entertain. Besides their practical purpose of joining various spaces around your garden, paths can be a design feature of their own, and when done well, can be really impactful.
In the photo below, there's ample green space around this sitting area. The plants are allowed to almost overgrow around the concrete wall. You would be forgiven for thinking this garden had been growing there for years. In fact it is less than a week old!
The second photo below is from our own garden which was professionally done some time ago (we cannot take the credit for it unfortunately but I can tell you it was the selling point of the house). There is plenty of green going around with the natural 'fence', so a lot more paved areas were added to reduce the overall maintenance of lawn. Different types of paving stones have been used to the left compared to the right, creating completely separate zones.
And although you cannot see it, the path goes right behind the green shed so kids can run around it and hide. I have added a satellite image of our street - can you tell which house is ours?
If you are looking for something very contemporary, you need to ensure that your grass areas are completely bordered like in the example below. And there are some really cool gadgets to either trim/border your lawn perfectly or not let it grow over your stones.
2. Consider maintenance
If you are designing your garden for the first time, ask around about the maintenance needs of the materials you want to use. And if you have a two bed garden flat in Fulham, don't use real lawn because where are you going to store a lawn-mower? Things to consider:
Large size paving slabs or concrete is less less maintenance over time.
Check whether the trees you want to plant might have the type of roots that push paving upwards.
The smaller the paving stones you use, the more likely it is that weed will grow through them over time and they will take longer to clean.
Use good quality underlay if you don't want weed coming through.
Before planting trees look up how big they are likely to grow.
Check you lifestyle; don't add water thirsty plants if you're not going to be around to water them!
If you have an urban garden where every square foot counts, consider building large containers for your trees as shown below, that are at the same level as your seating area. White is a great colour when combined with teak seating and will be easy to retouch after a few years. You can also use artificial grass, ensuring that the space will look great year round with very little upkeep.
Containers and garden accessories during the show. Photo: Seasonsincolour
If you plan to build a wooden patio know that there is a lot of elbow grease involved in its upkeep. If you're not prepared for it, go for composite decking which requires no oiling, staining or sanding.
3. Make the most of your outdoors space year round
This show garden from Chelsea Flower Show, is called "City Living' and introduces alternative protection from the weather elements with a permanent structure that feels organic, as wood is visible everywhere. I love the simplicity of this setting which can be used throughout the year. And looks much better that having an umbrella over your head and wondering when it will blow over.
Before you start any permanent construction, make sure to check whether it will need any building permission. This type of structure is easy to maintain and will be seen as an investment long term should you choose to move homes.
Something less permanent are pergolas (below) which can be installed immediately outside your patio, are easy to build and can allow for light to come through. You can plant ivy close to them and create a natural roof over time or weave it with fabric during the summer months. You can then also use it to hang lights.
4. The right furniture costs. But there's a reason
I saw some really fabulous pieces of furniture around Chelsea Flower Show. When it comes to outdoors furniture, if you want to buy something that will last, you need to dig deep. End of story. A good dining or lounge set will cost upwards of £2000. Anything less and you're likely to cry twice: when you buy it the first time and then when you have to replace it. Try Bridgman or Hartman. Both sell excellent quality furniture that looks really good. Another very reliable brand is Garden Trading. You can also try Les Jardins, Ethimo and XVL, all available from Houseology.
Above: Bridgman's latest collection showcased during RHS Chelsea. Photo: Seasonsincolour
Go for weaved furniture, powder coated steel (the white set further below is from Garden Trading) or aluminium, so that it will not rust. Teak is also a very water resilient wood. Where possible, get waterproof cushions (sometimes supplied with the set). Otherwise you will need to consider storage space for the cushions and depending on how deep they are it might not be easy to store them in boxes.
There are of course alternatives to your teak and rattan garden furniture, if you know where to look for them. This metal sofa in copper and verdigris which I snapped during the show, will develop a beautiful patina over time and to make it a little more comfortable you can simply add lots of colourful cushions or sheepskins. It is as much a sculpture as a sofa.
Extremis Captain Woody's Chair - Powder Coated Steel Sliding Frame, £335 from Houseology. Below: The vendor of these beautiful tables actually sat on the glass and I had to look away because I thought it would break. He knew what he was doing though and I was impressed, hence taking a snap with it after the demonstration!
5. Lighting is important
To make the best use of your garden, you need to invest in more than just solar lights. Festoon lights are great too, but these come after, as accessories. If you want a designer-y garden, consider asking a professional for help in designing what should go where. An experienced electrician can help too. Depending on the size of your garden, you may want to consider in-ground lights, pedestal lights, or recessed lights for the deck. Lights4Living have a great collection of outdoors lights (and no, they're not sponsoring this post, I have used them many times and find them reliable and with a good variety).
If you have large shrubs or trees, use up-lighters to illuminate them in the evening. Try the Garden Lighting Shop. They have some wonderful plug and light systems for in ground lights that you can then operate through infrared controllers (fobs). But if you do decide to add some solar lights, try something like this one (Les Jardins Tecka Solar LED garden floor lamp). Inspired by the relaxed modernity of Scandinavian outdoor living spaces, this unique outdoor floor lamp is completely energy-efficient. Available here.
Obviously, you can use size for impact and this giant Anglepoise lamp may be just what you need. A talking point, this has been specifically manufactured as an outdoors lamp and it was the star of this show garden during RHS Chelsea.
Another really great recommendation I have is the Rockcoco Fatboy chandelier (Amara.com) which is again designed to be totally waterproof and includes LED lights. It's bold, fun and you can hang it from anywhere.
Read Part 2 here