Chelsea Flower Show 2016 preview:the show garden medal contenders to watch

Chelsea In Bloom, Belgravia In Bloom, and Chelsea Fringe are already transforming the capital ahead of this year's Chelsea Flower Show - the greatest horticultural extravaganza of all. We take our pick the plant of the year contenders and show gardens to watch.

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Next week London will be a city of flowers, transformed not only by Chelsea In Bloom (theme, Carnival), Belgravia In Bloom (theme, the Queen’s 90th birthday) and Chelsea Fringe (theme, alternative and good fun) but by the world’s greatest horticultural extravaganza, the Chelsea Flower Show, starting on Tuesday, May 24.

As ever, the show is all about planting trends, but it remains to be seen whether landscape architect Sam Ovens — who, at 27, debuts at Chelsea with his naturalistic retreat of cedar cabin set in wild heathland of pines and grasses for Cloudy Bay — can single-handedly bring heather from the rugged moors of Cornwall into the back gardens of Muswell Hill.

Plant of the year contenders
Safer bets for must-have new plants to be launched in the Great Pavilion include apricot Roald Dahl, a peach of an English rose from David Austin, to honour 100 years since the birth of the storyteller; Zantedeschia Nashville, a raspberry-streaked white calla lily from Brighter Blooms; seven exquisite new French beauties from Cayeux Iris, and the prettiest pink alstroemeria, Summer Party, a one-to-watch entry in Chelsea’s plant of the year contest.


Winner of five Chelsea golds and twice winner of best in show, Cleve West is back with a contemporary garden for M&G Investments, the show’s title sponsors, and this time it’s personal. The garden is inspired by the timeless woodlands of Exmoor that West loved as a teenager, and the path is a metaphor for his journey into garden design, starting with rough stone then becoming smoother towards the central sunken terrace and pool of grey sandstone, sourced from The Forest of Dean.

To walk West’s path bordered with foxgloves, aquilegias and bear’s breeches, email your name, address and phone number with “H&P ticket offer” in the subject field to by Friday noon for a chance to win two tickets for Wednesday’s RHS members-only day.


The RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden for Health, Happiness and Horticulture, designed by Ann-Marie Powell, and part of a collaboration between the Royal Horticultural Society, the Evening Standard and Angell Town, will be relocated to the Lambeth estate after the show.

This blueprint for a community garden incorporates a bee-friendly perennial meadow, edible plants in pots, vibrant flower borders and soothing water features. To stroll around the garden, email your name, address and phone number with “H&P ticket offer” in the subject field to by Friday midday to win two tickets for Thursday.

Vestra Wealth’s Garden of Mindful Living, designed by Paul Martin, has no buddhas, but, with dappled shade from multi-stemmed trees, water rills trickling through low limestone walls and a long, lean terrace designed with yoga practice in mind, is for city lovers who yearn for a quiet, calm space to restore life’s balance. 

Retreat from the city: The Garden of Mindful Living terrace is ideal for yoga

Harrods’ British Eccentrics Garden is showman Diarmuid Gavin’s witty homage to Heath Robinson. At first glance, the space is a gentle slope of terraces and topiary, but linger for a few moments and you will see the calm green spring into life, with box balls bobbing up and down, a herb bed that spins and conical bay trees that twirl as they’re trimmed by mechanical shears. However these, are regrettably, not part of Harrods’ new garden design service, spearheaded by Gavin.

Providing more theatre, Peter Eustance’s Together We Can garden for disability charity Papworth Trust is shaped like an ear, with a giant set of musical bars generating an acoustic pulse, soft planting swaying to music and floral soloists, all of which will surely render wind chimes obsolete.

The show gardens, as ever, have a global reach: Russian garden designer Tatyana Goltsova debuts at Chelsea with the Imperial Garden — Revive, which visualises the complex relationship between Russia, Ukraine and the UK and has 600 kilos of aluminium lace overlaid through it, symbolising harmony.

Pick of the bunch: Moustache Rose from Cayeux Iris

The Japanese have a reputation for exquisite gardens at Chelsea, and the Senri-Sentei-Garage Garden shows how planting can complement your car. You’ll need a rooftop tier on your garage with a winding access staircase.

Consummate plantsman Nick Bailey, head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden, showcases the extraordinary precision of plant geometry through his choice of stems, leaves and flowers in the Beauty of Mathematics Garden for Winton Capital, and, just to ensure absolute precision of the planting, too, has flown in from Tokyo three Japanese gardeners with a scrupulous eye for detail.

The copper band that winds through the garden’s different levels is etched with algorithms and takes on diverse functions from bench to stair rail to viewing platform to planter, pitched high above the garden.

That’s versatility for you, Chelsea Flower Show style.


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