The Chelsea Flower Show is where horticultural trends have been set since 1913. It’s the gardening equivalent of London Fashion Week and the most prestigious flower show in the world. Big-budget show gardens set the direction for garden designers, and in the Great Pavilion hundreds of new varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers are launched to the public every year. If a designer or a plant wins a coveted award here, commercial success is almost guaranteed.
The gardens and exhibits also reflect and amplify the fashions of the moment, so no great surprise that succulents, houseplants, grasses and ferns dominated the first Chelsea Flower Show ever to be held in September. Roses, sweet peas, daffodils and tulips were out of season; instead, we were treated to dahlias, chrysanthemums and every kind of daisy imaginable. There were hints of rich autumn colour too, in the form of pumpkins, squashes, berries and turning leaves. Having waited two and a half years since the last Chelsea Flower Show, I was excited to discover what was new and what might influence the way we dress our homes and our tables over the coming year.
1) The Green Tapestry
From green, ‘living’ walls to intricate floral arrangements, designers celebrated the detail and variety of nature. As a keen gardener, I love to look beyond the first impression a plant makes - what’s going on beneath the foliage, how does the centre of a flower look through a magnifying glass? Then I bring lots of beautiful colours and textures together to create a green tapestry in my own home and garden. I can imagine green tapestries influencing pattern design and being interpreted as low-level tablescapes for an outdoor table. I’m already inspired to plant shallow zinc trays with cushion moss, bulbs and miniature cyclamen to bloom in time for Christmas. The key is to mix textures and patterns and keep playing around until you find the perfect combination.
2) Daisy Daisy
Floral fashions go in cycles. Dahlias, in the doldrums after the 1980s, are the most revered cut flower thirty years on. They are members of the plant family Asteraceae, which includes over 32,000 species, including dahlias. At Chelsea, we were introduced to other members of the clan, including rudbeckia, echinacea, marigolds, asters and chrysanthemums. The charm, simplicity and longevity of these daisy-like flowers make them perfect for adorning tables, either massed in bouquets or clustered in bud vases. Out in the garden, they are good for attracting bees and butterflies too. I predict that members of the Asteraceae will dominate our gardens and homes for at least the next ten years.
3) Light My Fire
If you go to an autumn flower show, you’re of course going to enjoy a stimulating dose of fiery autumn colour. This Chelsea Flower Show demonstrated more than that, it showed us how to use those colours to best effect. I adore bright colours, so for me the combination of bright orange and blue wakes my senses and makes me feel alive. In autumn’s low, golden light, rich colours appear particularly opulent. Pep up your breakfast table with a vase of orange or golden-yellow crocosmia mixed with deep blue delphiniums, which will often be producing a second flush of flowers right now. Layer napkins in sequential or opposing colours - for example, orange, red and yellow, or flame-red and blue. If that’s too bright for you, take the tones down a few notches to peach and purple, which will convey that comforting sense of mellow fruitfulness and antiquity that comes with autumn.
4) Always Outdoors
When I had an outdoor kitchen installed fourteen years ago, people thought I was eccentric. I wanted to be outside with my guests when I was cooking up a storm on the barbecue. Cooking outdoors is now part of our way of life, but what Chelsea showed us is that it’s not just a summer activity: you can dine in style outdoors in all seasons if the weather is fine and you have the right accessories.
Outdoor kitchens abounded at the show. The most beguiling example featured in the Parsley Box Garden designed by Alan Williams. Surrounded by planters brimming with herbs, vegetables and flowers, a dresser-style kitchen and stylish wooden table and chairs demonstrated how the ‘room outside’ has come of age. Having retired my garden table during the pandemic, I now feel inspired and emboldened to dust it down and dress it up with dried flowers, hop bines and miniature gourds for an autumn family feast.
5) The Only Way is Upcycle
The Chelsea Flower Show has been a champion of sustainability for many years and with the United Nations Climate Change Conference coming up in Glasgow, it was a big feature at this year’s event. The horticulture industry faces challenges around peat, plastics and energy usage to name but a few, but good progress is being made on all fronts. Ocean Plastic Pots, made from discarded fishing nets and rope, were voted Sustainable Product of The Year at the show, closely followed by a peat-free compost made from wool, bracken and nutritious comfrey. The pots, in pretty shades of blue and green, gain their colour from the waste materials from which they are made. To create an unusual place setting, take a recycled plastic pot, fill it with peat-free compost and sow with micro-greens or micro-herbs. Leave the seeds to germinate for a couple of weeks, then pop them on the table (on a matching saucer, of course) and let your family gather their own tasty garnishes at mealtimes.
Meanwhile, the Pop Street Garden designed by John McPherson got me thinking about decorating old tin cans to create colourful vessels for cutlery - at a recent garden party, I was even served a delicious salad in an upcycled bean can, and why not? We need to use more of what we have to hand, rather than consigning it to landfill.
- Dan Cooper