CFS 2017: A year for plant lovers

24 May 2017

Foxgloves, delphiniums, lupins and roses.  Sounds like the perfect blend for a cottage garden.  A bit twee perhaps? Far from it.  This year at The Chelsea Flower Show they were making a come back, who would've thought shrub roses could be radical.  But elements of planting did feel new, a change in a way that referenced the past, and did so beautifully. 

The seemingly ubiquitous umbel shape, a favourite of past shows, was widely snubbed (although not entirely absent) in favour of spires of purple and soft pinks - Salvia, Lysimachia. Shrub roses were woven seamlessly in to planting schemes in a way that felt gentle and natural, nodding to but not copying the great rose gardens of England.  The glorious peony had its day, as it seems to every year, endlessly delighting visitors and judges. 

As well as this nod to the past, this elevation of 'cottage' plants, the wildness that pervaded in 2016 was still very much present this year, but interpreted more loosely.  Yes there were a few (well planted) meadows, obviously 'wild', but even the more structured planting areas were filled with swathes of colour that seemed combined together by nature rather than contrivance. Planting groups drifted and tiptoed in to one another in a soft way, and combinations jarred less than they have in some years passed. 

The monolithic grandeur of James Basson's garden was offset by wisps of regional planting, it had a stunning effect that felt honest and true to a sense of place.  But those in search of a garden for gardeners may have looked elsewhere.  Despite an unusually low number of Show gardens they pulled their weight with the planting, as did the ambiguously anticipated Radio 2 gardens.  Matt Keightley's work on the 'Texture' garden was particularly notable, he (as did many others) employed dusky tones, soft yellows and rusty reds, colour themes that felt refreshed this year. 

In terms of plants, it was not only the purple spires and roses that triumphed but Geums and Trollius were found in almost every garden, an echo perhaps of Cleve West's stunning 2016 Show garden.  These buttons of soft yellows and oranges brightened up some of the best planting schemes at the Show, as they do in our gardens all over the country.  They have an ease and a freshness that CFS designers seized on this year. 

In short, the Show this year felt more winsomely beautiful than it has in recent years.  It is a year for plant lovers, natural drifting, and for those who have always mourned the loss of shrubs and roses from the accepted canon of Show garden protocol.

- Elizabeth Tyler