Looking Back at the Chelsea Flower Show: A New Chapter in Sustainable Gardening

By Ben Mason

The Chelsea Flower Show has long epitomised the tension between horticulture and sustainability, with the most incredible gardens created to be viewed over the course of one week before being dismantled again.

There have been two main changes to this year’s show to address this. Firstly, all of the main gardens displayed will go on to have a longer - and more sustainable - life in other locations following the show. Secondly, the gardens would now be judged based on their eco-friendliness, reflecting the growing importance of sustainable gardening practices. Gardens now not only have to excel in their artistic and horticultural endeavours, but also demonstrate a dedication to sustainable principles, utilising eco-friendly materials and practices.

This groundbreaking decision, aimed at fostering a greener future, was well received by professional horticulturists and garden enthusiasts alike. As the prestigious show unfolded this year it became evident that not just sustainability, but purpose in general, had taken centre stage with most participating gardens showcasing their commitment to eco-consciousness, but many also highlighting other causes.

Our Container Gardening course expert Chris Beardshaw won a Gold Medal for his garden designed for charity Myeloma UK (his fourteenth Gold at the show). His intention was for people to feel “the joy of the garden, an appreciation of the delicate fragility of the natural space and, almost by definition, the delicate fragility of our own lives.”

He went on to explain how the gardens would be re-used and could provide an example to local gardeners: “We don’t force plants, we don’t buy plants from all around the world because it’s in a different season. If it’s happening in Chelsea, it would generally happen like that in your garden.”

Another remarkable example of a garden that embraced sustainable design was the Gold-winning Centrepoint garden by Cleve West. Set amidst the rubble of a derelict Victorian terrace house, this garden not only captivated visitors with its beauty but also highlighted the importance of repurposing and recycling materials. It showcased how sustainable design can transform neglected spaces into thriving sanctuaries.

Another notable garden that exemplified sustainable practices was Jihae Hwang's 'A Letter From a Million Years Past' garden, which earned a well-deserved Gold medal. This garden utilised an astonishing range of Korean plants to portray the delicate relationship between humanity and nature. By showcasing indigenous plant species it emphasised the significance of preserving biodiversity and the role of native plants in sustainable gardening.

Sarah Price's Gold-winning garden, inspired by the works of Cedric Morris, also stood as a shining example of sustainable horticulture. With its emphasis on naturalistic planting and a careful selection of drought-tolerant species, this garden demonstrated how a Mediterranean-inspired design can thrive even in the face of climate change, echoing the need for gardens that adapt to the changing environmental conditions.

These gardens, among others, embodied the spirit of sustainable gardening at the Chelsea Flower Show. Their incorporation of eco-friendly materials, water-wise planting, and mindful construction techniques showcased the industry's commitment to reducing environmental impact and fostering a more sustainable future.

The decision to embrace sustainability as a fundamental criterion marks a significant milestone in the show's history. It highlights the show's willingness to adapt to the changing landscape of gardening, where environmental responsibility is of paramount importance. The gardens on display served as vibrant showcases of innovative sustainable techniques and materials, inspiring visitors and fellow gardeners alike.

The Chelsea Flower Show this year offered a glimpse into how gardens can both flourish as vibrant sanctuaries and nurture the planet at the same time. By rewarding the use of sustainable materials and approaches, the show elevated the importance of environmental stewardship and encouraged attendees to adopt sustainable gardening practices in their own lives.

The lessons learned and the innovative ideas witnessed at the show should reverberate throughout the gardening world, fostering a collective commitment to building a greener and more sustainable future.

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