Paving the way at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

By Andy McIndoe

Chelsea Flower Show is over for another year; I always feel a sense of relief mixed with sadness in the days after the show. However I’ll soon be turning my attention towards next year’s exhibit, that is after I’ve got my real garden in order.

Hillier Nurseries have exhibited at Chelsea since the early days of the show and for as long as I can remember, some 35 years, we have exhibited in the Great Marquee and more recently in The Great Floral Pavilion. Our exhibit is judged as a Floral Exhibit rather than a Show Garden. I am often asked why I don’t opt for an outside Show Garden instead; after all they seem to claim more media attention. The main reason is that inside the Pavilion I can take visitors on a journey through the garden, rather than leaving them to gaze in over the ropes around the outside. I think this gives the visitors a much better experience and the opportunity to come into contact with not only the plants but also the hard landscaping elements of the garden.

Paving 8

In my early days of designing and constructing the Chelsea exhibit paths were made from bark chips or even gravel. They were unimportant in appearance and were simply there to allow visitors access. As exhibits became more sophisticated I changed to using paving. This was obviously a greater challenge to construct, but what a difference it made, especially if we used beautiful materials as part of the garden.

Georgian Limestone

I suppose that’s one of the similarities between a show garden and a real garden; so often real gardens are ruined by poor hard landscaping. Ugly paving does nothing to enhance the planting however well you try to integrate it into the garden. It appears even worse if it leads directly onto grass. Even a poor lawn looks lively next to the dead space of bad paving.


Organic StoneFor a number of years now I have been fortunate to work at Chelsea with organicstone, specialist outdoor flooring designers and manufacturers. They have produced some amazing bespoke flooring for not only the feature areas of the Hillier exhibits but also for the main pathway which each year carries around 150,000 visitors through the Hillier garden during the week of the show. The innovative materials used for the flooring are manufactured using low energy processes in combination with 100% recycled aggregates.


Last year I used Antique Grand Cabochons for the main pathway. These consisted of octagonal smooth limestone flags with blue lias squares. These are unique relicas of antique originals, hand-made using recycled materials for a truly artisan effect. The originals were discovered at a house in the Cotswolds, England while laying a floor of organicstone’s ‘Salvation’ random Cotswold flagstones. At Chelsea they were perfect in our exhibit ‘Duel and the Crown’ which celebrated the long history of the sport of fencing and its relationship with classic gardens. The pathway doubled as a fencing piste and we were honoured to welcome Her Majesty the Queen on the Monday evening to inspect both fencers and pathway.

The slate flooring we used for this year’s main pathway was made up of random architectural flagstones with a great variety of individual unique faces. The individual flags varied in size from small inset units up to 1 metre (3ft 3ins) square flags. This results in random joints avoiding straight lines in the paving. This combined with large paving units makes the space look bigger. I also found the dark colour gave the pathway great depth and importance and framed the planting superbly. It helped to accentuate the colour making it even more vibrant.


One of the trends at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show was sunken areas in gardens, usually providing secluded, intimate seating areas. These make a space more three dimensional, especially when partnered with walls, hedges and trees. The dark slate paving had a similar effect in that it gave the space greater depth and seemed to magnify the height of the surrounding planting.


I used the same colour for the bean paving and stepping stones in one of the main feature areas of the garden. These are from the stoneislands range by organicstone. The planting in this area was silver, lilac, cerise-pink with some soft blue. These colours are superb against dark slate. The fluffy heads and emerald foliage of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Repens’ made a stunning contrast and were effective at softening the edges. In a garden situation I would also choose the purple sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’. The mauve grey leaves would sit beautifully against the dark grey of the slate paving.


In previous years pathways have often been lighter. Pale limestone colours create a wonderful illusion of space indoors and in the garden. Organicstone’s elegant limestone paving is wonderful alongside plant material. It worked particularly well as the pathway thorough the ‘Sail for Gold’ garden I created for our association with the British Sailing Team. The elegantly wave-edged stones bordered a blue glass wave through the centre of the pathway. Working with beautiful outdoor flooring materials has taught me that any old paving just won’t do. Why not take a look at some of the alternatives at

Antique Random Cotswold Limestone

Andy McIndoe

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