7 ideas from RHS Chelsea 2023 that will really work in your garden

May 23rd, 2023
Posted In: Garden trends & design

Here are the best ideas for your garden from this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show (known as RHS Chelsea 2023).

Not all show garden ideas translate into real garden design, but I think these are the ones to watch out for.

Colour on walls and fences

If you have a small or middle-sized garden, your fence or wall is a big proportion of what you see when you step outside. It’s a major design element in the garden, but I think we often forget about it.

Colour transforms a small space. And because gardens have so much green, they can take much stronger colours than you would use inside.

RHS Eastern Eye coloured fence

Manoj Malde’s design for the RHS Eastern Eye garden uses striped orange, dark and pink fencing. You can just see the same colours on the pergola upright. A vibrant backdrop to green – and gives you year round colour in your garden.

We’re just beginning to think about painting fences dark. (See top designer Charlotte Rowe’s garden in 5 top design tips and gardener Jo Rutherford’s low budget garden transformation.)

But it’s time to take it forward a step and paint your fence blue, green, orange or pink! I didn’t see a single brown-wood fence at RHS Chelsea 2023.

Soft fence colours in Sarah Price's garden in RHS Chelsea 2023

Sarah Price’s Nurture Landscapes Garden is perhaps the most beautiful show garden at RHS Chelsea 2023. The soft bruised-fruit colours of the walls is a wonderful backdrop to planting.  (They’re straw bales covered in lime plaster, but you could use similar colours on ordinary fencing).

It’s such an easy way to transform your garden. And if you don’t like the colour, paint it over. You don’t need to be an expert with a paintbrush for outdoor painting. Rough and ready brush strokes should be fine.

Pale grey fencing in the Memoria and Transcendence garden

Pale grey fencing on the Memoria & Transcendence Garden by Gavin McWiliam and Andrew Wilson.

Brilliantly coloured walls in the Teapot Trust garden at RHS Chelsea 2023

Another example of brilliantly vivid colour from the Teapot Trust’s Elsewhere Garden by Susan Begg and Nicola Semple. There are panels painted in different shades of red, pink and orange.

Practical tip: Paint tester panels and make sure you judge them outside. Colours that look quite strong inside can look much paler outside because there is more light.

Permeable patchwork paths

Almost all the paths at RHS Chelsea 2023 were more like stepping stones, with gravel or planting in between each paver.

This is a good way of saving money on a path because you need to buy fewer pavers. It’s almost the return of crazy paving, but not quite, because crazy paving was wedged into place with concrete.

This look is about giving sudden flash floods somewhere to drain off. And anything you can do to green up your garden is wonderful for insect life. I’m experimenting with allowing daisies, alchemilla mollis and creeping thyme to grow between the pavers on my terrace, in order to cut down on weeding between them. I think it’s working.

Permeable or patchwork pavers - save money on paving

Permeable or patchwork pavers – even a few gaps in paving can offer valuable growing space for wildlife and absorb rainfall. When too much of your garden is covered in stone, concrete, brick etc, then heavy rainfall is more likely to flood the drainage system.

The kitchen garden takes centre stage

Edibles and ornamentals have traditionally been grown in separate spaces in the garden.

But as our gardens get smaller, we don’t have separate spaces. So it’s time to appreciate the beauty of the veggie patch. And our greenhouses, too, are no longer purely practical areas, but are spaces for living.

Greenhouses are spaces for living

Put a bench or table in your greenhouse – it’s a space for living as well as a practical area. This is an Alitex greenhouse.

The Savills Garden by Mark Gregory  was a ‘garden kitchen’. It featured an outdoor kitchen in a vegetable garden. And the vegetable garden had flowers mixed in. Chefs were actually cooking in the kitchen and harvesting the veg in the show garden.

Even if you can’t run to an outdoor kitchen (still a bit of a risk in the UK climate), put a table or bench in the veg patch.

The Savills 'Garden Kitchen' designed by Mark Gregory.

The Savills ‘Garden Kitchen’ with working chefs and a mix of flowers and edibles in borders. Designed by Mark Gregory

Or grow your edibles nearer the house and add flowers to the veg borders.

In some allotments in the UK, there are rules against growing too many flowers. That’s because allotments were devised as a way to help people grow food. But flowers attract pollinators to your veg. And many ‘ornamental’ flowers are also edible!

There were several RHS Chelsea 2023 show gardens doing variations of this, particularly the greenhouse companies. Alitex grew all its own veg for the display at their headquarters. And, as I said, it’s been a difficult spring, so they admitted they found it quite challenging.

At Hartley Botanic, greenhouses are places to grow seeds and plants – but they’re also living spaces. If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, set up a chair, sofa or table and spend some time there reading and relaxing, as well as planting.

Hartley Botanic raised border in a greenhouse

At Hartley Botanic, the raised border for growing is next to a contemporary bench and cushions – a living space greenhouse helps you make the most of your outdoor space.

Use tree stumps, logs and clippings as ornament

If you’re having a tree cut down, it costs either time or money to have it chipped up and/or taken away.

Keep it in the garden and use it as a bench. Or stack up the wood as an ornament to create a bug hotel, as in the Royal Entomological Society Garden.

Wood slowly breaks down, offering a habitat to beneficial bugs. And it looks good.

Stumperies were an old Victorian garden design tradition. Since King Charles created a stumpery at Highgrove in the 1990s, there’s been a renewal of interest in decorating with tree stumps and wood. See this post to find out more about creating a stumpery in your own garden.

Use logs as benches, ornaments and tables

I saw logs used as benches, tables or decoratively in several gardens including the Samaritans Listening Garden by Darren Hawkes.

The Royal Entomological Society Garden by Tom Massey

Lots of different ways to use wood in your garden in the Royal Entomological Garden designed by Tom Massey

Could you have a ‘ruin’ in your garden?

There’s something very appealing about the texture of an old wall or a partially demolished house. I first saw this in a garden context in Mark Walker’s garden in Margate, where he left exposed walls, patches of paint and the remains of a mural, instead of clearing them away or painting over them.

And when I went to Great Comp Gardens to find out more about salvias, one of the most charming elements in the garden was the ‘ruins’ that had been created around the garden.

At the RHS Chelsea 2023, Cleve West’s Centrepoint garden was based around the ruins of a house. It was beautiful.

Ruined house garden by Cleve West

I really loved this RHS Chelsea 2023 ‘ruined house’ Centrepoint show garden by Cleve West. I think it must remind me of playing around demolished houses when I was a child (before ‘Health & Safety’ was a thing!)

Willow is having a ‘moment’…

Willow is a natural, renewable resource, so it’s appearing back in gardens.

Willow edging and raised beds - natural and pretty

Willow is a pretty and natural material for edging, raised beds and teepees. This pretty planting is by Pollyanna Wilkinson at RHS Chelsea 2023

You can use willow for raised bed edging, as in Pollyanna Wilkinson’s ‘Horticultural Heroines’ raised willow beds.

Or use it in teepees or to make arches.

Practical tip: willow isn’t as long-lasting as timber or steel, so it won’t last as long. But it will last a few years, break down naturally and you may not necessarily need it to last!

‘Style your weeds’ to make it clear they’re deliberate…

RHS Chelsea 2023 has triggered something of a debate on whether we should be leaving weeds to work their magic on wildlife. Not everyone likes this look.

And there’s also an issue on which weeds to leave and how long you’ll let them grow. Nobody is suggesting that we simply abandon our outdoor spaces, so there will always be a cultivated element.

But while pundits and experts debate on where to draw the line, you can draw your own line. Outside the RHS membership tent, I saw a patch of weeds and wildflowers in a marked off space with normally-mown lawn on either side. It looked good, because it looked deliberate.

Wild weed and wildflower strip at RHS Chelsea 2023

This was a small area marked off from a strip of traditional lawn, ‘allowed to grow weeds’ and styled up with a mini pond and a bug hotel. It might be easier to love weeds if you kept them in one area!

The area was also styled as a ‘wildlife-friendly’ area, with a mini pond and a bug hotel. I think this would work in a corner of any garden. Define its boundaries and add elements.

We have been turning our front lawn area into a mini meadow. Sometimes it just looks neglected, so I’m thinking of adding something like a bug hotel to give it definition.

There are more 2023 garden style ideas in 6 trending ideas for your garden from RHS Hampton Court 2023 and 10 ideas for your garden from BBC Gardeners World Live 2023.

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Show garden ideas that work in real gardens from RHS Chelsea 2023

7 comments on "7 ideas from RHS Chelsea 2023 that will really work in your garden"

  1. Sarah says:

    I missed seeing a video, but I did enjoy this format too! Lots of good ideas for the garden!

    1. Thank you! A major broadcaster has exclusive rights to broadcast all forms of film at RHS Chelsea, and although no-one seemed to worry too much about YouTubers filming videos in the past, we’ve now been told that we can’t. You do see some videos from people who aren’t strictly allowed to film, but that’s often because they don’t realise the broadcasting exclusivity deal also applies to YouTubers. It’s understandable – the official broadcasters are paying a great deal and investing in a lot of their own manpower to cover the event.

  2. Sir Kevin Parr Bt says:

    I was thinking of going to Chelsea show this summer but as its 12 years since last visit i now have my business set up for July seed collection of my roses to breed from. So hope next year can be there again. When lived in England went to all RHS garden shows. Now 5 acres of English gardens of my own is hard work enough

      1. Georgina says:

        I went to Chelsea for the first time this year and had total visual overload! It’s great to have a post from you summarising themes. A bug hotel in the front garden is a great idea. I’ve got an impossible spot under an oak tree where basically nothing will grow and I’ve always been stumped as to what to do with it. The lawn is a tapestry lawn so it would tie in well with that and give the neighbours a clue that the lawn isn’t just running rampant!

        1. You may find that our latest post on stumperies will sort your oak tree problem. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is: https://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk/transform-shady-corner-your-garden-with-stunning-stumpery/

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