Small garden design inspiration from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

May 21st, 2019 Posted In: Garden style & living, Garden trends & design

There is so much excellent small garden design inspiration at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

  1. Double decker gardens – make your garden twice as big by having two levels. You could build on the garage or shed roof. The neighbours will be furious.
  2. Recycle and re-use. The more industrial the better.
  3. Love your weeds. The naturalistic planting of the past few years has stepped up a notch.
  4. Moss. Ditto. Moss is no longer a nuisance. It is a thing of beauty.
  5. You need trees. The older, the better. Old trees are expensive to buy so if you have one in your garden, don’t cut it down.
  6. Big rocks and stones. Even if your garden is genuinely tiny, a couple of big rocks or stones will give it a sense of timelessness.
  7. Colour. Think about how the colours of your planting, furniture and all your hard structures work together.
  8. Curves. A few years ago almost all the show gardens at Chelsea were geometric. The curvy garden is back.
  9. Water features. The smartest waterfalls come from overhead.

And if you’re wondering why the Middlesized Garden is talking about small gardens -in the upper echelons of the gardening world, epitomised by the Chelsea Flower Show, a ‘small’ garden could be four acres.

Personally I call any garden under an acre ‘middle-sized’, but I shall ‘talk proper gardening’ in this post. If you have a typical-sized town garden, then we shall call you a ‘small garden.’ Just for now, while we enjoy all the glorious small garden design ideas from this year’s Chelsea.

Double decker gardens

This takes the idea of a green roof one step further. Why not extend your garden up? You can do shady planting on the lower level, or have specialist grow lighting. The IKEA Tom Dixon garden grows salads, mushrooms and more under a platform. Called Gardening Will Save the World, it has a table and chairs on the roof level, surrounded by vegetable planting and trees.

Double decker gardens add extra space

This design takes the tree house a step further. With shady planting underneath and a viewing platform on top, it doubles the size of your garden.

The Greenfingers Garden, designed by Kate Gould, was also double decker, with planting and a play area on the ground level. Then there was a viewing platform above, reached by a lift, with comfy seating.

Small garden design ideas to increase the size of your garden

Greenfingers doubles the size of its garden by having a top and lower deck.

If you don’t want to antagonise your neighbours by taking chairs and tables onto your green roof, then you can still have window boxes and more. The Montessori Garden by Jody Lidgard had two levels of gabions planted up. Gabions are wire cages of rocks and stones. They used to be used for sea defences but are now popular in gardens.

How to grow more plants in small gardens

These gabions create two levels of planting in the Montessori garden. Grow shade loving plants at the lower level.

It also made use of the basement level that so many of us have in our houses by adding a greenhouse.

Dig under or build over for extra space in small gardens

I’m not sure whether Kazayuki Ishihara has put a garden room on top of the bike shed or dug out a bike shed from under the garden room, but it’s excellent double decker living in the Green Switch garden.

Recycle and reuse in small garden design

Reuse old corrugated iron, factory steps, oil drums, bits of industrial equipment….really, don’t throw anything away. It’ll look wonderful in the garden.

Reuse industrial salvage for a contemporary small garden

The Walkers Forgotten Quarry garden by Graham Bodle uses all sorts of industrial detritus to create a garden.

Love your weeds

The naturalistic planting of the last few years has also taken a step on. There were buttercups, annual poppies and even red campion in several gardens.

Allow weeds to grow between pavers

The beautiful David Harber Savills garden by Andrew Duff has grass and buttercups growing between the pavers.

One new trend I particularly like is the idea of letting grass or weeds grow between paving stones or through decking to give that neglected look.

Small garden design trends include the 'neglected garden' look

The High Maintenance Garden for the Motor Neurone Association, designed by Sue Hayward, majors on this neglected but very pretty look.

Someone once told me that the best gardens look as if their owner had died around three weeks earlier. That’s the look to aim for.

Grass studded with clover - a charming small garden design idea from RHS Chelsea.

This old fruit tree in the Warners Distillery Garden by Helen Elks-Smith is surrounded by grass studded with clover.

Moss is beautiful!

Moss has come out of the shadows to take pride of place as a plant which has alot to offer. The king of moss in terms of small garden design is Kazuyuki Ishihara, whose exquisite moss balls have long enchanted Chelsea-goers. He hasn’t disappointed us in the Green Switch Garden.

Moss can be beautiful in small town gardens

Garden designer Ishihara works with the most beautiful moss balls, and these are now more widely available in Britain.

But I also spotted moss in the Welcome to Yorkshire Garden, the RHS Back to Nature Garden and elsewhere.

Naturalistic planting ideas for small gardens

A more naturalistic way to use moss in the RHS Back to Nature garden, designed by the Duchess of Cambridge, Andree Davies and Adam White.

Top small garden design tip – trees

Most of this year’s RHS Chelsea show gardens packed as many trees in as they could. Trees are our most effective weapon against today’s challenges of climate change and species extinction. Trees clean our air and support hundreds of species. And the older a tree is, the more species it supports. Even once a tree has fallen, it still offers habitat for wildlife.

Add a tree house to a small garden

This substantial tree house in the RHS Back to Nature Garden qualifies almost as another ‘double decker garden’. It’s a beautiful old tree with a splendidly gnarled trunk.

Many of our city gardens are shady. People have cut down millions of trees, desperately seeking to get more sun into their gardens.

These show garden designs accept that small gardens are shady. Instead of trying to make them something they’re not, the designers at this year’s Chelsea have used trees to make gardens feel secluded, private and vibrant.

Always add trees to any small garden design

One of the main features of Chris Beardshaw’s beautiful Morgan Stanley garden is an old pine tree, propped up.

Use trees to make your garden feel secluded and peaceful

The David Harber Savills garden is like a glade in the middle of a wood. So pretty and calming!

Big rocks and stones

They were everywhere. Nice and solid.

You might enquire as to where the stone comes from. And whether you are depleting a natural resource or what the labour conditions are. I have no idea, so I’m not hinting at anything. But I think it’s a reasonable issue.

Use stone that reflects your architecture

The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden with Mark Gregory recreated a lock and used huge boulders of York stone.

Colour in the garden is not just about the plants…

Of course, these are the top garden designers in the world. So it’s not surprising that their planting, their furniture and their hard structures are so harmonious.

A soft colour theme for a small garden

Jo Thompson’s soft peachy-pink chairs and planting in the Wedgwood garden was just so pretty.

But it does show you that it’s worth thinking about whether there’s a colour theme in your garden. Or whether you should have one.

Paint a bridge, fence or shed in a brilliant colour

At the other end of the spectrum, Jonathan Snow used bright contrast with this red bridge in the Trailfinders Undiscovered Latin America Garden

Curvy small garden design ideas

Do you remember how geometric small gardens were a few years ago? Now there are some interesting curvy designs. Even the gazebos often had curved sides, like this one below.

Try curving beds, walls and water feature on different levels

I really liked the curves (and the colours) of this garden for Dubai Majlis by Thomas Hoblyn.

The key seems to be to have varying heights in the garden. Otherwise curves can create a ‘pinch point’ where it’s difficult to fit a plant.

Use curves and different heights to create interest in small gardens

The Miles Stone/Kingston Maurward Garden by Michelle Brown uses curves in the design, but it doesn’t pinch the planting because there are changes in height.

Water features in small garden design

Most of the show gardens had a water feature. Several had water flowing from an overhead source. The Hillier Stihl garden

A water feature as a screen

In the Hillier Stihl garden a sheet of water creates a screen. Love the planting too!

See more of these gardens in this video

You can show much more of a garden in video, so here are more small garden design ideas from this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Pin to remember small garden design ideas from RHS Chelsea 2019

And here are more garden design ideas for small and middlesized gardens from private gardens .

Small garden design inspiration fro RHS Chelsea 2019 #RHSChelsea


6 comments on "Small garden design inspiration from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show"

  1. Rachel S says:

    You’re such an inspiration, Alexandra. It was lovely to meet you especially as I’ve been enjoying your blog for so long.

    1. Thank you – and I’ve been enjoying your Ordinary Lovely one and will look forward to reading – love the pix especially!

  2. Wonderfully inspiring. Thanks Alexandra

  3. Shari says:

    Thank you for this great post! Loved getting a glimpse of the show and hearing your take away s.

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