12 Garden Border Planting Design Trends to Take Home From Chelsea 2018
Gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show have the wow factor in spades when it comes to planting design (excuse the terrible pun). Here we look at some of the planting combinations and suggest how you can use the same design techniques at home.
1. Use Dark Colours Sparingly to Add Drama
We all associate green in gardens as being relaxing, but why not create some contrast and excitement by adding some deep coppery purple or almost-black foliage?
Dark colours provide a perfect backdrop to both strong and pale coloured flowers. They can also be used to create rhythm when repeated through an otherwise mainly-green border. Use dark colours sparingly though, or else the effect can be too gloomy and overwhelming. Even a single dark-leaved shrub such Cotinus coggyria 'Royal Purple' can make a spectacular focal point if situated well, so start cautiously if you are a bit nervous!
For a modern feel combined with pale grey paving, use dark leaves with silver-leaved plants. Alternatively, as shown here by Designer, Jo McCreadie, warm yellow sandstone and gravel tone well with the rich reddish-brown of the Purple Corkscrew Hazel Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic'.
Which plants to use? Luckily there are many choices- from the columnar Dawyck Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple'), through lacy-leaved shrubs such as Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' or Acer palmatum 'Starfish' to the smaller Heuchera Heuchera villosa 'Palace Purple' and Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.
2. Mix Flowers and Veg in Cottage Garden Style
No room for a separate kitchen garden or veg beds? No problem, just look to the country and mix everything together in your garden borders. There are plenty of very decorative vegetables and herbs that fulfil planting design roles as well as non-edibles, so why not get your plants to multi-task?
Achieve height and elegance with the feathery leaves of bronze fennel or asparagus. More architectural height can be achieved with globe artichoke or kale. For even more height grow runner beans up ornamental supports and, if maximal yield is not your priority, mix with clematis or sweet peas in a complimentary colour.
The rounded forms of cabbages and cauliflower have the same "full-stop" effect as Buxus balls. Taller, leafy greens such as swiss chard make a good backdrop for smaller or more delicate flowers and there are many leaf colours to choose from. The large, darker leaves of rhubarb provide a restful contrast to strong flower shapes or colours, or to larger areas of smaller leaves that the eye struggles to make sense of.
Edge pathways with chives, enjoy the lovely purple pom-pom flowers in your salads and use the stalks for the best potato salad ever. Oregano is also lovely flopping over a path where you get the most amazing scent on a sunny day, not to mention lots of happy bees. Finally, apply the same principles to your pots and window boxes, mixing some of the lovely cut and come again lettuce varieties with your usual plantings.
3. Use Blue To Link Hot Colours
Bright colours are a very welcome herald of spring in gardens after the gloomier lull of winter. In late summer, when hot colours of exotic perennials take centre stage, they also delight and extend the temptation to get outdoors even after the kids have gone back to school.
However, too many pops of colour at once can overload the brain a little. Intermingling your showy wonders with a sea of forget-me-nots, blue geraniums or other more receding understory plants enhances the beauty of the hot colours without distracting from them.
Just stick to one type of blue plant though for the best effect. You want to enhance your sparkling jewels, but not compete with them.
4. Plant Vertically to Link Garden and Home
There can sometimes be a disconnect between the tall walls of a house and the relatively flat areas of planting in the garden. One way of blurring the boundaries and making the home and garden feel as if they were planned together, is to add one or more climbing plants. Here, Designer Mark Gregory added a Wisteria on a lean-to pergola adjacent to the house but the same effect can be achieved by growing climbers up a trellis or or training them on wires.
Avoid fast-growing thugs like Russian Vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) that you will be forever cutting back and learn how to prune your chosen vine carefully to keep it looking spectacular. Great choices include climbing roses such as 'The Generous Gardener', Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), a Clematis montana such as 'Freda', Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) for unbeatable autumn colour and Hydrangea petiolaris. Make sure you choose one that will thrive in your conditions!
5. Use Mediterranean Herbs in a Sunny Front Garden
Not many people think to use herbs in a sunny front garden. More often consigned to under-watered and too-shady kitchen door pots, it's time to put these scented, textural and tasty lovelies centre stage. Imagine the concrete paving used here by Tom Massey as your driveway and the pleasure you will have drinking in those uplifting aromas as you leave for work and picking something lovely to add to dinner when you come home. Don't use too many different types for a calming effect.
Massey uses some grey leaves sparingly and the complimentary small boulders to lighten a green scheme and provide a textural contrast to the many small leaves. More contrast is achieved by adding a few seasonal wow factor plants, such as the architectural alliums and bearded iris. Spring bulbs, lilies, gladioli and nerines are some other options.
Restricting the colour palette for the flowers gives a modern feel to the planting scheme. Here the mauve/blue scheme works well with the concrete, so choose a colour that works best with your home exterior for best effect.
A gravel mulch will look good in winter, conserve water and help keep slugs at bay. Use mostly perennial plants to reduce maintenance, but some of the herbs might need cutting back a bit in the season- adding the trimmings to your salad of course.
6. Dwarf Conifers are Superb in Modern Planting Schemes
In the search for low maintenance, slow-growing, tough plants that are evergreen and full of texture and strong shape, carefully-selected dwarf conifers fit the bill.
Now before you retract in horror at the thought of your grandparents heather-filled beds with a bright yellow conifer, or the dreaded Leylandii hedges, just keep an open mind... Multiple Chelsea designers have used conifers in their spectacular showcases in recent years and not just the seasoned ones such as Chris Beardshaw and Nick Bailey. Chelsea's younger talent, including Matt Keightley and Charlotte Harris, are also using small conifers in their designs.
Cedars such as Cedrus atlantica ‘Blue Cascade’, the Thunderhead Pine Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, the Dwarf Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana’are all great choices. To make the most of their textural qualities, pair them with soft, wispy grasses or use them to enhance the strong forms of showy exotics such as cannas and dahlias.
7. Upright Grasses Set Off Small Flowers Beautifully
The current trend for a more naturalistic style of planting in our gardens means that there is an amazing range of small, delicate flowers more widely-available.
While they can be used to produce an unquestionably-beautiful effect, these flowers need to be planted in careful combinations to avoid an effect that is too busy or "weedy"-looking.
Of course you can use large-leaved plants to showcase smaller blooms, but if you want to evoke the 'summer picnics in meadows' feel in your garden, grasses are the most natural partners. It is best to choose grasses that are of similar height to the flower heads and also those that have a high density of leaves to give a more solid background. The Stipa tenuissima used here is ideal, but you can also try the Prairie Dropseed (Sorobolus heterolepis) to pair with taller flowers or Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).
The effect is so exquisite it is worth experimenting a little- fortunately most of the grasses are not ridiculously expensive plants.
8. Lupins: The Star Plant of RHS Chelsea 2018
OK, Hands up who had lupins in their garden before May 2018? If you did, then I suspect you either have loved them for many years and grew up with them or you caught the bug transmitted from Luciano Giubbilei's Best-In-Show yellow lupin shocker at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014.
Why use the word "shocker" I hear you gasp.. Well, first of all Giubbilei is the master of exquisitely-precise green formality flowing from his Italian origins. Therefore having any flowers at all, yet alone lupins, yet alone yellow lupins, were totally unexpected. In an effort to broaden his flower palette after enjoying English gardens that Guibbilei went to learn from one of the UK's most acclaimed and adventurous plantsmen, Fergus Garrett, at Christopher Lloyd's former experimental playground, Great Dixter. Not afraid of using any plant, in any design context (my words, not his), Garrett's influence may well be the source of the yellow lupin shocker.
Four years on, lupins at Chelsea have gone mad. Playing the same early summer upright design role as foxgloves, we saw lupins showcased in azure blue (Nic Howard, see top image), magenta, fresh corn-on-the-cob yellow, crimson and paradise pink (yes, that's a colour-Catherine MacDonald), flame orange (Laura Anstiss), white and lemon (Hay-Joung Hwang). There are hundreds of varieties to choose from so you can be as adventurous with your colour combinations as you like.
Growing to around 1m in their preferred full sun position and easy to grow from seed, they are very hardy hence their traditional garden popularity. They prefer some soil acidity and free-draining, rather than rich clay soils where they are prone to crown rot. However, they do suffer from aphids, slugs, snails and, in the confines of my suburban garden, unsightly fungal leaf infection. Do your homework, speak to your local nursery and , if the glove fits, then lupins are definitely the ones to wear this year.
9. Repeated Round Shapes Add Rhythm
In many cases, our eye (well our brains to be exact), enjoy following regular patterns.
We take pleasure in things we can make sense of. However, if we follow only linear patterns, such as a double border of lavender leading to a house, our eye moves very quickly to the intended focal point.
If we want to slow the visual journey and add some excitement, regular curve shapes are one design tool worth considering. The regularity of the shape keeps formality in the design |(ideal for front gardens, for example), whilst adding interest.
Showcasing their lead and zinc artworks, A Place in The Garden, cleverly echoed beautifully curvaceous patterns with a simple mix of alliums, Buxus balls and stone balls. The alliums add a seasonal pop of excitement in an otherwise year-round border plan.
10. Upright Forms Draw Your Eye In
Floriferous borders are surely a delight. However, sometimes the eye can get a bot lost before it notices the detail in the centre or back of the borders.
One design trick used to great effect in several Chelsea Gardens in 2018 is to intersperse tall upright flowers, such as foxgloves, Irises and (of course) lupins to draw the eye deeper into a sea of lovely planting. It can also be used where foliage is the main event in garden borders, to highlight textural and colour variations.
11. Mix Large and Small Leaved Plants
Many of our well-loved garden plants have relatively small leaves of similar size.
This can create quite a noisy scene for a viewer and can also look messy, especially when there are not many larger flowers around to break up the scene.
It takes some experience to plan a border around great foliage combinations as well as flowers, but this can look stunning when done well. One easy tip that anyone can implement, is to add some plants with larger, more architectural leaves. Illustrated beautifully by Jo Thompson in the Wedgwood Tea Garden, one option is to add Rodgersia podophylla with it's architectural, glossy leaves. For shade, Hostas and Bergenias can work well, or even Hydrangeas and Rhubarb can look great in sun.
Explore the options that work well in your conditions and add impact to your borders instantly with a couple of new plants.
12. Highlights in Morning or Evening Sun Add Extra Interest
Ok so you may need to be very slightly detail-oriented for this one (as all good planting designers should be, ahem..), but take the time to sit in your garden at breakfast or as the sun is setting and hunt out small patches where the light catches fleetingly.
At peak time for OJ, or your favourite sundowner, plant something special for a little peak of delight. It's worth the effort, we promise!