Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

By Liz Nicholson

Imagine a world without the inspiration of RHS shows to our gardening nation?

2020 helped us along in these sad imaginings when all RHS events were called off – in the case of the Chelsea Flower Show, for the first time since the Second World War. For those of us in the industry, the summer cancellations were a series of disappointments. I have been reflecting on why I felt so discombobulated and I have concluded that it is because the RHS shows are genuinely wholesome. The opportunities for young designers to break through the crowds and be seen, charities to raise awareness to their cause and plant breeders to introduce their progeny are endless. Without this newness, the industry stalls a little and the absence of the ultimate show garden challenge leaves us all feeling a little bereft.

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

The M&G Garden, by Andy Sturgeon, at the Chelsea Flower Show 2019 | Photo copyright: © Jayne Lloyd

As one of a team of RHS garden judges, we have been busy zooming with next year’s garden designers to ensure that the approaching show season delivers all the promise one might expect after such an interlude… The calibre of designers and materials is extremely energising and fresh in approach. Gardens are cleverly thought out to not only convey a message and inspire visitors, but also to be sustainable and to fall in with the current Plant Healthy guidelines. Diseases like Xylella threaten to compromise our entire industry, and the RHS – working with the Plant Healthy standard from Grown in Britain – are thought leaders in ensuring that fewer plants are imported overall, but where imports are necessary, plants are quarantined and checked appropriately to ensure they are healthy.

At Nicholsons we were involved in two cancelled projects last year:

David Harber, Nicholsons and Savills were collaborating to have a trade stand at Chelsea, based on a garden to inspire people to work from home. How visionary were we? We designed the garden in the autumn of 2019 and little did we know what was coming… The studio was designed and made, so I hope David has enjoyed using it during Covid… I must ask! We will be exhibiting the garden in May 2021 at Chelsea and it will hold a similar design as the subject is still topical today – albeit with a fresh planting theme inspired by lockdown.

The real energy of the built garden is around the use of sustainable / reused materials. At Nicholsons we are striving to reduce if not eliminate concrete from our gardens. Our stand at Chelsea was designed using only sustainable materials to ensure minimum environmental impact.

David’s show stopping pieces will be displayed throughout and Savills will be providing the fizz… We hope that you will call in and see us!

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

Further north, we were lucky to be involved in a show garden for RHS Tatton Park…the Styal Women’s Prison Garden. The prison is famous for its wonderful horticultural therapy unit and historically has entered the show most years. We connected with the Styal leaders and offered to work with the ladies to design the garden as a team. Long before lockdown, Freddie and I headed to Manchester and had a very happy day working with the prisoners creating a design that reflected the Styal women. We designed an African garden set in the Masaai Mara based on a traditional fenced enclosure – a Boma. In our design, the garden was held as an oasis within the wooden tree trunk fence, offering a jungle of edible plants. The metaphor of enclosure and high fences was not lost on the ladies but they felt that the garden goodness on the inside gave them some promise.

Sadly the pandemic made showing the garden impossible, but I hope that one day I will be able to reconnect with the team at Styal and build our garden together.

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

What is Boma? A community enclosure

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

Planting inspiration

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

Day bed undercover with Maasai fabrics

The lessons that these two gardens have taught me is that the importance of our home gardens is increasingly clear – we need to make space to work and play at home. This year, I will be increasing my veg production and will enjoy rhubarb popping up through the herbaceous plants and espalier apples bordering my veggie chaos. I have planted a peppercorn tree amongst many other herbs and am very excited to be building a recycled greenhouse by the Yurt… It’s huge and I hope it will host many vines! Diners will be able to hide amongst leafy foliage while chomping on our home grown salads and woodfired pizzas… Oh to dream of summer…

About the Author

Inspiration of RHS Shows to our Gardening Nation

Liz Nicholson set up the garden design and landscape business 20 years ago. Her role as Managing Director takes up an increasing amount of time but Liz still really enjoys working for existing clients and occasional new challenging projects. To find out more about our garden service please contact us.

Favourite Garden? Rousham
Why? The juxtaposition of the serene drama of the wider landscape and the soft exuberance of the walled garden.