4 Chelsea Flower Show designers share their top tips for gorgeous gardens

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the highlight in any garden-lover’s calendar, and we’re super-excited about this month’s event – where we will admire the incredible show gardens and find inspiration for our own little plots and window boxes. This year we’ve asked four of the brilliant young designers behind some of the Show’s horticultural highlights for their top (easy-to-grow!) plants and outdoor trends – plus whether they really do talk to their plants…

For Kate Saville, 29, and Tamara Bridge, 30 (above), this will be their second time at RHS Chelsea (in 2017 they designed a garden for the BBC Radio 2 Feel Good gardens category along with DJ Jo Whiley and Jo Loves fragrance). Their joint Warner Edwards garden, inspired by a craft gin distiller’s farm, will be in Ranelagh Gardens as part of the Artisan category (smaller gardens which put a modern twist on timeless rustic ideas).

Meanwhile, on Main Avenue, Tom Massey, 31, (below) makes his RHS Chelsea debut with an emotive garden for The Lemon Tree Trust. And for Tony Woods, 32 (above) – one of the designers of the Floating Pocket Park in London’s Paddington – Urban Flow Garden marks his first design at RHS Chelsea; you can find his plot in the Space to Grow section (designed to inspire the gardener in all of us!)

Describe your Chelsea garden

Tamara & Kate: This year we have teamed up with Warner Edwards to create a garden inspired by Falls Farm in Northamptonshire, where its gin is distilled in small batches. The garden includes botanicals used in creating the gins, a stream representing the natural spring from which water is taken for distillation; bee boles symbolising the apiary and copper seats representing the stills. The garden will be transported back to Harrington after the show for visitors to enjoy during distillery tours.

Tony: Urban flow is a typical rear garden plot; it’s filled with lots of features that homeowners often like the idea of but shy away from – such as an edible living wall and a slick polished concrete outdoor kitchen. The garden will be packed full of interesting plants that can cope with a range of conditions and provide interest all year round. I have also designed the landscaping to cope with flash flooding and made the landscaping sustainable for future weather patterns without compromising on style.

Tom: The Lemon Tree Trust Garden is inspired by the resilience, determination and ingenuity of refugees living in Domiz camp in Northern Iraq. It highlights the unexpected beauty found in the refugee camp and celebrates the ability of its residents to make the most of their harsh living conditions. Gardens play a vital role in bringing a sense of normality, wellbeing and peace to those who have had to flee their homes. The garden includes drought tolerant plants such as pomegranate trees and herbs used in Middle Eastern cooking. The garden flows with cooling water, brimming from an Islamic inspired fountain.

Favourite British Garden?

Tamara: Parham Gardens in Sussex continues to be my absolute favourite garden and one which was an inspiration to me at the beginning of my horticultural training. It is an intoxicating tapestry of colour throughout the year, weaving fruit trees with Lavender, roses and other herbaceous perennials. A master class in planting and a garden that still provides a function in providing fresh flowers and produce for the house.

Kate: Growing up in Cornwall means I have a strong connection with The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey – a lost garden which was rediscovered following decades of neglect after WW1. I love the old traditional and experimental (at the time) pineapple glass house, and the amazing old gnarly rhododendrons that create a dramatic cloister-like walkway. Then there’s my favourite part down in ‘The Jungle’ where there are the magnificent tree ferns – Dicksonia Antarctica. I love a good fern.

Tony: Great Dixter in late summer. It’s incredible to immerse yourself in the tropical garden and look up through all of the interesting leaf shapes and colours including Dahlias, Canna and Verbena. I also love the changing collection of plants around the entrance porch which ranges from conifers to old school Coleus. It’s really fun and reminds everyone that Dixter is a real garden and not afraid to experiment, with the added consistency of English topiary throughout.

Tom: Probably Great Dixter, although there are so many great gardens which combine colour and form in unusual and exciting ways.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Image: Getty Images

Hottest trend?

Tamara: Indoor gardening is still popular with those who do not have room outside yet still want to wow their guests (by creating amazing table centres and window sills) or simply enjoy fresh salad leaves and herbs. It is amazing what you can create in a small window box, and flowering plants have the benefit of supporting our pollinators.

Kate: Conservation is becoming, quite rightly, popular as we become more aware of what’s happening with climate change and the devastation of many habitats. One of the reasons we’ve enjoyed working with Warner Edwards is that they are very interested in conservation and are currently working hard to combat the decline of the honey bee through a few initiatives, like planting six acres of wildflower meadows in their local area to help create more pollinators.

Tony: Boundary treatments – cladding fences with contemporary timber battens horizontally or vertically. I think it’s because it’s so expensive to move up the property ladder – homeowners are making the most of every inch of space and making the garden as attractive and useable as possible.

Tom: Sustainable and drought tolerant planting.

Favourite time of day in the garden?

Tamara: Without question, first thing in the morning and the earlier the better. Not much can compete with the warm low sun on your face whilst you listen to the birds and potter about with a cup of tea. Often, I am up and about well before my neighbours, and so I feel that for a short time I am in my own little world.

Kate: Evening, as the sun is setting.

Tony: Early evening, when the scent is strong and summer temperatures drop. I find it very restful to deadhead and water plants after work… especially with a glass of wine.

Tom: Sunset.

Do you talk to your plants?

Tamara: Not as such, but I have made the postman, who I hadn’t noticed, laugh by exclaiming out loud to my Mertensia virginica that I hadn’t realised it had started flowering and how lovely it looked.

Kate: Sometimes, especially if they are coming into bud and I’m desperately impatient, wanting them to open!

Tony: No, but I often hear them shouting at me for food, water or general support!

Tom: No, but I always listen to music when planting.

Most lovable wildlife?

Tamara: Garden birds in general are a joy to have about, but I get a little thrill every time I spot our timid little Wren bobbing in and out of the logs in the firewood store.

Kate: It’s got to be bees in all shapes and forms!

Tony: Any bird drinking from one of the water features in the garden; it always makes me smile.

Tom: Otters.

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A garden isn’t a garden without…

Tamara: Somewhere to sit. It is lovely to wander through a garden, but to be able to sit and absorb it is most essential.

Kate: A seat or a tree.

Tony: Weeds (frustrating but the sign of a healthy garden) or just a plant in the wrong place?

Tom: I always include a fire pit or area for a fire in my designs. I love sitting round a fire as the sun sets into nighttime.

Why do you think gardening is so good for us?

Tamara: For me it is a place where my thoughts become silent, absorbed in the task at hand. I am sure there are not many therapies that can be so effective. It offers quiet work where you can rest or complete physical exhaustion through, digging, chopping, brushing or raking which can be equally welcome, especially after a hectic day in the office.

Kate: It’s something to concentrate on. It totally takes my mind off anything I might be worrying about, almost like a meditation. It’s also physical too, so you feel like you’ve had a proper workout after a good day of it. Fresh air, no screens, it’s rewarding… I could go on and on and on….

Tony: Gardening is good at keeping us fit but I think it teaches us patience, to give new things a try and not give up. It’s also very rewarding when you succeed at growing something new or have fruit or veg for the dinner table.

Tom: It is mindful, engrossing and meditative. It gives us escape from our increasingly hectic and overly digital lives. It also has the power to reconnect us with nature and the natural world.

Favourite plant?

Tamara: Absolutely impossible question, akin to asking which your favourite child is.

Kate: It’s very hard to sum this up in one plant, so I will say Euphorbias in general, as there is a Euphorbia for every type of garden or condition. A very diverse group of plants!

Tony: Aeonium – I grow them in pots and keep them in our kitchen over winter. They are quite hard to kill and the structure and foliage contrasts with all of the other plants in the garden to make a real feature.

Tom: Ancient Oak trees.

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Failsafe flower for total novices?

Tamara: Hardy Geranium. There is generally one for any situation and they offer a variety of sizes, shapes and colours.

Kate: Oh, a flower I will recommend to most people (full sun is best for this one, but it can cope with a bit of part shade) is Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’. Why? Because this beauty flowers from May to August, but mine flower for even longer than that! Winner!

Tony: Nasturtium is definitely worth trying. It’s annual but will often self seed. The reason I pick it for novices is because it grows so fast and flowers quickly. Many people think they fail at growing plants but we are all just too impatient!

Tom: Geranium ‘Rozanne’ flowers reliably from April to December.

Easy plant for window-box impact?

Tamara: Sea thrifts or Armeria maritima for a hot sunny area will be tough but showy. Lovely evergreen mounds of foliage offer the perfect foil for either white or pink pom pom flowers that last for ages. Great for contemporary or traditional homes.

Kate: Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ can look really good in a fairly sturdy window box. Being a Mediterranean herb, it can cope with a bit of neglect. Succulents can look really classy in a sunny window box. Mix some horticultural grit in the planter along with compost and sunshine. For a shady window box, try a white variegated sedge, ferns and white Geranium.

Tony: Rosmarinus prostrates. I plant it in window boxes that sit on top of my garden walls. It trails down with little care, has amazing blue flowers in early spring, is evergreen and also great for cooking as the new growth is much softer than regular Rosemary.

Tom: Succulents such as Sempervivum and Aeonium species for a sunny sheltered window box.

If you only had room for one edible plant, it would be…

Tamara: An apple tree, I adore the two I have at home. I couldn’t be without the blossom in the spring and the beautiful apples in the autumn that go into everything as well as being eaten straight off the tree.

Kate: Ahh, too many to choose from…it would have to be an herb… Thyme as I use it all the time in cooking and it’s great for bees and other pollinators as well!

Tony: Peas! Pea shoots are so easy to grow and transform so many meals!

Tom: Rosemary. I use it every day in cooking, in pasta sauces or with roast potatoes.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 22nd-26th May. For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk