May is a heady month for garden lovers. First comes the excitement of the Chelsea Flower Show in London with breathtaking show gardens, the prospect of spotting a royal or a horticultural blue blood such as Monty Don, Carol Klein or Alan Titchmarsh. Next comes our own Bloom, which kicks off on Thursday and runs to June 3 at the Phoenix Park. Award-winning garden designer Leonie Cornelius is at the Park putting the finishing touches to her own show garden, The Great Outdoors, for the Irish Wheelchair Association. She shares the take-home trends she has her eye on.
1 Back to nature
The clear trend at both the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Bloom was a return to nature and away from ‘back garden’ designs with herbaceous borders and decks. Natural planting and ferns were centre stage, as at, for example, the RHS M&G Garden designed by Best in Show winner Andy Sturgeon, while nature’s power to regenerate was celebrated at Sarah Eberle’s Resilience Garden with its rocket-like grain silo. Tom Stuart-Smith used lush natural planting too for his RHS Bridgewater Garden. To create this look in your own space, embrace large-leaved plants such as Darmera peltata, Rodgersia podophylla and Hostas. Don’t be afraid to mix up your ferns so a few different varieties work together for that wilder look – think Asplenium scolopendrium, Dryopteris filix-mas, Osmunda regalis and Polystichum varieties and plant them at different heights for a layered effect.
2 Go for green
Rich greens are a dominant colour too. Perfect for those of us who crave peaceful shades in the garden, but tend to shy away from too much colour. Green, white and pale yellow feature in many designs and work well with the lush ferns, mounds of green Buxus and pale peachy tones that are so on-trend. Painting outdoor furniture, walls or sheds green is a no-brainer – it’s the colour of nature so take inspiration from plants and add more green.
3 Let there be weeds
Now, more than ever, we need to boost the biodiversity that lies at the heart of a fertile garden. Not surprising then, that increasing wildlife in our town and city gardens is a trend that appeared in Bloom’s show gardens. For example, Fingal County Council and TU Dublin (Technological University Dublin) teamed up for the Bee Positive Show Garden which uses a clever timber honeycomb wall, bee hotels, pollinator-friendly plants and a clover lawn, while at the RHS show, Tom Dixon’s garden for Ikea, Gardening Will Save the World, is an experimental model for non-soil growing, both locally and in urban spaces. Oliver and Liat Schurmanns’ design, Aqua Marine, sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), focuses on marine flora and fauna and the impact of plastic pollution on our seas. Easy ways to encourage pollinators to browse your borders include planting bee-friendly plants, trees and shrubs – think scented salvia, oregano, lavender and cherry blossom trees. Bees also love plants with multiple flowerheads so campanula or mounds of achillea and sedum go down a treat as well as the floriferous-climbing wisteria. More diversity doesn’t need to mean extra work, in fact, sometimes boosting wildlife is about doing less – not tidying up piles of wood so solitary bees have somewhere to nest, for example, or allowing your grass to grow into a wildflower lawn. Just leave it be and see the wild clover, daisies and dandelions thrive – easier for you and perfect for wildlife.
4 Big, bold and beautiful
Rocks and boulders were also big features, and are part of a trend for bold design. At Chelsea, the CAMFED Garden by Jilyane Rickards featured giant red boulders, while Joe Perkins Facebook Garden had dramatic rock formations jutting into a water feature. They hark back to the drama of wilder landscapes, and a more natural look, and can make a focal point for a view or add contrast to softer planting. This works best – obviously – in a larger garden.
5 Frame it
Architectural features were another trend used to great impact in the show gardens. Designers love them for good reason as they create drama by framing views, or highlighting a feature or an area of planting.
For example, Alan Rudden’s Bloom garden, Vina Dona Paula: A Matter of Altitude garden for Santa Rita uses large oak frames to create a softly enclosed living and kitchen space, while I have designed a floating cedar structure to frame views for my own garden, the Great Outdoors, for the Irish Wheelchair Association.
At Chelsea, Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden features stunning classical colonnades that shift your viewpoint as you walk around, so you get a different perspective on the garden within.
Steel and timber are popular materials, and one effective trick is to create a series of arches to guide the eye to lush planting or a series of colonnades to enclose a space.
They can also be handy for distracting the eye from areas you’d like to downplay in your garden.
6 Sprinkle with gems
Fans of Monty Don’s Jewel Garden will be delighted to hear that bright and beautiful shades of sunshine yellow, scarlet, purple and royal blue are on trend. They featured in many gardens this year and work as a perfect way to draw your eye into a scheme. To plant a treasure trove in your own garden, seek inspiration from the gold medal-winning Morgan Stanley Garden, where designer Chris Beardshaw mixed amethyst-coloured Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’, topaz Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and citrine orange Geum ‘Alabama Slammer’ (Cocktails Series). More jewel tones feature in my own Bloom showgarden, while gem-like tones welcome the bees – who prefer blues and purples – in a playful way in the Bee Positive garden.
7 Make an outdoor room
One easy and yet super-effective takeaway from Chelsea is to zone your garden and make an outdoor living room. The key is to create an intimate atmosphere with seating, as in Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden. Roche Bobois has just launched a gorgeous garden version of their modular Mah Jong range, an instant update for any garden space. While in an homage to modular design, I’ve teamed up with fashion designer Sara O’Neill of Eadach designs to create a modular seating design for my Bloom garden. Make your own, by covering cushions with beautiful outdoor fabric to create your own seating arrangements.
8 Just add a sculpture
Andrew Duff’s design for the Savills and David Harber Garden sets off the planting with a wonderful metallic twisting shape. Whether formal art sculptures or more natural shapes, sculptural forms can become a strong focal point in a garden. Consider including a work of art or natural art form in your garden. Start by visiting the online sculpture gallery of Irish artists on garden-sculpture.ie. Or channel the Chelsea vibe for your own space and take a blow torch to some large pieces of timber. The bigger, the better.
9 If you plant one thing …
Make it grass or rather grasses. At Bloom, Alan Rudden is inspired by the Chilean landscape to use stipa tenuissima of varying maturities to give a sense of movement. Their softness is a perfect combo with the structured shape of Cirsium thistles. Kevin Dennis in the Urban Sanctuary Garden uses rust-coloured Panicum ‘Squaw’ and ‘Heavy Metal’ to lead the eye to a porcelain feature wall – these are great to add warmth to the garden border. Grasses used in varying heights, as in James Purdy’s RHS Healthy Way garden, are a great way of adding a naturalistic feel. Use a combo of Sesleria nitida, Briza media, the taller Calamagrostis ‘Karl foerster’ and Luzula to tap into the naturalistic feel featured in the show gardens. Using ornamental grasses with splashes of perennial colour is a great way to offset bright colours and make shapes pop.
10 Stay local
From Mark Gregory’s Welcome to Yorkshire Garden at Chelsea with its lock-keeper’s lodge and lock gates, to Alan Rudden’s Vina Dona Paula: A Matter of Altitude garden for Santa Rita at Bloom, the location that inspired a garden plays a vital role. Creating a sense of location and space within a garden is one powerful way to link it to its environment, and one of the first things to consider when designing. To embrace your locale in your own space, study the landscape around you, pick up on the topography in your garden shapes and echo the natural plants in the landscape. Are your laneways dotted in cowslip? Bring some into your borders. Your garden has views of a mountain? Embed some limestone boulders in the garden. The ‘genius loci’ of a space is an effective way of making your garden sit organically within its setting.
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