Chris Beardshaw: “It’s a completely crazy thing we do at Chelsea”

Multiple Gold medal-winning designer marks a double anniversary at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw
This year sees 25 years since the charity Myeloma UK began its research into finding a cure. It’s also 25 years since Chris Beardshaw built his first RHS Show garden, which makes their partnership in creating a design for Myeloma UK: A Life Worth Living, all the more poignant.

“It’s very definitely a garden to be appreciated slowly. If there were a horticultural equivalent of slow food, this would be it”

The Chelsea veteran’s garden will be one of the prestigious line-up on the showground’s Main Avenue, and Chris has a very clear vision of  what he hopes to achieve.

“What I would like people to feel is the joy of the garden, an appreciation of the delicate fragility of the natural space and, almost by definition, the delicate fragility of our own lives; to feel the importance of enjoying the moment we’re in – that moment of the water drop hitting the pool or a butterfly coming through the garden.”

Water as symbolism 

The space features planted woodland with two temples and multiple vistas. Intricate artworks and patterned planting are rich with symbolism, and a calming water feature prompts a moment of reflection for visitors.

“From the central view of that temple you look onto a pool, which is reminiscent of how garden designers through history have used the reflective nature of water to encourage a connection with a deeper self. In the still water you see the layers of canopy and sunlight, azure blue skies, wispy clouds and parakeets flying over Chelsea. At your feet is this perfect encapsulation of the joy of being surrounded by the beauty of nature. If a droplet of dew falls off the leaf of a tree and strikes that perfect image, the image is broken and we’re reminded of the fragility of that ephemeral space.”

Unexpected woodland planting

While the front border could be described as a typical ‘Chelsea-style’ herbaceous, bulb and shrub border, Chris said the woodland area contains more modest surprises. “Plants you wouldn’t expect to see are used in a garden, like From the diminutive Adoxa moschatellina to the Selaginella, the iris – subtle colour tones, with the odd pale lemon coming in from Ranunculus acris ‘Citrinus’– just allowing that zesty colour to come through the canopy, but really muted planting.”

The Chelsea addiction

Few designers are as synonymous with Chelsea Flower Show as Chris Beardshaw, who has been scooping up Gold medals and Best in Show titles since 1998. He describes it as an ‘addiction’; one he finds exciting, challenging and ultimately satisfying – if inexplicable.

“It’s a completely crazy thing we do at Chelsea. No one in their right mind would ever set up Chelsea Flower Show now, because it doesn’t make sense. The amount of effort and skill, the hours and hours that people spend creating the plants and the exhibits and pulling them all together. For what? Six days! It doesn’t make any sense at all. Of course, the gardens are now relocated or reused, so they don’t go to waste, but all the work goes to show the significance of Chelsea to horticulture.”

Ultimately, it’s the opportunity to create something that connects with those who come to see his garden that keeps Beardshaw coming back – for the authenticity of the experience.

“There’s a condensed version of a garden, but there’s no trickery involved. We don’t force plants, we don’t buy plants from all around the world because it’s in a different season. If it’s happening in Chelsea, it would generally happen like that in your garden.”

Chris Beardshaw’s career in numbers:

  • 40 years in horticulture
  • 14 RHS Gold medals
  • 6 times winner of the RHS Best in Show award
  • Author of 4 books
  • Designer of 40 show gardens internationally  

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.