In common with our other flower shows, the key RHS theme of 'Health, Happiness and Horticulture' was strongly represented in the chosen designs for 2016.
Horticulture is increasingly recognised for its therapeutic qualities, especially in terms of improving people's quality of life. This concept, whether it be combating depression in the The Outdoor Room or recovering from cancer in Striving for Survival permeated gardens across the show.
Some of the designs took this even further, using horticulture to represent the stuggles people go through in order to improve their health and happiness; including topical themes of the plight of refugees in the UNHCR Border Control Garden and the vulnerability of life in less stable regions of the globe World Vision Garden.
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Seven garden categories to choose from
Simplicity, naturalism and wellbeing were key themes in this year's show gardens. The Viking Cruises Scandinavian Garden evoked a wild, Nordic shoreline with a relaxing informality and calming palette of wildflowers. Cancer Research UK's Life Garden took a more hi-tech approach: visitors walked through a contemplative garden, to find an entirely new, virtual garden at its centre, experienced by putting on a virtual reality headset.
As ever, the Conceptual Gardens delighted, entertained and challenged existing ideas. Contemporary issues and themes, such as escape from conflict, were well-represented in this category. In Katerina Rafaj's garden, Peacemaker, the landscaping symbolised life – a heartbeat – inferring the privilege it is to live in a country that many regard as a safe haven. The UNHCR Border Control Garden took a more literal approach, portraying safety and sanctuary as a lush garden, surrounded by an arid landscape of barbed wire.
Perhaps appropriately, given the show's new sponsor Viking Cruises, the Water Gardens came back to the show and their Viking Cruises Scandinavian Garden made full use of the theme. So too did winner of 2014's Best Summer Garden, Jeni Cairns, who returned with the WWT Working Wetlands Garden – designed to combat urban flooding while providing wildlife habitats and a beautiful outdoor space for people to enjoy - and this was winner of the Best Show Garden award.
Always popular with visitors, this year's crop of Summer Gardens included some colourful designs, such as The Lavender Garden, which paid homage to the rural England of yesteryear. The Abbeyfield Society's A Breath of Fresh Air is a sensory garden for residents living in care homes, who can appreciate its multi-dimensional features. With built-in stone seating, it offers the perfect place in which to relax and enjoy a sense of peace.
The World Gardens transported visitors on a journey through Europe, Latin America and the United States. The US was represented with the charm and elegance of the Charleston Garden, with its rich sub-tropical climate, the Oregon Garden, inspired by the region's landscape and wine country and the Austin Garden featuring plants that thrive in a dry environment. Across the border, Journey Latin America’s Inca Garden took its inspiration from the Ancient Incas of Peru, with native tropical plants, and a dramatic terrace.
Commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of landscape designer Capability Brown, students of Plumpton College designed Capable of Reinvention, inspired by the use of reflection in his lakes. Victoria Truman also took reflection as her theme in Reflecting the Landscape, a contemporary homage featuring sculpted landforms on top of which stand his signature trees. Benedetta Pecorari and Elisa A M Varetti focused on the ha-ha, a device much used by Capablity Brown, in their garden Mind the Gap.
Creating an urban garden can be a challenge, but these City Gardens offered plenty of inspiration to those living in urban areas to really make the most of their outside space. Showing that young people have a place in the garden industry was 20-year-old Will Williams, who designed Streetscape's Summer in Sussex. Streetscape is a social enterprise committed to offering apprenticeships in landscape gardening for young adults. The garden was inspired by Sussex, the South Down its rivers, flora and craftspeople.