Garden planning tips from an RHS Chelsea Flower Show designer

Award-winning garden designer and TV presenter Chris Beardshaw shares the inspiration behind his 2016 show garden and explains how to create your perfect outdoor space

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How can I go about designing a new garden for my home?

A garden should respond to the wants and needs that you have as a user, so that is always the first thing to consider. Do you need a large entertaining space? Or would you prefer it to be a place for solitude and reflection? Consider whether you want a formal garden or a more relaxed design with subtle, meandering pathways.

It’s always worth gathering pictures of different colours, textures and plants that inspire you. My grandma used to pin them to the back to the toilet door and decide which ones she liked the best – it’s a great way of distilling the things you find most stimulating.

Before you choose your plants, it’s important to be honest about what you want to emotionally achieve; ask yourself ‘what do I want to feel in my garden?’.

  • If you want to feel upbeat and energised, then focus on reds and oranges, include big Dahlias, and add a gushing fountain.
  • If you’d prefer to feel calm and collected in your garden, then go for plants in greens, blues and whites to create a more subtle feel.

How can I get the most out of my garden with the British weather?

It’s the age-old challenge for gardeners. I’d advise finding a series of good nurseries that grow plants year-round and visit every couple of weeks. Challenge yourself to buy a plant that is in flower each time you visit and then there will ultimately always be interest and colour in your garden.

When a garden surprises you, there’s always the joy of reward and stimulation when you step outside into it – even if the weather is terrible. In winter, I’ll put on three coats and head out with bulbs and thoroughly enjoy myself. Once you take that first step outside the weather never seems so bad, you’ve just got to give yourself a reason to step out there.

Illustration morgan stanley garden

Illustration of The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital

Is it important to have somewhere to reflect in a garden?

Definitely. The right seating can motivate us outside with a cup of coffee on a cold winter’s day, just as much as it can on a warm summer’s one. Find a good location in your garden with a view you really love and then place the seating there. Or, if you’re designing a garden from scratch, plan your seating from the outset and work towards creating that beautiful view. One of the great rewards of designing a garden is taking the time of sit, look, touch and appreciate what you’ve created.

What makes the RHS Chelsea Flower Show so special?

Chelsea is the world stage for horticulture. Whether you’re an exhibitor of daffodils or a garden designer, the eyes of the horticultural world are on you. It’s the most important show in the world when it comes to showcasing your work, and it’s always a huge thrill to be there. I’ve designed all over the world, from New Zealand to France, and it can be quite an isolated profession, so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity for the industry to come together and revel in horticulture.

CB Tatton

Tell us about the garden you’re exhibiting at the show this year?

It’s one of the most significant and poignant gardens of my career. Morgan Stanley asked me to design a garden for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and it will be replanted at the hospital after the show. Although it’s upsetting to think of children requiring any medical treatment, my visit to the hospital was actually hugely inspirational. The important three-way partnership between the children, their parents and the staff, formed the backbone of the design.

The geometric lines are interrupted by the repeated theme of circles, which for me symbolise eternity and the perfection of childhood. Buildings will surround the entire garden, so I worked predominately with woodland species that require little sunlight. Sprinkled amongst this rich, green and verdant scheme will be pockets of jewel-like planting, including some species that only open when hit by direct sunlight.

The garden also contains a reflective water feature, and a pavilion-like structure, which shelters anyone inside from the surrounding buildings. The whole space will provide somewhere for families to reflect, and underpins how important it is to get a change of perspective sometimes.