5 small space styling tips we're taking from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show container gardens

The RHS Chelsea Flower show has embraced container gardens – we can't wait to use these clever design tricks in our urban outdoor spaces

minimalist container garden
(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is embracing urban gardening in a big way this year. 

The Container Gardens section made it onto our list of the top Chelsea Flower Show trends for 2021, and it's a real testament to how in tune with modern gardeners the big horticultural event is. We found plenty of useful styling tips in the show's container garden offerings too. 

Container gardening ideas can be as sophisticated as the most elaborate designs for borders, and these are the most stylish lessons in container garden design we'll take from the Chelsea Flower Show 2021.

1. Go for evergreens in a small container garden

grasses in wavy container

The Hot Tin Roof garden, designed by Ellie Edkins, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

Inspired by garden designer Ellie Edkins's time in Cornwall, the Hot Tin Roof garden has a 'surf shack vibe to it', as she told us in an exclusive interview. The garden's focus is 'form and texture rather than color'. 

The design is 'simple' and 'low-maintenance.' It's the sort of garden that Ellie calls 'accessible to people', especially those with small gardens and rented garden spaces. 

Different species of fern and holly create a textural variety that more than makes up for the lack of blooming plants. This is the sort of container garden you could leave alone for weeks and it would still thrive. 

2. Explore minimalism

tree against grey backdrop

A Tranquil Space in the City, designed by Mika Misawa, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

A Tranquil Space in the City, designed by Mika Misawa, is a perfect execution of Zen garden ideas. The cornerstone of Zen garden design is a minimal approach to plant use, with the negative spaces between the plants honored as much as the containers. 

Mika says that she only used five different types of plants, with only one flowering one. The back screen makes the whole garden look 'like a painting' – what a way to make a statement with a container garden without making too much of an effort. 

3. Don't be afraid to include trees 

trees in containers

The IBC Pocket Forest, designed by Sara Edwards, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

A small garden doesn't have to mean using only small plants, as The IBC Pocket Forest, designed by Sara Edwards, proves. 

Many trees grow very well in containers, and you'll be surprised by the height reached by some of the best trees to grow in pots. They improve privacy, too, which is valuable in busy urban spaces with shared garden boundaries. 

4. If in doubt, go oversized 

large containers filled with evergreen plants

The Stolen Soul Garden, designed by Anna Dabrowska, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

Oversized garden planters are everywhere and have become the staple of contemporary garden design. The semi-spherical ones used in The Stolen Soul Garden, designed by Anna Dabrowska, are especially elegant.

Their wide diameter allow for many different plants to be used in the same pot. A combination of upright and trailing plants creates an attractive, natural look that's very in vogue at the moment. 

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.