Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show 2021 - design tips to take from the winning garden

The Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show 2021 garden is bursting with ideas from smart planting to an audacious water feature

Chelsea flower Show best in show
(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

This year's highest horticultural accolade of Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show 2021 went to do Chelsea garden design rookies. 

This year was designers Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen's first Chelsea Flower show. However, the duo managed to sweep up the coveted Best in Show award for their Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden. 

The garden, sponsored by the Guangzhou government, was designed to highlight the benefits of responsible city planning and how to better connect cities with the natural world. The final result was a stunning, yet peaceful garden.

Chelsea Flower Show Best in Show 

'This is our first time at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and we are absolutely thrilled to have received a Gold Medal, but then to have the super surprise of winning Best in Show, we are so delighted,' says designers Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen.

'It’s been a wonderful experience. Thank you to Guangzhou government for giving us this opportunity to represent the city.'

garden designers at chelsea flower show

Designers Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen

(Image credit: RHS / Luke MacGregor)

'The Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden is a garden that has real heart and soul to it,' says James Alexander-Sinclair, RHS Chair of Judges. 'The combination of tall airy spaces, babbling waters, and layers of cool green plantings cannot fail but to soothe even the most harried soul.'

The garden, inspired by a three-day trip to Guangzhou, is bursting with smart garden design ideas. Here are a few tips you can incorporate into your own space.

Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden - design tips

1. Be bold with water

chelsea flower show best in show

(Image credit: Rebecca Knight)

This garden is bursting with water feature ideas. Guangzhou is a city between mountains and water so water had to play a huge role in the garden. 

'The general layout of the garden is inspired by the Guangzhou topography and water network,' explains Peter Chmiel. 

The garden includes 20,000 liters of water, making up roughly a third of the garden. Peter Chmiel explains that working with that much water at Chelsea wasn't easy, however, the design duo wanted to make a splash at their first show. The bold design feature paid off.

2. Create a connecting thread through garden zones

Chelsea Flower show best in show garden

(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

Zoning a garden is a smart garden design tool for making your outdoor space work harder for you. However, what takes this trick to the next level is creating a thread that connects all these zones. 

The Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden does this beautifully. The garden has been split into three zones to reflect the city. 

The top of the garden reflects the mountain and forest to the north of the city. The middle reflects the social hub of the city center, and the bottom is all about cleaning water. While water is showcased in the third section, it runs through the other areas to hold it all together in a beautiful circle. 

'We've got the waterfall coming through at the top, and another cascade here. It flows around the social heart, through the water aquatics and margins that clean it, through skimmers and then back up to the waterfall at the top,' Peter says of the design.

3. Choose plants that are more than just decoration

Chelsea Flower show best in show garden

(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

A key feature in many gardens this year at Chelsea was selecting plants that not only look good but do good. The planting in this garden was designed to reflect the program of environmental planners in Guangzhou, China. 

It is a perfect example of how to select hard-working plants for your garden. Peter explains that each plant had to pass a tick list of five demands before getting a spot in the garden. 

'I set up a tick list of five items, if it got to item four it got into the garden,' says Peter.

'So it had to be beautiful - it's Chelsea. It had to be good for wildlife, and if it could be good for people as well - so if it was medicinal use, herbal use, a lot of these plants have got those uses. But it also had to be environmentally good in terms of clearing the air, water, and all the soil.' 

Next time before you go to the garden center, try creating your own plant requirement checklist.

4. Include structures for you and wildlife

Chelsea Flower Show best in show

(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

One of the most striking parts of the award-winning garden is the laminated bamboo structures. While the largest one is made for people to sit and socialize in, the other small versions are designed for different wildlife.

'They're for people and nature,' explains Peter. There is one by the water for dragonflies to rest on and protect small fish, one with a little hedgehog box, and also one with a wildlife hide you can go up into.

Each structure is beautiful to look at and is connected to each other. It demonstrates how wildlife garden ideas don't need to be an afterthought, but can be a source of beauty in a garden.

5. Create a peaceful space with a muted color palette

Chelsea Flower show best in show garden

(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

When creating a garden it is important to think about the effect you want to achieve. In this space the designers wanted somewhere that felt peaceful, which they reflected in the garden color scheme

While the duo was tempted to add in some colorful plants such as asters in the autumn garden, they stuck to neutral, muted colors. 

'We wanted it to be quite a serene elegant environment, it is about reconnecting with nature,' explains Peter. 'We had that palette in the spring garden - we had white foxgloves, cow parsley, bit more of a challenge this time of year. 

'The temptation is to put acacia in, asters in, but it wouldn't work with this space. We found that color would jar a little. It is all about setting up as many spaces for contemplation and rest, enjoying it here.'

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca has worked as a homes and interiors journalist for over four years, and is currently the Deputy Editor on Ideal Home online. Previously, she was the News Editor across the Future homes and gardens brands, including She lives in a rented flat in South London where she makes the most of window boxes to create small container gardens. Inside she has a jungle of houseplants in nearly every room which she does her best to keep up with regular watering and repotting.