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If you're curious about the Chelsea Flower Show trends 2021 this year, then you've come to the right place. The Gardeningetc team were lucky enough to visit the celebrated show before it opened to the public. And, we were on a mission to round up all the hottest looks in garden design, including ideas that can be recreated at home.
Naturally, the 2021 show was highly anticipated after last year's cancellation, but there was another reason why Chelsea had everyone buzzing. For the first time in history, the show was held in autumn rather than late spring, as traditional. This meant that instead of the usual digitalis, lupins, alliums, and other warm-weather favorites, a shift in planting picks had to be made. This interesting (and rather refreshing) challenge for the designers was met with great aplomb, with the rich tones of rudbeckias, echinacea, and dahlias commonplace across the gardens.
Aside from planting, there were tons of other garden trends that we noted – from small space solutions and artisan features to laid-back (and nature-friendly) approaches, plus more. We've brought them all together below, along with plenty of expert tips from the designers themselves on how you can bring the look to your backyard. And if you're wondering about the Chelsea Flower Show trends 2022, our dedicated guide is full of the latest looks.
10 beautiful Chelsea Flower Show trends from the 2021 event
You're bound to find something you love from our edit of Chelsea Flower Show trends, whatever your garden's size or style.
1. Easy-care gardens that are more sustainable
It was impossible to overlook the running theme of sustainable gardens across Chelsea Flower Show this year, from the materials used to the planting picks.
The gold-winning 'Yeo Valley Organic Garden' (opens in new tab), designed by Tom Massey (opens in new tab) and supported by Sarah Mead, was a stunning example. It used plants that were are all organically grown, chemical-free, and designed to support biodiversity, with lots of habitat areas for wildlife. Tom explained how sustainability can also be showcased through the use of reclaimed materials, as well as planting schemes, like his, that are a 'bit less formal,' and 'a bit less intensive.'
'I think that is going to be a continuing trend at the show and more and more highlighted,' he said. 'People are very aware of climate change and the impact on the environment and are trying to mitigate that through gardening.' If everyone takes ideas and implements elements of this kind of space into their own garden, all those small changes can equate to a big difference, he added.
Sarah Mead said, 'It's not super perfect. This is exactly what you'd see at home. Nobody's perfect and a garden shouldn't be. It should be about going with nature and letting the seasons show.' When it comes to weed control a great tip is to pack the flowers in tight. 'Things grow better [packed in], gone are the days where we all have a manicured margin round each plant.' She recommends people try to get as many plants in as possible to stop light from getting to weeds, meaning no weed killer is needed.
The sustainable theme extended to the colorful planting display at the Gaze Burvill (opens in new tab) stand too, designed by Ann-Marie Powell (opens in new tab). Arthur Parkinson (opens in new tab), gardener, florist and Sarah Raven's protégé who had arranged the fabulous florals, explained how everything chosen for the arrangement was a bee-friendly plant. The single dahlias and anemone dahlias are both full of nectar or pollen, Arthur said. And, they 'flower until the first frost of the year, so they act as a banquet for all pollinators right until November.'
Arthur also explained how the grasses used, such as red millet, were all good natural food sources for birds. 'I hate plastic bird feeders and if you don't wash them they harbor bacteria,' he said. Using grasses is 'far safer for songbirds and more decorative.'
Overall, 'I think people want more of a meadow feel which is the best thing for wildlife,' Arthur added.
Garden designer and Managing Director of Form Plants (opens in new tab), Jamie Butterworth (opens in new tab), who this year collaborated with Torq Pots (opens in new tab) to create a stunning and structural display in the Grand Pavilion, agreed on the trend. 'It's where the future of the RHS has to be – to lead by example – and I think they are,' he said. 'It's an overarching trend for everything moving forward.'
He added how the style of gardening has moved towards a shaggier and looser look. 'The beautifully crisp lawn has gone,' he said. Although it might come back, for now, gardens are definitely moving away from that into more wild, naturalistic planting, and leaving the lawn for the pollinators. Essentially, it's lazy gardening and it's absolutely to be encouraged, he continued. There's less watering, less pesticides, less fertilizers, and it's better for everything.
2. Artisan features as focal points
Alan Williams, award-winning designer of 'The Parsley Box Garden' (opens in new tab) and Creative Director of Form Plants, highlighted the trend of art becoming a part of the garden. He commented on the sculptural, metal formations in the crowd-pleasing 'The M&G Garden' (opens in new tab), the water feature in the 'Finding Our Way: An NHS Tribute Garden' (opens in new tab), and the phenomenal wooden structures in the 'Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden' (opens in new tab). For his own show garden, he used sculptures tucked amongst the planting.
'It's art in a different way,' he said, noting the emphasis on local craftsmanship. 'That's what's coming across – everybody has those elements in their gardens.'
Another show-stopping example was the 'egg' in Tom Massey's garden, which was made with steam bent oak and created by Tom Raffield (opens in new tab). Featuring a glass floor to see the stream beneath and a winch to adjust the height when inside, it was a definite highlight and a beautiful focal point of his space.
Adding such features to your garden can be done even if you're looking for budget ideas for gardens, using things like steel or copper piping, Alan continued. For instance, in his own garden back at home, he has a hazel hurdle fence, as well as sculptures made from steel which rust and look amazing contrasted against green planting.
3. Creative container gardening
This year was the first to introduce a dedicated container gardening category, and there were many beautiful and highly varied designs on display. From bright and bold affairs to moody and thought-provoking spaces, there was certainly something for everyone.
A personal favorite was the 'Stolen Soul Garden' (opens in new tab) designed by Anna Dabrowska-Jaudi (opens in new tab) (shown above). It featured a black-dyed, mirror-like pool, a living wall, scalloped-shaped planters filled with lush green planting, and a large central amethyst crystal on the back wall. However, the smart 'Hot Tin Roof Garden' (opens in new tab), designed by Ellie Edkins (opens in new tab), was also an attention-grabber, with corrugated steel planters and even an outdoor shower.
As each plot was a mere 4 x 3 meters, they really demonstrated how creative this type of gardening can be, and the things that can be achieved in a small space.
4. Turning balconies into mini paradises
Speaking of small garden ideas and new categories, the balcony gardens were also a welcome new addition to the show. Here, the designs showcased a trend of turning even a tiny, urban space into an area that felt characterful and well-considered.
'It was good to see a new Balcony Gardens category, inspired by the pandemic privations of the past 18 months,' says Ruth Hayes, gardening editor of Amateur Gardening. 'The planting ideas were ingenious, from dwarf shrubs to floors sprouting all manner of herbs, providing deliciously-scented footfall.'
Most of the bordering planters included joyous, colorful flowers alongside plenty of green, and in some cases, small trees. Meanwhile, the 'Balcony of Blooms' (opens in new tab), designed by Alexandra Noble (opens in new tab), had a soft screen of surrounding grasses.
From egg chairs to cleverly-integrated benches, the use of small-space-suitable seating was also demonstrated across the board. As well as this, interesting backdrops such as colorful art and murals added another dimension to many of the scenes.
5. Alfresco kitchens alongside edible planting
With the rising trend of outdoor living, we expected to see at least one or two alfresco kitchens. 'The Parsley Box Garden' (opens in new tab) installation was particularly eye-catching, and made the perfect addition to nearby fruit trees, veg beds, and a dining zone.
'I didn't want everything to be plain and simple,' explained designer Alan Williams – 'It's about multi-layers: the borders can all be at different heights. They don't need to all be the traditional veg beds of two sleepers high and straight lines, where everything has to follow a system.
'And why not mix your your rosemary in with your cabbages or echinacea next to your chard?' he added. You can find lots of companion planting combos to try in our guide, to recreate the look at home.
Alan also commented on how fruit trees can be incorporated into an area where you can entertain and seat the family. But, with the addition of an outdoor kitchen, you also have a space to make your jam from the harvested fruit.
Combining all the edible plants around such a set-up feels fresh, fun, and looks fantastic. Plus, it's practical, encouraging you to make the most of all the tasty crops that you grow.
6. Hot color palettes
'I loved the way the gardeners and designers embraced the use of autumnal shades, optimizing the warm, seasonal tones of rudbeckia, echinacea, feathery astilbes, salvias and Astrantia major, all offset by soft grasses and bright berries,' says Ruth Hayes, gardens editor for Amateur Gardening.
Tom Massey explained how his design followed a color scheme to 'celebrate autumn', with 'lots of hot oranges, yellows and reds that you don't really get other times of the year – full on autumnal.
'It's a one-off event, so might as well go for it,' he added. His use of lemon-yellow rudbeckia were an especially popular hit with the crowd. Aside from planting, his Corten steel water feature also added to the warm tones – 'it contrasts well with the green, and the texture is quite smooth' he said. 'The different feel from timber and stone also provides a nice contrast.'
Nicola Hale, designer of 'The Landform Balcony Garden' (opens in new tab), added: 'vivid color has come out quite a lot, it feels like people need to be lifted. There's a lot of reds, yellow, oranges – you can see it in the accessories and in the planting.'
But it wasn't all about vibrant garden color schemes – Jamie Butterworth commented on the muted planting around the show, too. 'At this time of year you can have end-of-summer late color or you can have early autumn, muted tones with slightly shaggy, slightly greener-bronzier foliage.' You're in-between two seasons which makes it really interesting, he added. 'It makes a lovely mix, and in May you don't have that.'
7. Soothing features for a calming vibe
When asked about this year's Chelsea Flower Show trends, garden designer Nicola Hale acknowledged a sense of trying to create a space for wellbeing. 'Because of lockdown and people being shut away for so long, there's a feeling that people have tried to create gardens that make you feel comforted.
'There's a lot of plants this year – less about landscaping – when you sit in the garden you feel more in touch with nature,' she added.
Nicola also commented on the use of water feature ideas in gardens – something that can bring a soothing sense to a space, no matter its size. '[At Landform Consultants (opens in new tab),] we often get clients who want a water feature because of the sound and the distraction, especially in cities where there's lot of other noises going on,' she said. As demonstrated in her design, even circulating pump designs can be worthwhile additions to a small space.
Teresa Conway, editor of Easy Gardens, also highlights Mika Misawa's container garden 'A Tranquil Space in the City' (opens in new tab). 'It really put across the heightened need for calmness and serenity in our outdoor spaces,' Teresa says. 'Using just five different plant species Mika created a minimalist space which gives the impression of gazing into a still life painting.'
Mika commented: 'City dwellers need some tranquil space, so I have used just five different plants. If you have a very busy life it’s very difficult to take care of lots of plants.' Nerine sarniensis was chosen as the sole flowering plant. Meanwhile, Euonymus microphyllus was arranged in square planters in a chequered pattern, which represents prosperity in Japanese culture because of its infinite nature.
Mika also applied the Japanese art of 'Ma' which means 'space in between', to her design. 'In Japanese, even when we talk we have "Ma" – objects also need 'space in between’ so the positioning of the containers was carefully considered with this in mind,' explained Mika.
8. Using trees and rocks to recreate a natural landscape
The trend of keeping things a little more relaxed, organic and informal was certainly widespread. But some of the show gardens went a step further, capturing the essence of the natural world, complete with trees, boulders, and waterfalls.
The gold-winning 'Bible Society: The Psalm 23 Garden' (opens in new tab), designed by Sarah Eberle (opens in new tab), aimed to distil the landscape of Dartmoor, and centered around a calming waterfall and pool with plenty of naturalistic planting. Meanwhile, 'Bodmin Jail: 60° East – A Garden between Continents' (opens in new tab) by Ekaterina Zasukhina with Carly Kershaw (opens in new tab) paid homage to the unsurpassed beauty of Russia's Ural Mountain landscapes. Its combination of large landscaping rocks, trees, and cascading water transformed any onlooker to a soothing and natural space.
Some gardens, such as the 'The Trailfinders' 50th Anniversary Garden' (opens in new tab), also included meandering streams, whilst there were trees aplenty across many plots. Elegant birches adorned Tom Massey's design, for instance, whilst Jamie Butterworth's 'plant of the show' was hepticodium – a flowering tree that's perfect for a typical backyard, smells fantastic, and has anti-bacterial qualities. Designer Alan Williams agreed: 'hepticodium are everywhere.'
9. Imaginative houseplant design
'It was wonderful to see such a strong focus on houseplants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year,' says Gardeningetc editor Beth Murton. 'The interest in indoor gardens has never been stronger, with many people realizing how houseplants can have such a positive impact on our wellbeing, something that's been of particular importance over the last 18 months of course.
'With a whole area dedicated to the best in houseplant design, there was plenty to inspire in the House Plant Studios area. From a bathroom transformed into a leafy oasis and a space set out as a traditional pharmacy but with plants as the healing products on offer, to a neon plant retreat packed with orchids, air plants, macramé plant hangers and a fun potting bench, it shows that there's no limit to the imaginative indoor plant ideas you can incorporate into your home.'
As Maddie Bailey from the gold medal winning House Plant Studios garden 'Forest in your Home' told us, 'houseplants are a great way to get more green into your life without having to go anywhere, so I'm pleased to see the RHS is representing houseplants properly at Chelsea. It's been a long time coming as houseplants are more than just a passing trend. With increasingly urban dwellings, it's incredibly important to be able to bring green things into your home. And what's particularly exciting for me is that people are now really interested in the botanical side of houseplants and want to know more about how things grow, how to propagate their plants and even how to make things more sustainable.'
10. Informal groundcovers
In most cases, formality went out the window when it came to garden path ideas and paving at this year's show. Instead, we spotted plenty of more organically-formed walkways zig-zagging or curving amongst billowing planting. Stepping stones, and even small wooden bridges were also on display, evoking a real sense of discovery and adventure.
A lot of the paving followed suit in style. For example, 'The M&G Garden' used a mix of stone pavers in various sizes for a relaxed and interesting aesthetic. Interspersing slabs with greenery was another trend, as seen in 'The RHS COP26 Garden' (opens in new tab) by Marie-Louise Agius and 'The Green Sky Pocket Garden' (opens in new tab) by James Smith. Not only does this approach add color and interest whilst being good for wildlife, but it's also an easy technique to try at home for your own patio ideas.
'Adding these small pockets of greenery to expanses of paving is such a simple idea, but one that is incredibly effective,' says Gardeningetc editor Beth Murton. 'It breaks up the hard landscaping, creating a softer look that's more in keeping with the less formal approach seen in so many of the gardens at Chelsea this year.'
Other top planting picks from Chelsea Flower Show 2021
Garry Coward-Williams, editor of Amateur Gardening, spotted plenty more planting picks that are perfect for providing fabulous color, energy and vigor to any garden flowerbed ideas.
'My first stop at Chelsea before I even check out the show gardens is always the Grand Pavilion,' he says. 'This is where the finest examples of horticulture are displayed by many of the top growers and it's always a feast of color.
'This year my favorite stand was The Sun newspaper's display created by Amateur Gardening columnist Peter Seabrook. Peter always crams his stand full of new varieties with bags of color and shape and this year is no exception. On display were Senico candidans "Angel Wings", waterlily dahlia, sunpatiens "Vigorous Sweetheart", verbena "Margaret's Memory", and dianthus "Berry Blush".
'There were some great entries for RHS Plant of the Year,' Garry continues, 'and the most interesting and innovative to me is the new allium, "Lavender Bubbles". Most purple alliums flower in May and June but "Lavender Bubbles" flowers in August. Unlike most alliums it's not bulbous but rhizomatous and therefore a true longer-lasting perennial, which I think could look particularly nice in a rock garden. That’s certainly where mine would go.'
Overall, the 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show never disappoints and despite its revised September date, this year was an absolute delight,' as says Ruth Hayes, also of Amateur Gardening. 'It had a completely different atmosphere to the spring show, but was none the poorer for that.'