On May 23, Queen Elizabeth II officially kicked off the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in London—her 51st visit during her 64-year-long reign—by walking with her family under a lush floral arch created by celebrated local florist Shane Connolly in honor of the queen’s 90th birthday. This year’s theme is “Greening Grey Britain,” the organization’s campaign to create more sustainable environments—and brighten up the country’s often monotone setting—through plantings. Embracing the idea, the queen wore a jaunty peppermint-green ensemble and her granddaughter-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge dazzled in a vibrant Kelly green coatdress.
More than 161,000 visitors are expected to take in the five-day show, set on three acres of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. This year there are 550 exhibitors, including 17 show gardens, seven fresh gardens, six artisan gardens, and 100 plant breeders. Of the 70 new plants introduced, the most notable is likely the Princess Charlotte chrysanthemum, a pink-and-green bloom named for the duchess’s daughter.
Sustainability in response to climate change is a recurring theme for the exhibits, from L’Occitane’s drought-tolerant Provençal garden of lavender and olive trees created by James Basson to the Telegraph’s 2016 Best Show Garden winner, a Jurassic-inspired commentary on the Earth’s ever-shifting environment and how we must adapt to it. Another highlight is the Best Fresh Garden winner, Martin Cook and Gary Breeze’s Antithesis of Sarcophagi Garden. The 44-ton granite cube features peepholes that reveal a secret garden inside. In Juliet Sargeant’s gold-medal-winning Modern Slavery Garden, a series of doors and fences surrounding an English oak tree represent the spot where abolitionist William Wilberforce took up his cause in 1787. Tanzanian-born Sargeant is the first black designer at Chelsea in its 103-year history.
Read on to see more of the award-winning gardens. For tickets to the show, which runs through May 28, visit the Ticket Factory .
For Nick Bailey, head gardener of Chelsea Physic Garden, mathematics is a central tenet of horticulture. He used this theme for the Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, his silver-gilt-medal-winning show garden. A winding copper band etched with plant growth algorithms weaves through Mediterranean and Southern Hemisphere plantings that display mathematical patterns. Copper-hued irises and foliage echo the metal hardscape.
For the Telegraph Garden, named the Best Show Garden of 2016, designer Andy Sturgeon was inspired by geological events that have affected the Earth’s landscape. Soaring bronze fins represent an ancient mountain range, and a river-stone pool serves as a stream running through the valley below. There are more than 80 tons of stone in the installation, which took ten months to create, and the semiarid plantings recall the scenery in the foothills of California’s Sierra Madre or Chile’s Andes.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden, a show garden designed by Rosy Hardy, pays homage to chalk streams, which are disappearing as a result of pollution and climate change; only 200 remain, mostly in England. Visitors can stroll down a walkway along a dry chalk streambed to its source.
The Papworth Trust’s Together We Can Garden in the artisan garden section features a joyful acoustic installation designed by Peter Eustance, which was inspired by deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie of Scotland. A water marimba instrument sets the beat against a backdrop of birch and hazel in a setting that represents a recording studio.
In 2013 two Australian women, Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, decided to crochet 120 poppies to install in front of the Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in honor of their fathers, who both served in World War II. Their endeavor grew into the 5000 Poppies Project, with volunteers ages two to 102 handcrafting the bright red flowers. For Chelsea more than 300,000 blooms carpet 12,500 square feet of parterres and garden beds at the Royal Hospital. “5000 Poppies has been a three year labour of love for many thousands of people,” the association states on its website, and it is a “stunning acknowledgement of the service and sacrifice of our servicemen and women, their families and their communities.”
Copper is a major trend at Chelsea this year, in hardscape installations, garden accessories and decorations, foliage (such as copper beech), and even flowers.