Young Designers at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: Coastal Garden

Coastal Retreat

The Royal Horticultural Society is working hard to encourage young talent into the gardening profession and it’s great to see their efforts paying off. The gardens that caught my eye at this year’s RHS Tatton Park Flower Show were created by designers under the age of 28, competing in two newly launched categories that extend the RHS’s influential Young Designer Competition. 

Three finalists for the title of Young Landscape Contractor had been paired with Young Planting Designer finalists to create show gardens based on the same design brief, drawn up by last year’s winning Young Designer, Tamara Bridge.

The designers took full advantage of their moments in the spotlight. All three gardens received RHS gold medals – no mean feat, as many highly experienced designers can testify.

I wish I’d read up on the rules beforehand as it would have been fun to compare the gardens from the same camera angle to highlight their interpretations. The planting and accessories had so much influence that I hadn’t realised the teams were using exactly the same hard materials. It’s hard to believe even now, looking back, although the slender wall-hung waterfall and the light coloured flagging were impossible to miss.

Water Feature

The garden I spent most time admiring (and the one pictured here), Coastal Retreat, was built by Ewan Sewell who won Young Landscape Contractor and Best Construction award for his efforts. But it was his partner Lydia Knight’s planting that drew me back for a second and third look.

Show gardens can sometimes feel ordered and manicured when the ‘every leaf and petal in its place’ syndrome kicks in: a natural response to the drive to make sure everything is just so by the time the judges materialise, holding their clip boards and allocating scores.

Beneath the scales and measures of perfection, a show garden needs spirit – something that makes you feel finding it in a show is just a quirk of fate: that this living, changing garden would be much happier as a home for people, birds, insects and worms.

Coastal Retreat Garden

I loved Lydia’s sensitive use of colour and her confidence in selecting the shrub with twiggy, lichen covered branches; I loved the warmth of the gold and terracotta achillea that gleamed against the cool, rich purples and silvers. Though this was a new garden, the planting had a feeling of movement – not windswept exactly, but with hints of wildness and toughness to complicate the tameness of a pedigree show garden.

Impressionistic planting

Perhaps that’s what set me off. I found myself imagining the colours and forms that would appear over the next few weeks as the many buds opened; then how the Coastal Garden would look in a year or two. I seemed to watch the thyme spread into the pebbles and cracks, the stems becoming woody at the base, the leaves releasing aromatic oils each time they were roughed up or scuffed by the feet of passers by.

Garden Path

My imagination raised questions too. Would the achillea grow taller or does this cultivar remain compact? How would the strip of green wall work out – would it stay lush or start to peter out as so many I’ve seen? The eucalyptus would gradually make its presence felt as it matured, but every ‘real’ garden is a work in progress: always in flux as the gardener tends, preens, amends, admires and eradicates.

I spotted some dreaded alchemilla mollis I’d soon be waging war against. Though I know this classic cottage garden plant has many fans – the foliage is one of the very best water droplet carriers – those tiny green flowers scatter seeds all around. In consequence, I’ve already spent too much of my life on hands and knees teasing it out of cracks, so now I don’t even want to do it in my imagination! Luckily the gorgeous, artfully applied layer of pebble mulch should help suppress weeds and wanderers as well as conserving water.

I’m not an expert on coastal gardens so have no idea whether those dark violet-blue orbs of agapanthus would be back in the second or third year – or how long they’d survive a good rocking from the kind of winds that have set my hair whirling during recent visits to the English seaside. And I seemed to feel the torment in the soul of any flower arranger lucky enough to grow them: whether to snip a few blooms off and make something wonderful with them or leave them in place to fade on those stately stems. I know what my father would have said!

Blue Agapanthus in the Coastal Garden

The Tatton Park Flower Show has built up a reputation for offering practical inspiration for everyday gardeners. Many English homes have almost-identical garden plots, joined side by side with those of their neighbours, separated only by a low wall, shrubs or a fence. We can hardly help noticing how our plant choices, finishing touches and a few well chosen accessories can transform an identikit space into our personal haven (or hard standing for our wheelie bins and cars, as the RHS often laments). It’s good to see these talented young gardeners showing us how it’s done in the show grounds.

If you’re intrigued to see more of the three gardens, you’ll find them here on the RHS website.

I’m linking to Jude’s August challenge. This month she’s inviting us to share photos from a flower show or a garden open for charity.

19 Replies to “Young Designers at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: Coastal Garden”

  1. So beautiful. These spaces really do seem complete though newly created. Hope to see them again to see how they do mature. Thank you. 🐞

    1. I always wonder what happens to these gardens after the show is over. Now and again I happen upon one that’s found a permanent home in a garden on my travels. I’m sure many are just dismantled after the week is up.

  2. Oh, thank you for linking to me Susan. I have enjoyed reading every word of this, especially relevant now I have a coastal garden of my own to contend with (well it’s not exactly ON the coast, but near enough to feel those winds!). My single agapanthus seems to cope well with the wind so maybe I shall indulge in some more. It does seem that most gardens these days depend so much on the hard landscaping as much as any planting, in fact sometimes the planting seems secondary. I shall be making notes on what is growing in this garden 🙂

  3. Thanks for this walk around, it is great to see so many young garden designers. I love looking around shows like this, there is so much inspiration on offer. Regarding the Agapanthus, we are just 15 minutes from the coast in SW France, our agapanthus in the garden thrive, they cope with our lack of water in the summer months and also with the dry salt air. We also had them in our house right by the sea in Alderney in the Channel Islands and whilst every other plant suffered, they were just about the only ones that did really well, along with asparagus!

    1. That’s good to know. They do seem strong, sturdy plants. I tried to grow some from seed once but they were on clay and they didn’t get to flowering size.

    1. I always think any soft furnishings in a spot open to the British sky are slightly rash: our weather isn’t obliging enough. But I love to see them in the US. I also like the open air showers I’ve seen in people’s gardens which have living vines for shower curtains.

  4. Susan, what a beautiful garden to choose, thank you. I also love how the colours are displayed against the grey/blue wall. I have my own little patch of coastal garden to do something with so have also noted the planting combinations. Thank you for a lovely piece. Simone

    1. I tried to find a plant list online, but drew a blank. It would be great if one was available for every show garden – they wouldn’t need to list everything, just the main plants.

      1. I agree. I’ve had a look, same outcome. Have resorted to my scrolling through the photos and making lists!!

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