The Handbook
The Handbook

Chelsea Flower Show marks the beginning of London’s social scene but as with everything else, it was cancelled due to lockdown, – or rather taken online.

Taking place all of this week, the institution’s gardeners, experts and charming displays have been showcased on the Chelsea Flower Show website and its social channels, bringing us a much needed dose of colour, but also inspiring us to get out there into our own gardens, balconies or simply urging us to grow some of our own on the windowsill.

We spoke to Jo Thompson, leading landscape and garden designer and former RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist, to find out her tips on how to plan, design and plant out your own garden.

Now’s the time to get green fingered…

Colour is key

Colour is known to be uplifting, which we all need right now, so I like to include lots in a garden. The mere act of being outside and seeing the beauty of nature as a flower grows, blooms, fades and then comes back the year after, is good for us. We purposefully included lots of reds, yellows, oranges and blues in the planting for one of our projects at the Chelsea Barracks’ Mulberry Square. It definitely boosts your mood when you walk through the gardens.

Three is the magic number

When you start a plan of what you want your garden to look like, get at least three of each variety of plant to create a sense of rhythm in your garden.

Be sustainable

From a sustainability perspective, I would encourage you to make use of native species and buy your plants from small independent nurseries wherever possible.

Choose wisely

Get the right plant for the right place: a rose will prefer the sun whilst ferns like the shade, so have a think about the area you are going to plant and figure out if it’s essentially a sunny or a shady spot, and whether the ground is dry or wet or medium.

Grow your own

Growing your own herbs and vegetables is incredibly satisfying, both literally and emotionally.

Jo Thompson MSGD at Chelsea Barracks (Photo:Sam Churchill)

It’s pretty exciting to plant a seed and see it grow into something which ends up on your plate. It’s also much easier than you think – you can even do it on your windowsill if you don’t have a garden using lots of empty pots from around the house.

Boost your 5-a-day

In terms of vegetables, think about what you can’t get hold of easily in shops, for example I am currently growing lovage as I can never find it anywhere; the same goes for sorrel, which adds the most fabulous lemon flavour to sauces and soups.

Carrots, potatoes and onions are easy vegetables to start with in your garden, so try those first if you’re apprehensive about growing your own.

Plan to your needs

If you’re starting your garden design from scratch, think about who will be using the garden and how you will be using the garden (to mostly look at, to read a book in, for kids to play in etc) – this will determine whether you’ll need lots of lawn space, what sort of seating space you’ll want and how much of the space can be taken up by planting.

Create your own nature reserve

Research has shown that private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined and could offer crucial resources for wildlife, so it’s important to think about how you can create mini-nature reserves in your garden too.

Think about whether you have space for a pond or a bird table or if you have the capability to make a hole in the fence or gate for hedgehogs.

Steer clear of pesticides

You don’t have to use pesticides to get rid of pests, there are a few tricks I use to avoid needing to use chemicals in the garden like edging your beds/pots with copper tape or lining the inside edges of the beds with wool pellets (which slugs hate). You can also use a little copper mesh  ‘snail fence’ to keep them at bay.

Get geeky about gardening

If you’re serious about gardening, absorb yourself in plant catalogues, visit gardens (when we can), grow as much from seeds as your can even if it’s just on the windowsill – it’s the best way to learn.


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