Take inspiration from the Feel Good Gardens at the 2017 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Published 25th May 2017 by Michelle

The 2017 RHS Chelsea Flower show is here, and this year a new category of show gardens provides a whole host of ideas for transforming your outside space (no matter how small) into a haven of tranquility and wellbeing.

The Feel Good Gardens, sponsored by BBC Radio 2, are designed to encourage use of the five senses, focusing on the themes of taste, scent, colour, texture and listening.

So here are my favourite plants for each of the five senses, all of which can be planted in pots to bring new sensory dimensions to your urban garden.

Jo Wiley Scent Garden by Tamara Bridge

Scent

The Jo Wiley Scent Garden, designed by Tamara Bridge, features aromas that transport you to a time or place such as woodland walks, rain on warm paving, fresh earth and new leaf growth, or freshly cut flowers from the garden.

My favourite plant for scent is chamomile – I can never walk past a chamomile plant without running my hands through it’s leaves to release its beautiful apple-like scent. German chamomile, most commonly used for chamomile tea, can easily be grown in a container, and it’s trailing nature makes it a good choice for wall planters or window boxes. It is best suited to a sunny spot. You can buy adult plants ready to transplant straight into your chosen container from around May to July, or you can try growing chamomile from seed by sowing seeds in April. Make sure you keep chamomile sufficiently watered, especially in hot weather. Flowers will be available to harvest from June to October. German Chamomile is an annual plant so it will die off in winter and seeds will need to be re-sown or a new plant bought the following year.

German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

Texture

The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, designed by Matt Keightley, is an immersive, tactile garden that features bold, geometric forms, such as architectural ferns, juxtaposed with a soft and elegant planting palette featuring velvety mosses and feathery grasses.

I love grasses, because they bring so much texture to urban gardens. They can really soften industrial landscapes – take the Molinia below, which was photographed at the Barbican Centre – a great example of brutalist archictecture softened by grasses, flowers and water features. For more on the gardens at the Barbican Centre see my post on 5 of London’s best urban gardens.

Grasses are also very easy to look after, many varieties are happy in pots, and they have a very long growing season so they give good value! My favourite grass is Bunny’s Tail Grass (Lagurus Ovatus), which is aptly named because it look’s like mini bunny tails (aw!). It’s an annual so you’ll need to sow seeds or plant it every year, but it lasts from June through till October so it’s well worth the effort.

Jeremy Vine Texture Garden by Matt Keightley

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

Lagurus ovatus (Bunny's tail grass)

Lagurus ovatus (Bunny's tail grass)

Taste

The Chris Evans Taste Garden, designed by Jon Wheatley, features plants that excite and stimulate your palate and enhance your lifestyle and health and well-being.

Out of all the many wonderful fruits and vegetables you can grow in pots (including in indoor gardens), my favourite to grow are strawberries. The plants are cheap to buy, can be grown in hanging baskets, wall planters, window boxes or plain old plant pots. Each plant will produce strawberries for about three years. Plant them in a sunny spot, give them some fertiliser and keep them well watered. Fruit should be ready to harvest in June/July – just make sure to pick it quick before the birds do. If you find the birds are getting them too quick, protect the plants with some garden netting. After fruiting has finished, cut back the old leaves. The following spring, give the plants some fertiliser to ensure a good crop. Mmm juicy strawberries!

Chris Evans Taste Garden by Jon Wheatley

Strawberry plant

Sound

You can add sound to your urban garden through water features, wind chimes and plants which rustle in the wind. The Zoe Ball Listening Garden features planting arranged in waves, and water in steel tanks which dances as underwater speakers beat out a set of tunes. Music from the past 50 years of Radio 2 plays beneath the ground and visitors can experience this as physical sensation – they are invited to stand on the gravel in the garden and can literally feel the earth move beneath their feet.

The simplest way to bring sound into your urban garden is to plant some plants which rustle. A good example of a rustling plant is bamboo; its stems also knock together to make a hollow sound. The black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) pictured below is a very striking specimen, and can double up as a screen to make your urban garden more private, or to hide ugly fences or balcony railings.

Zoe Ball Listening Garden by James Alexander-Sinclair

Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo)

Colour

Colour is probably the easiest of the senses to satisfy in an urban garden. Thousands of shades of all colours of the rainbow can be planted in millions of dazzling combinations. Every square inch of the Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden, designed by Sarah Raven, is designed to produce as many flowers as possible, in zingy, gorgeous colour combinations.

I covered bright and bold colours in last weeks blog post so check that out for more ideas. One colour combination I love, and which is featured in the Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden, is the combination of purple alliums and acid green euphorbias. They really zing together and both come back year on year to create a stunning display.

Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden by Sarah Raven

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'

Euphorbia cyparissias

Thank you very much to my friend Ed Houghton who took the wonderful photos of the Chelsea gardens featured in this post – I really really appreciate it Ed!

I hope you all feel inspired to bring texture, colour, scent, taste and sound into your urban garden, and I hope you get a chance to get outside and enjoy the fantastic weather we’ve been having.

Until next time,

Michelle x