London is alive with flowers right now. As well as the extravaganzas of floral art that you’ll find as part of Mayfair in Bloom and Chelsea in Bloom, there is, of course, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which has its final flourish at the end of this week (24-28 May).
One of London’s most popular events, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has taken place in the grounds of Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913 – apart from the odd gaps, due to the two World Wars, and in 2020, due to the pandemic. The event also signifies the ‘official’ start of the English summer season.
This year, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is themed around wild plants and naturalistic gardens, with gardeners encouraged to showcase plants which promote wildlife, biodiversity and rewilding. Wander around and you’ll see an abundance of wild poppies, buttercups and cow parsley. Gone are the architectural structures of previous years, and in its place, gardeners have devised spaces which look loose and feel free, with plenty of native plants and trees, such as the Hawthorn and Crab Apple.
It is apt, therefore, that for the first time, The Newt in Somerset is the official headline sponsor of the show, and will be for the next four years. This working country estate in Somerset, located between the towns of Bruton and Castle Cary, celebrates the joy of the English garden. Its sumptuous gardens, woodland and orchards are an attraction in their own right.
At the heart of The Newt is an original Georgian manor house – Hadspen House – and while this offers a luxurious place for guests to rest their heads, it’s nonetheless the gardens which are the star attraction. They have been shaped over centuries by successive enthusiasts, including renowned garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse, who first opened them to the public in the mid 1980s.
South African owners of The Newt, Karen Roos and Koos Bekker, also preside over Babylonstoren in the Drakenstein Valley of South Africa, which also boasts some of the country’s most resplendent gardens. Found in the Cape Winelands, the restored Cape Dutch farm dates back to 1692 and is renowned for its magnificent eight acres of grounds bursting with pergolas, gravel pathways and water canals. The only Royal Horticultural Society partner garden in Africa, its guests can soak up the verdant displays, as well as enjoying farm-to-fork cuisine and award-winning wines.
At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, The Newt has set out to showcasing this heritage, and more, across its various attractions. There’s an interactive exhibit which works as a taster of its ‘The Story of Gardening’ attraction which opened in 2020 in Somerset. The space explores the impact of gardens on culture, from courtyards of the ancient world to the hanging gardens of today’s megacities. Visitors can also enjoy Cyder tastings, from the hotel’s cellar, and the newly-released Mourvedre Rosé 2022 from sister estate, Babylonstoren.
Throughout RHS Chelsea Flower Show there is a gentle prettiness which bursts forth within all the gardens this year. It seems as though it is the romanticism of the English rural landscape that has been the source of inspiration for many. Cementing this was the fact that the winner of the coveted Best in Show prize was Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt’s A Rewilding Britain Landscape, which used native British plants to show a naturally rewilded landscape.
Also capturing this mood, and winning a silver medal, was The Perennial Garden ‘With Love’. Its symmetry and classical lines, with eight flat-top Hawthorn trees, are softened with lupins, alliums, foxgloves and roses. Designer Richard Mier’s and charity Perennial wanted to encapsulate the pleasure that gardens can give – like a gift of love. It’s the perfect summary of the week.