Chelsea flower show is the holy grail of horticultural excellence; where the best of the best showcase their latest cutting-edge ideas in garden chic. The Oscars of the gardening world the stakes are high. So I'm absolutely delighted to have been chosen as the designer for Hartley Botanics glasshouses, the official sponsor of the RHS, to create their trade stands at both Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows 2018.

As a garden designer, Chelsea flower show is usually on the dream wish list, that one day you’ll get to showcase something there. Though that day always feels like lightyears in the future, given that most designers work tirelessly for years to build a reputation, strong solid horticultural network and hone their craft. That and the months of planning before you even get to submit your concept for approval.

Hartley Botanic Trade Stand 2018

Back towards the end of 2017, I was asked if I’d be interested in putting together some concept designs for Hartley with GK Wilson Landscapes. I knew there would be other design landscaper teams also drawing up ideas for them. Most of my work has been private client residential designs, with the exception of the charity gardens I’ve worked on for trusts or councils. So the potential of working with such an established brand like Hartley for their award-winning trade stands is a really exciting prospect.

So I got cracking working on the brief and dusting off my horticultural library for some inspiration. By library I mean two shelves worth of ‘can’t live without’ garden books that I’ve collected over the years. During this research phase, I got inadvertently distracted for several hours reading about the Plant Hunters!

Inside the Alpine Hunter Glasshouse

Plant Explorer Theme

I’ve always been an adventurer, a thrill-seeker and someone who always wants to learn new things. Then it got me thinking about all those botanists who searched across the far corners of the globe to identify plant species. They were competitive, driven and passionate about showcasing their finds to the rest of the world. Those women and men then braved atrocious conditions to bring these specimens back to Europe with the aim of propagating and displaying them. Usually in Victorian glasshouses or Wardian cases. Then the seed had been sown and I started off on my own adventure trawling books and resources to find out more about the plant explorers.

Why not theme the stand showing these ‘Plant Hunters’ journeys and link their monumental finds to the awesome glasshouses build by Hartley, then you have not only a beautiful trade stand but a real talking point too? No more just ‘stand there look pretty’, but a concept that forces people to interact and go on their own adventure!

Planting time at Chelsea

Woodland External Planting Scheme

To marry up with the dynamic plant explorer theme I wanted to create a softer exterior, as not to distract from both the beautiful glasshouses and striking displays. Thinking of that phrase ‘are we out of the woods yet?’ I based my theme on a light woodland planting display. By using mixed heights and soft yellows, oranges and a variety of woodland planting the external display will give broken views through to the glasshouses.

My woodland planting scheme will be full of texture and calm before the drama of the plant houses emerges! I really want the woodland area to feel authentic, true to nature. So I’ve chosen some unsung heroes of woodland canopy planting and cultivars probably not widely used in show gardens. These beauties will thrive in our UK conditions and would be ideal plant ideas to take home with you.

The Glasshouse Themes

I’ve designed the stand to display four of Hartleys wonderful aluminium frame glasshouses, each with their own ‘Plant Explorer’ theme.

The Orchid House (Opus)

Follows the stories of the ‘Orchid Hunters’ of the early 1900s. Often meeting with gruesome ends or even disappearing completely without a trace during their quests around the Philippines, Papa New Guinea and Columbia. The specimens in the Opus glasshouse pay homage to the race to collect these beautiful exotic plants.

The Orchid House full of rare specimens

The Fernery (Victorian Lodge)

Showcases the Victorian obsession with ferns. As ‘fern fever’ gripped the nation famous exotic plant hunter George Loddiges’ created the largest arboretum ‘hothouse’ in Hackney. The Victorian Glasshouse displays a selection of ferns in an ode to the craze that swept the nation and even endangered certain native species with extinction!

The Edible House (Grow & Store)

Takes inspiration from Gregor Mendel the friar and scientist who discovered the laws of hereditary genetics. Using the humble pea plant Gregor undertook experiments during the mid-1800s to discover how dominant and recessive genes affect the breeding characteristics of future offspring. He was considered highly controversial at the time and is now referred to as the father of genetics! This glasshouse showcases the British love of growing your own and how the humble pea enabled such a huge scientific breakthrough. What may you discover?

The Alpine House (Hartley Planthouse)

Displays the finds of hunters such as Meriwether Lewis who discovered the popular alpine species Lewisia. Delicate looking treasures fill the glasshouse, don’t be fooled though, alpines are notoriously hardy despite their small stature. No wonder they are such a popular UK garden plant.

Hartley Botanics 2018 Chelsea Award

I was absolutely delighted to have been awarded  5 stars for the stand after judging. What came as an even bigger surprise was being awarded the Director General Trade Stand Award. Meaning that the RHS themselves chose our stand as their overall winner out of all the trade stands.

Garden Ninja Lee wins Chelsea best in show

Behind the scenes at Chelsea Flower Show

Plant List

Victorian Lodge Fernery including:

  • Agapanthus africanus
  • Asplenium scalopendrium
  • Clivia miniata
  • Dryopteris affinis
  • Dryopteris erythrosora
  • Musa basjoo
  • Polystichum setiferum
  • Rheum palmatum tanguticum

Planthouse 8 Alpine House including:

  • Aspidistra elatior
  • Armeria maritima ‘Splendens’
  • Campanula carpatha
  • Erigeron karvinskianus
  • Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’
  • Primula aricula
  • Saxifraga (Mixed Varieties)
  • Sedum purpureum (Mixed)
  • Sempervivens (mixed varieties)

Opus Orchid House Including:

  • Airplants (multiple varieties & species)
  • Cambria cascade
  • Dendrobium (mixed varieties)
  • Epidendrum (mixed varieties)
  • Miltonia (mixed varieties)
  • Phalenopsis (mixed varieties)

Grow & Store Edibles Glasshouse including:

  • Capsicum annuum (Multiple varieties in season)
  • Mentha
  • Nasturtum
  • Pisum sativum
  • Solanum lycopersicum (Multiple varieties in season)

External Planting to include:

  • Achillea taygetea
  • Actea ‘Hillside Beauty’
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Anthriscus sylvestris
  • Astrantia major
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Geranium geranium macrorrhizum
  • Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’
  • Geum ‘Mai Tai’
  • Geum ‘Flames of Passion’
  • Hedera
  • Lamium galeobdolon
  • Polystichum setiferum
  • Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’
  • Waldsteinia ternata

Trees & Shrubs to include

  • Betula utilis
  • Carpinus betulus
  • Cornus alba elegantissima
  • Corylus maxima purpurea
  • Euonymous alatus compactus


The Hartley trade stands this year at both Chelsea and Hampton court flower show should be a real talking point, not only about the intrepid explorers that brought us so many plant gems but about how understanding the history of our plants can make us better gardeners. That using glasshouses, such as Hartley’s beautiful structures, you can bring a taste of the exotic or rarer finds into your own garden.

Whether you’re growing peas with a new found appreciation of genetics or a paradisaical display of rare orchids the Hartley stand this year should ignite your horticultural fires!

If you’re a fan of Chelsea Flower Show then not TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your pictures? You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide and design vlogs.

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