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The 10 Trends That Shaped The Autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Published on September 24th 2021
by AlanGardenMaster (All rights reserved)
A close up of a flower garden
Not since the first Chelsea Flower Show in 1913 has there ever been an autumn show.
The September show is truly unique. I went along to see the spectacle, observe the differences between the summer and autumn show, and look for emerging gardening trends.
Here are some of the highlights of the autumn Chelsea Flower Show.

1. New plant varieties

Well, there were plenty of new varieties since Chelsea is the place to launch them.
New plants are submitted to an expert panel of judges and then whittled down to 20 finalists.
In my mind, there was one entry that stood head and shoulders and above the others.
The hardy Redbud tree Cercis canadensis 'Eternal Flame' is the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2021.
I had been trialling this exciting foliage and spring-flowering small tree in my garden this summer and found it a real eye-catcher!
Cercis canadensis Eternal Flame
Summer foliage of 'Eternal Flame' redbud in Alan's garden
First-time exhibitors from the tip of Cornwall brought a stunning display of succulent plants and new Aeonium and Sempervivum hybrids!
The cross between two popular plant genera has resulted in some sensational must-have succulents. Watch out for these as they become available later from Surreal Succulents.
A vase of flowers on a table
x Semponium 'Sienna'
Another new variety includes the trailing Verbena 'Margaret's Memory', a pretty pink plant suitable for summer containers or ground cover. It thrives in well-drained soil and full sun and flowers all summer long.
Launched by The Sun newspaper garden expert Peter Seabrook to commemorate his late wife, a percentage of sale proceeds will go to Alzheimer's Society.
Pink Verbena flowers in a pot
Verbena 'Margaret's Memory'

2. Timber structures

Many show gardens featured wooden focal structures, art pieces, shelters and wooden furniture.
It might seem surprising, but the stainless steel, metal, resin and plastic items were less prevalent this year.
Bamboo structures in a garden
The Best in Show 'Guangzhou Garden' with bamboo structures
This move to more natural and renewable materials occurred across many gardens.
Many were worked and expertly shaped to create an organic feel, complementing the more relaxed and naturalistic garden design style that prevails currently.
Shaped timber screen in a garden
Boodles Secret Sanctuary Garden sculptured wooden screen

3. New sustainable garden product of the year

Just like the best new plant, there is also a best new product category. This year's winning product was the plant pots made from recycled waste fishing nets and ropes - an excellent way to reuse the plastic waste that pollutes the ocean.
Plants in coloured pots with net and rope
Ocean Plastic Pots
Coming in second place was a garden chair made from 3.5 kg of ocean plastic waste. I'd happily have that on my patio!
A table topped with a blue chair
DuraOcean Chair

4. Container gardens

This new category of small show garden is long overdue and was supported by those attending.
It was clear that up-cycling was a running theme of this year's show.
In the IBC Forest Garden, not only were the containers made from recycled materials, but so was the seating.
A close up of a flower garden
IBC Forest Garden
The Hot Tin Roof Garden made good use of painted corrugated iron sheets and containers. I loved the idea of the outdoor shower in this one!
A close up of a flower garden in front of a building
Hot Tin Roof Garden
Both of these and other entries in this category created calming atmospheres. In contrast, the Pop Street Garden was a riot of colour!
A group of colorful containers with flowers
Pop Street Container Garden

Outdoor Planters

Outsunny Wooden Raised Bed 3-Tier Planter
Free delivery
Outsunny Flower Bed
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Outsunny Elevated Wooden Planter Garden Grow Box with 2 tiers, 4 Pockets
Free delivery
Outsunny 2-Piece Solid Fir Wood Plant Raised Bed Garden
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Outsunny Wooden Raised Garden Bed Planter Grow Containers Flower Vegetable Pot 80 x 80cm
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Galvanised Zinc planter (17cm)

5. Balcony gardens

During the lockdown, gardening became a popular hobby. Many who took it up found themselves working with what they had, regardless of the size of their space.
Gardening with limited space was a big theme this year. So big that it had its own category.
I especially liked the Landform balcony. Its coordinated colours and easy maintenance planting scheme was simple yet elegant.
A balcony garden
The Landform Balcony Garden
The show also highlighted the importance of feeding bees and pollinating insects too. The small and unusual tree, Heptacodium miconioides, is late-flowering, so it was featured in several gardens.

Seven son flower tree

Heptacodium miconiodes

The Arcadia Balcony was a playful design. With a painted backdrop, this garden was all about providing escapism and a place to dream.
A tree in front of a building
The Arcadia Balcony Garden

6. Houseplant studios

Out of all the new categories of show gardens this year, this was the one that was especially exciting!
Tucked away in the Ranelagh Gardens were the houseplant studios. They were packed with plants and great ideas. Although, the rough paths leading there made the studios less accessible to wheelchairs.
With the rising interest in houseplants and indoor gardening, it was extremely topical.
My favourite part of the display was the Edible Bus Stop exhibition, where the houseplants were displayed in a pharmacy-styled studio. The display aimed to depict the healing effect of plants and was very thought-provoking.
A studio office filled with houseplants
A simple work space filled with plants

7. Well being

BBC One Show and RHS Garden Of Hope, designed by Gardeners World presenter Arit Anderson, addressed well being and mental health.
Arit Anderson in a garden
Arit Anderson in her Garden of Hope
The undoubted role of immersing ourselves in gardens and nature is now much more widely recognised.
Several gardens picked up this theme, including the NHS Tribute Sanctuary Garden called Finding Our Way.
A close up of a flower garden
NHS Tribute Garden - Finding Our Way
This show garden was a favourite of mine with its sunken seating area, calming flowing water and wrap around timber structure.

8. RHS COP26 garden

Sustainable horticulture and gardening was a theme featured across many of the gardens.
But The RHS COP26 Feature Garden had this as its central theme.
Designed in response to the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this autumn, it demonstrated how plants, gardens and public green spaces have an essential role in protecting the climate.
These spaces can play an integral part in protecting biodiversity, our planet and people and ensure a greener, more resilient future for us all.
A close up of a flower garden
Beautiful seasonal planting
The role of plants in making industrial waste areas more green was a highlight of the RHS COP26 garden. As well, the plants featured were pollinator-friendly and was a visual celebration of the autumn season.
A flower garden with bee hives
Insect and bee friendly planting

9. Bio-sonification

The Houseplant Studios had many innovative ideas, but the one that grabbed my attention was bio-sonification.
A laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table
A wired up Monstera plant plays music
You are probably asking yourself, what is bio-sonification? The exhibit worked by tracking the natural vibrations emitted by the plants and was interpreted by a laptop. The vibrations translated into calming music played aloud throughout the display.
By touching the wired up plant, the music changed with each individual. The vibration and music changed, demonstrating the different reactions we have with our plants.
A man and a woman in front of a plant on a table
Touching the wired up plant changes that music vibrations

10. Indoor aquatic plants

With the craze in houseplants not dying down any time soon, watch out for the latest indoor trend: indoor aquatic plants.
Most of the time, these plants live in clean water but are removed and transferred to water containing dilute feed periodically.
Aquatic indoor houseplants in glass jars
Aquatic indoor houseplants
There's no shortage of species to try. Don't forget that you can propagate many plants in water.
A vase with plants in water