Chelsea Flower Show 2016 Preview: The Cloudy Bay Garden

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In just 11 days the Chelsea Flower Show will fling open its gates to an expectant crowd of RHS members and their guests. Until now my Chelsea 2016 coverage has been rather lacking, so over the next few days I aim to put that right with a series of posts describing some of the most interesting gardens and exhibits planned for the greatest flower show on earth.

The cost of staging a show garden at Chelsea is so eye-wateringly expensive that sponsors have, until recently, tended to commission big name garden designers with numerous medals under their belts. The prestige and notoriety that an RHS gold medal bestows is what many companies seek in return for an investment of up to £500,000. Then, in 2013, along came brothers Harry Rich (then 25), and David Rich (then 22), who with their smaller Artisan Garden, ‘Un Garreg’, won a gold medal. They quickly graduated to the show’s Main Avenue, this time securing the top award for sponsors Cloudy Bay in 2015. Just pipping the handsome twosome to the post, designer Hugo Bugg (then 27) became the youngest garden designer ever to achieve a show garden gold for his water-conscious design for the Royal Bank of Canada in 2014. Hugo will be returning with another outstanding scheme for the same sponsor in 2016. This time I’m certain he’ll be hoping for Best in Show.

Designer Sam Ovens
Designer Sam Ovens


Now that young designers have proved they have the Midas touch, there are other sponsors willing to take a chance on new talent. In 26 year-old Sam Ovens, Cloudy Bay, the pioneering New Zealand winery, hope they have found their golden boy. Growing up on a working farm in Cornwall, Sam quickly developed a love for the natural world, leading him to study for a BA in Garden Design at Falmouth University. He is the perfect fit for the brand sponsor, a company that prides itself in using nature as the inspiration for wine making.

 Cloudy Bay Garden, Chelsea Flower Show 2016


Designing the Cloudy Bay Garden has been all about creating a tranquil space in which one might be transported from the maelstrom of everyday life. Conveying a sense of peace and quiet reflection, Sam’s is a tough challenge given the show is attended by over 150,000 people. And the site, known as “The Triangle”, comes with its own peculiarity in that the garden can be viewed from the majority of its perimeter. Sam has masterminded a naturalistic garden without borders, incorporating a large, reflective pool and a covered pontoon fashioned from western red cedar. Unlike other show garden plots The Triangle is completely open. Shade will be cast by specimen mountain pines arranged around the fringes of the water. Having visited the New Forest recently, the garden Sam hopes to create feels very much akin to the wild heaths and open forests of Hampshire, with a touch of Studland Bay in Dorset.

Cloudy Bay Garden, Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The plant list for The Cloudy Bay garden suggests an emphasis on UK natives and garden cultivars of familiar wild flowers. There will be a high proportion of nectar-rich heathers and native grasses creating an ideal habitat for pollinators. The inclusion of orchids, particularly Ophrys apifera (bee orchid) is an audacious move and a choice detail. The naturalistic approach is suggestive of Dan Pearson’s exceptional homage to the woodland garden at Chatsworth, which won a gold medal and Best in Show last year. The inclusion of Agapanthus africanus from the Southern Hemisphere sounds incongruous, so much so that I wondered if this might have been added in error (other species of agapanthus are considered invasive aliens in New Zealand). That said, a show garden is a show garden rather than a conservation project, and agapanthus are always crowd pleasers.

It is exciting to think that in Sam Ovens, Cloudy Bay have discovered another fine talent who will carry the torch for garden designers, encouraging others to explore the rewards of a career in horticulture or design. With a gold, or at the very least a silver-gilt medal to his name, Sam Ovens’ glittering career should be assured.

The Cloudy Bay Garden will be on show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show from 24 – 28 May 2016, occupying The Triangle plot.

Orchids, the meadow, Trevoole Farm, June 2014

Plant List

  • Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine)
  • Pinus mugo (dwarf mountain pine)
  • Agapanthus africanus (lily of the Nile)
  • Calluna vulgaris (ling)
  • Campanula rotundifolia (harebell)
  • Succisa pratensis (devil’s-bit scabious)
  • Cytisus × boskoopiiBoskoop Ruby (broom)
  • Cirsium rivulare ‘Trevor’s Blue Wonder’ (brook thistle)
  • Potentilla x tonguei (staghorn cinquefoil)
  • Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree)
  • Salvia pratensis (meadow clary)
  • Blechnum spicant (hard fern)
  • Erica cinerea (bell heather)
  • Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hair grass)
  • Dryopteris filix-mas (male fern)
  • Dactylorhiza purpurella (northern marsh orchid)
  • Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry)
  • Lonicera periclymenum (common honeysuckle)
  • Lychnis flos-cuculi (ragged robin)
  • Sesleria caerulea (blue moor-grass)
  • Geranium sanguineum ‘Glenluce’ (bloody cranesbill)
  • Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff)
  • Potentilla fruticosa ‘Primrose Beauty’ (shrubby cinquefoil)
  • Molinia caerulea (purple moor-grass)
  • Thymus polytrichus (mother of thyme)
  • Polystichum setiferum (soft shield-fern)
  • Platanthera chlorantha (greater butterfly-orchid)
  • Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’ (purple moor-grass)
  • Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Tsetseguun’ (great burnet)
  • Ophrys apifera (bee orchid)


Cloudy Bay Garden, Chelsea Flower Show 2016


Categories: Chelsea flower show, Flower Shows, Flowers, Garden Design, Landscape Design, Other People's Gardens, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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13 comments On "Chelsea Flower Show 2016 Preview: The Cloudy Bay Garden"

    1. I have not worked out whether the garden is taking up the whole of the triangle site or just one of the corners. If it’s the whole site it could be very impressive, but will inevitably draw comparisons with the Chatsworth garden, which set a very high standard in pseudo-naturalism.

  1. Being a woodland lover the Cloudy Bay design looks like a winner to me. Fingers crossed. Hope the weather is fabulous for you when you visit.

    1. I hope so too Patty. I have tickets for 2 days so I have to be lucky on one of them! A sunny day for taking photos in the pavilion and drinking Pimms, followed by an overcast day for taking photos outside would be perfect 🙂

  2. Looks so beautiful…and I can sense the peace he is trying to capture with the design. Am so disappointed that I can’t be there this year, but I will be in 2017 hopefully joining you in the Pimms tent! Looking forward to all your posts.

  3. That’s a beautiful plant list. Very ‘wild’ inspired which I think is fantastic for highlighting often understated and under appreciated native plants. Scots Pine really are architectural masterpieces also and under planting with so many moorland species really is taking a leaf out of nature. Very exciting.

  4. I rather fancy a drop of that rhubarb gin that you featured a few posts ago!! If all goes to plan I will be there for a day or so early Sept.👏👏👏👏

    1. Fab. I have to go to the Czech Republic in early Sept but hopefully we can carve out time for a rejuvenating cocktail. I have a bottle of a new pink grapefruit gin on my desk right now. SO tempting!

  5. Ohh pink grapefruit… keep you hands on the keyboard! BTW do you have your dates for China yet in October – we should try and co ord a night again if we can manage.

  6. Great… I have mine and just have to work out how much HK and how much Canton…India and at the end of a trip..goodness you will need a bucket of GT to get thru that after two weeks in China!

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