Chelsea Flower Show 2016 Preview: The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden

Reading time 9 minutes

The more I explore what’s in store at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, the more excited I get. On reflection I was disappointed by last year’s show gardens, very few having stuck in my mind a year after the event. This year will be different. Back-to-back with Sam Oven’s Cloudy Bay Garden will be Diarmuid Gavin’s British Eccentrics Garden designed for department store Harrods. Inspired by William Heath Robinson’s notoriously complicated machines, the garden will have a sunken Italianate pond, genteel terraces and topiary; as well as a wooden shed full of cogs, wheels and garden gadgetry. It may not prove to be the height of horticulture, but it will be fun, irreverent and something we haven’t seen before.

But the garden that fascinates and excites me most this year is Nick Bailey’s design for Winton Capital, one of those organisations I have never heard of, probably because I don’t have any capital. Having had horrific experiences at school I have never considered mathematics to be anything other than a subject to be avoided at all costs. Yet in this garden Nick Bailey (below) will attempt, and I believe succeed, in portraying the beauty of the mathematics using plants, sculpture and some very fine hard landscaping.

Nick Bailey, Head Gardener, Chelsea Physic Garden, February 2015

2016 will be Nick Bailey’s debut at Chelsea and I am thrilled to see an accomplished plantsman demonstrating his passion on Main Avenue. As Head Gardener at the neighbouring Chelsea Physic Garden Nick has invested enormous energy in reinvigorating a historic layout to amuse and inform a contemporary audience. He is experienced, knowledgeable, humble and engaging, a talent I expect we will soon be a lot more aware of.

Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, Nick Bailey, Chelsea 2016

The garden’s layout is based on the mathematical symbol for infinity (∞), with further well-known mathematical expressions and concepts described by the garden‘s sinuous path and planting layout; these include the division, multiplication and plus signs. The proportions of the garden and the structure of the elegant belvedere are based on the golden ratio and the closely related Fibonacci sequence. Etched glass panels on the belvedere’s upper and lower decks will illustrate the radial spirals created by plants of the Asteraceae family of flowering plants. An elegant water bowl designed alongside sculptor Giles Raynor will represent potential life, and through its shape (based on a pine cone to complement nearby Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’) shows the Fibonacci sequence in physical form. The maths is all a little beyond me, but I know something beautiful when I see it.

Flowing through the centre of the garden will be a sweeping band of etched copper symbolising germination and the growth of a seedling. Copper was chosen not only for its beauty and patina, but because nearly all plant life depends on copper and most data is transmitted via cables made of the same. The band emerges at one end of the plot, rising in height to become first a bench, then a stair banister and finally a planter that sweeps around the top of the belvedere. The belvedere is pitched 3.5m above the garden and will overflow with trailing plants.

Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, Nick Bailey, Chelsea 2016

Being a seasoned plantsman Nick has gone to town with the plant list, sweeping aside tired old Chelsea clichés. Plants of the Southern Hemisphere and Mediterranean, whose delicate leaves and wiry forms epitomise nature’s mathematical patterns, feature heavily in an extensive roster of unusual subjects. Species such as the rare Aloe polyphylla (spiral aloe), Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ and Anthemis spp. show very obvious mathematical patterns in their foliage, seed and flower forms. Corokia cotoneaster (wire netting bush) and the unusual Sarcopoterium spinosum (thorny burnet) exhibit beautiful regular geometric patterning in their zig-zag growth habits which creates the impression of pentagons, octagons or heptagons. Ceratonia siliqua features in the garden for its quirky mathematical past. Its seeds are always identical in weight, leading them to be used as a measure or weight dating back thousands of years. The word carat (in relation to gold and diamonds) is derived from the common name of Ceratonia: Carob.

Purple and violet flowered perennials will feature significantly in Nick’s design, complemented with planting in tones of Chartreuse, silver and white. Foliage will be significant too with copper, pale-blue and silver repeating through the garden.


When it comes to winning medals, it’s all in the detail. Nick has enlisted three Japanese gardeners – Eiko, Tsyako and Motoko (above) – who will form part of a team of 40, of which 15 will be planters. Nick says, “These extraordinary gardeners have the capacity to wade into complex delicate planting schemes, make an adjustment and return without leaving a trace of them ever having been there. Though the Winton garden has elements of naturalistic planting, making this work is a precise science, a science at which Japanese gardeners are masters.”

Confucius said “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”. Love the subject or loath it, Nick’s garden will ensure that next week we all glimpse the grace and symmetry of mathematics.

To watch a series of videos describing the evolution of Nick’s garden, visit the Winton Capital website.

Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, Nick Bailey, Chelsea 2016

Plant List


  • Araucaria bidwillii
  • Banksia integrifolia
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  • Pinus sylvestris “Watereri”
  • Stewartia pseudocamellia


  • Acca sellowiana
  • Banksia ericifolia
  • Banksia integrifolia
  • Ceratonia siliqua
  • Corokia cotoneaster
  • Corokia “Frosted Chocolate”
  • Dasylirion wheeleri
  • Dodonaea viscosa “Purpurea”
  • Echium webbii
  • Echium candicans
  • Eremophila “Kalbari Carpet”
  • Eucalyptus gunnii
  • Grevillea “Coastal Sunset”
  • Loropetalum chinense
  • Luma apiculata
  • Myrtus communis
  • Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina
  • Olearia scillionensis
  • Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius “Silver Jubilee”
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium
  • Poncirus trifoliata
  • Pseudopanax ferox
  • Pseudopanax crassifolius
  • Puya mirabiis
  • Rosa glauca
  • Yucca rostrata


  • Akebia quinata
  • Hedera algeriensis
  • Parthenocissus henryi
  • Solanum crispum “Glasnevin”
  • Aristolochia macrophylla


  • Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’
  • Aeonium “Zwartkop”
  • Angelica archangelica
  • Aloe polyphylla
  • Artemisia lactiflora (Guizo Group)
  • Anthemis punctata subsp. cupaniana
  • Astrantia major ‘Claret’
  • Astelia chathamica
  • Astelia ‘Red Devil’
  • Berzelia intermedia
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
  • Carex testacea
  • Echeveria ‘Duchess of Nuremberg’
  • Echeveria nodulosa
  • Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’
  • Euphorbia acanthothamnos
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Euphorbia polychroma
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Geum ‘Mai Tai’
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens
  • Iris ‘Warrior King’
  • Leucophyllum candidum
  • Libertia ‘Taupo Blaze’
  • Ligusticum scoticum
  • Lotus berthelotii
  • Lupinus ‘Masterpiece’
  • Polemonium ‘Bressingham Purple’
  • Elegia capensis
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’
  • Symphyandra wanneri
  • Campanula ‘Summertime Jazz’
  • Trifolium rubens
  • Westringia fruticosa


Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, Nick Bailey, Chelsea 2016

Categories: Chelsea flower show, Flower Shows, Flowers, Garden Design, Landscape Design, London, Perennials, Planting Design, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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24 comments On "Chelsea Flower Show 2016 Preview: The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden"

  1. Thanks for this Chelsea insight…as I’m not visiting this year it’s interesting. Good to see Diarmuid is back to inject some of his unique designs to challenge the RHS! The Fibonacci theme looks interesting, strangely I bought yet another book on the golden section only the other day. I am in the process of creating a design for a new client which lends itself to dividing the space up along these golden rules!!

    1. I am looking forward to learning a lot more about maths from this garden. I struggled right up to AS Level, when my school finally let me withdraw gracefully. I still can’t do long division now!!

      1. I got thrown out at at CSE level so my maths is quite hopeless! Hopefully the books will help!! Have a good time at Chelsea!

  2. Thank you for this… I too am looking forward to seeing this garden…..looking forward to my day there, with previous day at Chelsea Physic Garden…total emersion in plants….heaven!

  3. I can see quite a lot of our local plants, from Western Australia. Just w little error in the eremophila name, it is Kalbari carpet as it grows around the Kalbari town, about 560 km north of Perth.

  4. OMG – so many Australian plants in this…what a thoughtful and beautiful composition. I am so sad I won’t be there. Really looking forward to your report on this garden Dan.

    1. I hope it’s as good as I want it to be Helen. The plant list is vast so it could either be an exotic tapestry or a complete jumble that the RHS won’t like. But it won’t be the usual big blowsy affair around a load of box balls and Corten steel, thank heavens!

  5. Gosh, the Winton garden has excited gardening bloggers, and for good reason. It should be stunning. I look forward to seeing your (and others) photos and comments.
    It’s also very exciting to see Australian plants in the list, even an Eremophila. This large genus of Australian desert lovers are only just starting to become available to gardeners, although a few like Kalbarri Carpet has been available for some years. Many are stunning…just perfect for our drying climate in Perth and I am a huge fan of them. Sadly, many Australian gardeners shun our amazing flora.
    Best wishes to Nick for his brilliant concept.

    1. Thank you Suzanne. Nick will include a large number of annuals, too many for my post, but perhaps I’ll include them in my write up afterwards. I love to learn more about Australian plants, in preparation for the day I finally get to visit. I am glad the garden is getting everyone excited. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations. Have a super weekend.

  6. Used to go every year when younger, can’t hack it now, but it’s really interesting to read a detailed preview of this year’s Chelsea, especially for someone who has always loved plants for their interesting structures as well as for their other qualities. Keep writing, I love your posts.

    1. I agree, Chelsea can be something of an ordeal. I make it even more gruelling for myself by carrying all my camera equipment about with me. Watching on the TV offers a much better view of the gardens with added insight from the presenters. That said, I hope I can bring some of the “real life” action back to you through my posts 🙂

  7. This garden sounds amazing and I shall definitely be looking for it when I visit next week. Just can’t wait. Just love Chelsea, no matter how tiring.

  8. I don’t do crowds, but I would to see this garden. I’m not good at math, but some part of me senses the art in it and I especially love the mystery of infinity and the harmony of the Fibonacci . . . overlay it all on a garden, created by a humble, skilled gardener . . . . what more could one ask for??? Thanks for the description and the photos.

    1. Hi Jan. I will write a much more detailed review of Nick’s garden shortly. Chelsea is terribly crowded, but interestingly it felt slightly quieter than usual yesterday. I’m on my way back there now for a second helping.

      1. Look forward to your description, Dan. I guess that in England where rain is so common that it wouldn’t make any difference to pray for rain to deter the crowds . . . hope you enjoyed your return visit!

      2. Oh, it’s horrid when it rains Jan, and it doesn’t deter the crowds. They just all crowd under the cover of the Great Pavilion. Better it stays dry to spread everyone out a bit!

  9. Than ks for your intresting and knowledgeable report. Do you happen to know the name of the stunning blue spikey plants in the foreground? Would love to grow this but suspect from previous comments it may be antipodean.

  10. The most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. I’m so impressed not only of the 3rd dimension, the materials and the flowers and plants but most of all by the idee to combine mathematics with gardening.

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