Chelsea Flower Show 2016: The Royal Bank of Canada Garden

Reading time 9 minutes


Before I wind up my coverage of the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show there are two posts I feel compelled to write. The first is a follow-up to my preview post describing the Royal Bank of Canada Garden designed by Hugo Bugg. The second will be a compilation of delicious delights from the Great Pavilion, including lashings of irises, alpines and hepaticas.

Despite the slightly gloomy design renderings, I was pretty confident that Hugo Bugg would claim a second Chelsea gold for his Royal Bank of Canada Garden, inspired by the plants and landscapes of Jordan. Sadly it wasn’t to be. Instead this interesting, conceptual garden, like its neighbours heavy on symbolic stonework, landed a commendable, but doubtless disappointing, silver gilt medal. Had this been the same award as Andy Sturgeon’s Telegraph Garden I might have kidded myself that I understood the RHS judges decision-making, but it was not: Andy claimed both gold and Best Show Garden. Given a choice between theses two similar but different gardens, I think I’d have chosen Hugo’s. Why? Because for me the concept was clearer, the execution stronger and the planting more artful.


Incidental, ephemeral planting at the end of the garden
Casual, ephemeral planting at the end of the garden


Instead of the anticipated gloom, Hugo’s naturalistic scheme cast a sunlit Mediterranean spell over its gently sunken plot. Elements I was afraid might be oppressive – the huge Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) and black basalt “mounds” – were warmer and brighter than I’d expected. On top of that a lively palette of ephemeral looking plants, including intense blue Lupinus pilosus (surely destined to become a star plant at future Chelsea Flower Shows?), shocking yellow Asphodeline lutea and pillar-box red corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) gave the composition an energy boost. A sparing use of primary colours against a monochrome background put me in mind of Mondrian’s abstract artwork.


Bold, blue, Lupinus pilosus, grown from seed collected by the designer himself
Bold, blue, Lupinus pilosus, grown from seed collected by the designer himself


Continuing to highlight the Royal Bank of Canada’s committment to protecting the world’s natural sources of water, Hugo’s design aimed to demonstrate how a beautiful garden could exist in an area of minimal rainfall. The geometry that guided the scheme radiated from the core of an icosahedron, the polyhedron with twenty equal triangular faces identified by Plato as the symbol of water. At this point the garden’s mythology started to veer towards its neighbour, the superb Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey, although it ultimately developed its mathematical themes more subtly.


The garden's strong geometry was always evident
The garden’s strong geometry was evident from every angle


The only perfect triangle in the garden was held within the heart of a central, basalt rock feature, representing the sanctity of water. A gentle, almost imperceptible current kept the water’s surface moving, although not free from the dreaded fluff shed in abundance by surrounding plane trees. It amused me to watch a rather earnest looking assistant using what looked like his girlfriend’s stockings to clear the mirror-like surface of unsightly flotsam. It was a thankless and ultimately futile task.


The pivotal water feature, based on the shape of an icosahedron
The pivotal water feature, based on an icosahedron


Following the BBC coverage of Hugo’s garden, every visitor wanted to get a feel of the goat hair material that had been woven to order by women of Jordan’s Bedouin tribes. It was rich, dark and coarse, forming a strong belt around the perimeter and covering a series of faceted, fluff-catching shapes along the garden’s boundary.


An evening view of the garden
An evening view of the garden


Hugo Bugg went to great lengths to guarantee the authenticity of his planting, taking time out to visit Jordan to collect seed from the dry, limestone Dibeen landscape in the north-west of the country. For those, like me, who thrive on the discovery of new plants there were rare treasures on show including Tabor’s delphinium (Delphinium ithaburense), Jordan thistle (Onopordum jordanicolum) and inky-black Iris nigricans, the national flower of Jordan.


Anchusa azurea and Asphodeline lutea
Anchusa azurea and Asphodeline lutea


Now that the show is over the Royal Bank of Canada Garden will move to a permanent home in the grounds of a not-for-profit hotel and conference centre in Guernsey, where it will be open to the public. It will form part of a new floral trail through the Island’s capital, St Peter Port. Given the absurd cost of staging a Chelsea show garden the relocation of all or part of a scheme has become fashionable and increasingly expected. It will be interesting to see how this Middle-Eastern extravaganza translates to the middle of the English Channel.


The designer shows guests around his garden whilst more fluff is removed from the water feature
The designer shows guests around his garden whilst more fluff is removed from the water feature


Strongly designed and sensitively planted this was a handsome, modern garden, perhaps better suited to a public space than to a private garden. Hugo Bugg is slowly but surely cementing his position as one of the UK’s most exciting, forward-thinking garden design talents and will surely be back at Chelsea again soon.


The garden from Main Avenue
The garden from Main Avenue




  • Pinus halepensis


  • Arbutus x andrachnoides
  • Artemisia abrotanum
  • Artemisia alba ‘Canescens’
  • Cistus creticus
  • Myrtus communis
  • Phlomis fruticosa
  • Pistacia lentiscus
  • Rosa canina
  • Sarcopoterium spinosum
  • Tamarix
  • Teucrium flavum
  • Teucrium x lucidrys


Papaver rhoeas
Papaver rhoeas


  • Acanthus spinosus
  • Melica persica
  • Adonis annua
  • Moluccella laevis
  • Ajuga genevensis
  • Nepeta curviflora
  • Anchusa azurea
  • Nepeta italica
  • Artemisia sieberi
  • Onopordum jordanicolum
  • Asphodeline lutea
  • Origanum syriacum
  • Cerinthe palaestina
  • Papaver rhoeas
  • Crambe hispanica
  • Phlomis cashmeriana
  • Delphinium ithaburense
  • Ranunculus asiaticus
  • Echium angustifolium
  • Salvia judaica
  • Echium glomeratum
  • Salvia napifolia
  • Eryngium maritimum
  • Scabiosa prolifera
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Silene aegyptiaca
  • Ferula communis
  • Silene vulgaris
  • Fibigia clypeata
  • Stipa tenuissima
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Teucrium chamaedrys
  • Geranium tuberosum
  • Teucrium creticum
  • Hordeum vulgare
  • Trifolium annua
  • Iris nigricans
  • Umbilicus rupestris
  • Knautia integrifolia
  • Urginea maritima
  • Lupinus pilosus
  • Verbascum sinuatum


Anchusa azurea
Anchusa azurea and Hordeum vulgare (barley)


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

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

Leave a Reply

9 comments On "Chelsea Flower Show 2016: The Royal Bank of Canada Garden"

  1. This garden would suit very nicely in our environment, wet in winter, hot dry in summer (the dormant period for plants in Western Australia) but oh so colourful in late winter.
    Dan thank you ever so much for sharing your experiences, so beautifully written. A bit too far to make a trip but with your reports it was as if one was there.

    1. I’m glad. I just realised last night that it’s only a month until Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and that I ought to start swatting up on that one soon! Have a fantastic weekend (what’s left of it!).

  2. Would have to say not a favourite, although no doubt very different when seen first hand and very much agree that it would be more suited to a public rather than a private space. So interesting to see these gravel, rock, natural gardens appearing now as compared to the more formal designs of past years or am I over stating it?
    I did go to Chelsea many moons ago but unfortunately wasn’t wise enough to appreciate it and can now only remember being very squashed and exhausted.
    As Barbara says, many thanks for all your wonderful posts Dan. They really are so detailed and informative. Will be sending the BBC a note to say requesting they sign you up for broadcasting next year!
    Very much looking forward to the Great Pavilion. Have a lovely weekend all.

    1. Thanks Anne, and you too. Chelsea is still very squashed and exhausting, especially on the public days. I think the armchair is probably the best viewing platform of all, although the gardens look much bigger on TV. You are quite right about the preponderance of gravel, stone and naturalisitic planting. It is very much a trend, but also I haven’t covered some of the more conventional gardens so fully. Those I didn’t manage to squeeze into the last fortnight I plan to take a closer at through the rest of the summer.

  3. Planting absolutely glorious and I admire his dedication to understanding the natural plant communities of Jordan – hard landscaping perhaps too hard to live with, but again evocative (I imagine) of the real landscape.

  4. Oh, I enjoyed this one! I especially liked the use of the symbolism of water contrasted with such a xeric planting scheme. And the poppies are swoon-worthy… so beautiful!

      1. I was thinking the same thing. The timing aspect must have been an absolute nail biter… My hat is off to them for a job well done.

Follow The Frustrated Gardener and have new posts sent directly to your inbox

Join 8,219 other subscribers

Wordpress users click to subscribe here

Follow The Frustrated Gardener