Chelsea Flower Show 2017: Best in Show – The M&G Garden



Well slap my thigh and call me Mildred, James Basson won gold and landed this year’s Best in Show for his monumental Maltese quarry garden. Gold was, as I predicted, inevitable, and Best in Show a strong likelihood given the brazen ambition of this project. When James Basson commits to an idea, he sees it through with absolute conviction and brilliant clarity. This was quite some idea. 2017 will be M&G Investments’ final year as sponsor of the Chelsea Flower Show and the wealth management company must be elated at winning the RHS’s top prize. However, the awards did not come without some controversy. If one listened very carefully, one could hear whispered comments passing between the county ladies and country gents as they struggled to get to grips with the austere design and ‘weedy’ planting. I had to agree. I won’t repeat what Helen of Oz had to say … these colonials tell it like it is, but suffice to say that although the garden was impressive and brilliantly executed it was, like a child genius, rather hard to love. I wanted to like it, but I could not even begin to.


Taking inspiration from the unique Mediterranean landscape of Malta, the design for the M&G Garden evokes an abandoned quarry which nature has begun to reclaim. Each space reflects how that process might take place, with certain plants colonising the drought stricken summits whilst others seek cool shade between the stones. We first saw the garden at about 8.30 this morning when the sun was still hiding behind the clouds. Then it had all the charm of The Barbican Centre on a wet November afternoon, but when the sun shone the garden was warmer, more inviting and certainly closer to the image of a Maltese quarry I’d conjured in my mind.



James Basson’s planting is so exactingly naturalistic one could fully believe the plants had established themselves there, but they appear so frail and ephemeral that they look as if they might shrivel away within days. That’s possibly the point I am missing. This garden is saved by a trio of imposing limestone pillars (which look like the lift shafts of an emerging skyscraper) and a giant’s causeway of cut and finished blocks. And therein we have it: even the most accomplished of ‘wild’ gardens needs structure to make it great.



The planting in the M&G Garden is unquestionably Mediterranean but you may not recognise some of the plants. Several were transported direct from Malta by special agreement of the Maltese authorities. These include Euphorbia melitense, Darniella melitense, Limonium melitense and Mattiola incana subsp. Melitense. You have probably deduced by now that the Latin name for a species indigenous to Malta is melitense!



If I may be so bold as to make another prediction, and I do not do so unkindly, The M&G Garden will not win The People’s Choice Award. The garden is clever, yes; ambitious, certainly; trend-setting, maybe. But a crowd pleaser? I’m afraid not.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this polarising garden. In the meantime, here’s the full list of medal winners, followed by a plant list for the M&G garden.


Show gardens


  • The M&G Garden by James Basson (also Best in Show)
  • Darwin Property Investment Management: Breaking Ground by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam
  •  Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Charlotte Harris
  • The Linklaters Garden for Maggie’s by Darren Hawkes


  • Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins
  • The Morgan Stanley Garden by Chris Beardshaw


  • 500 Years of Covent Garden: The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden in partnership with Capco by Lee Bestall
  •  The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden by Tracy Foster



  • Walker’s Wharf by Graham Bodle (Best Artisan Garden)
  • Gosho No Niwa : No Wall, No War by Kazuyuki Ishihara
  •  The IBTC Lowestoft: Broadland Boatbuilder’s Garden by Gary Breeze
  • The Seedlip Garden by Dr Catherine MacDonald
  • The Viking Cruises Garden of Inspiration by Sarah Eberle
  •  The World Horse Welfare Garden by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith


  • Team Saga: Hagakure – Hidden Leaves by Shuko Noda


  • The CWGC Centenary Garden by David Domoney
  • The Poetry Lover’s Garden by Fiona Cadwallader



  • City Living by Kate Gould (Best Fresh Garden)
  • Mind Trap sponsored by idverde, designed by Ian Price


  • Breast Cancer Now Garden: Through the Microscope by Ruth Willmott
  • Inland Homes: Beneath a Mexican Sky by Manoj Malde


  • The Bermuda Triangle by Jack Dunckley


Plant List


  • Adiantum capillaris-veneris
  • Asplenium marinum
  • Asplenium trichomanes
  • Briza maxima
  • Carex extensa (Long bracted sedge)
  • Carex remonta
  • Poa annua
  • Polypodium vulgare
  • Polypogon maritimus


  • Anagyris foetida (Stinking bean trefoil)
  • Asphodelus fistulosus
  • Atractylis gummifera
  • Avena barbata
  • Brassica rapa
  • Bromus fasciculatus
  • Calamitha nepta
  • Calendula arvensis
  • Coris monspeliensis
  • Echium vulgare
  • Euphorbia melitensis (Maltese spurge)
  • Globularia alypum
  • Hysocyamus albus
  • Plantago coronopus
  • Silene coeli-rosa (blue)
  • Sinapsis alba
  • Sisymbrium irio
  • Smyrnium oleastrum
  • Trifolium angustifolium
  • Verbascum sinuatum
  • Vicia tenuissima


Steppe Cliff

  • Erodium moschatum
  • Glaucium flavum (Yellow poppy)
  • Helichrysum italicum serrotinum
  • Helichrysum orientale
  • Limbarda crithmoides (Golden samphire)
  • Matthiola longipetala
  • Suaeda vera (Shrubby sea blite)

Steppe Garrigue

  • Bituminaria bituminosa
  • Carlina involucrata
  • Carthamus lanatus
  • Centaurea argentea
  • Centranthus ruber
  • Cheirolophus crassifolius (Maltese rock centaury)
  • Cynara cardunculus
  • Dittrichia viscosa
  • Eruca sativa
  • Lactuca saligna

Steppe Garrigue Cliff

  • Andropogon distachyos
  • Artemisia abrotanum
  • Carlina corymbosa
  • Euphorbia spinosa
  • Ferula communis
  • Festuca gautieri
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Fumana thymifolia
  • Hippocrepis multisiliquosa
  • Hirschfielda incana
  • Hordeum leporinum
  • Hordeum marinum
  • Hyoseris frutescens (Gozo hyoseris)
  • Hyoseris radiata
  • Hypericum aegypticum (Egyptian St John’s wort)
  • Hypochaeris radicata
  • Inula crithmoides
  • Lagurus ovatus
  • Leontodon tuberosus
  • Lepidium graminifolium
  • Linum usitatissimum
  • Lobularia maritima
  • Lotus tetragonolobus
  • Matthiola incana
  • Matthiola incana ssp melitensis (Maltese stock)
  • Melica minuta
  • Micromeria microphylla
  • Morea sisyrinchium
  • Nigella damascena
  • Ononis speciosa
  • Ornithogalum narbonense
  • Pallenis spinosa
  • Papaver dubium ssp. lecoqii var. albiflorum
  • Phagnalon rupestre
  • Phalaris paradoxa
  • Phleum bertolonii
  • Plantago afra
  • Plantago maritima (Plantain maritima)
  • Polygonum scoparium
  • Potentilla recta
  • Raphanus raphanistrum
  • Reichardia picroides
  • Reseda alba
  • Reseda lutea
  • Rhagadiolus stellatus
  • Ridolfia segetum
  • Ruta chalepensis (Fringed rue)
  • Sanguisorba minor
  • Sarcopoterium spinosum
  • Scabiosa maritima
  • Scorpiurus muricatus
  • Sedum album
  • Sedum sexangulare
  • Sherardia arvensis
  • Silene colorata
  • Silene fruticosa (Shrubby campion)
  • Silene italica
  • Silene vulgaris
  • Stachys ocymastrum
  • Stipa capensis
  • Thymus capitatus
  • Urospermum picroides
  • Vaccaria hispanica

Steppe Garrigue Evergreen Woodland

  • Conyza bonariensis
  • Cynara cardunculus
  • Daucus gingidium
  • Dorycnium pentaphyllum
  • Euphorbia ceratocarpa
  • Euphorbia dendroides
  • Gladiolus italicus
  • Hyparrhenia hirta
  • Isatis tinctoria
  • Marrubium vulgare

Steppe Garrigue Evergreen Woodland Cliff

  • Ampelodesmos mauritanicus
  • Antirrhinum tortuosum
  • Artemisia arborescens
  • Asphodelus microcarpus
  • Medicago arborea (Shrubby medick)
  • Piptatherum miliaceum
  • Pistacia lentiscus
  • Teucrium flavum (Yellow germander)
  • Teucrium fruiticans


  • Atriplex halimus
  • Bupleurum fruticosum
  • Cynoglossum creticum
  • Darniella melitensis (Maltese salt tree)
  • Galium mollugo
  • Galium verum
  • Tetraclinis articulata (Sandarac)
  • Tetragonolobus purpureus
  • Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste tree)

Evergreen Woodland Garrigue

  • Olea europaea
  • Paliurus spina-christi
  • Phillyrea latifolia
  • Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine)
  • Punica granatum
  • Siliqua ceratonia


  • Armeria maritima ‘Alba’
  • Capparis spinosa
  • Cremnophyton lanfrancoi (Maltese cliff orache)
  • Crithmum maritimum
  • Limonium melitensis (Maltese sea lavender)
  • Limonium pruinosum


  • Arundo donax
  • Iris pseudacorus
  • Juncus effusus
  • Mentha aquatica
  • Phragmites australis
  • Sparganuim erectum
  • Typha