Chelsea Flower Show 2022: Favorite Sanctuary Garden #1

I had to stop and pinch myself more than once. I was actually here – at the one and only Chelsea Flower Show, with a coveted Press Pass no less, enabling me to photograph all the gardens with fewer crowds (although dodging the BBC cameras mounted on enormous booms was a challenge at times!)

I also had the chance to visit again on members day with my daughter Katie. Very special!

Although I did have some magazine commissions to fulfill, for the most part I was free to photograph whatever caught my eye and let the stories unfold. It was quickly obvious that I am a designer at heart. Yes, the floral displays inside the marquee were amazing – but it was the gardens that captivated me as I analyzed the use of line and form, texture and rhythm, materials, color, and plant palettes. It was so refreshing to see something different from "Pacific Northwest", yet there were so many ideas that could easily translate here – and elsewhere in the world.

I know the obvious thing to do would be to start by telling you about the large show gardens – and I may in a future post, but it was actually the smaller Sanctuary Gardens that truly spoke to me. There were three in particular that really stood out so I thought I'd share my photographs and thoughts on these designs over the next few weeks as it would be an injustice to the designers to try and encapsulate all they offered in just a paragraph or two.

The Space Within Garden

Designed by Michelle Brown, sponsored by Kingston Maurward, this garden won a silver-gilt medal. This was Michelle's fourth year of designing a Chelsea Show garden, and her theme this year was focused on celebrating the horticulture of Dorset where she is based.

Tucked away from the main gardens, to my eye this was one of the best designs of a small space at the entire show using unexpected angles and materials to create a masterpiece. I stood contemplating the contemporary octagonal arbor entrance for some time, admiring the clean lines, beautiful workmanship and wondering why I'd never thought of this before! Draped romantically with fragrant white wisteria it framed the view beyond while making a statement and offering an invitation to enter.

Entering through the arbor, one is drawn initially to the sitting area off to the right, approached by a curving pathway.

The use of line and form is key to design and one thing that immediately stood out was how Michelle had used geometry in an unexpected way. With such a strong rectilinear entrance one might expect the interior spaces to follow suit, yet upon entering you were confronted with an arced path and an asymmetrical layout leading you to one of two sitting areas. To the right was a second octagonal arbor acting as a backdrop to a custom seating bench on a circular deck. As Michelle and I sat here chatting she admitted that this arbor was nothing short of a nightmare to build! The front and back octagons are not parallel in order to better accommodate the site. She ended up having a model built and the builders went off that rather than trying to draw detailed construction drawings (I felt her pain!). The result is stunning.

To the left there is just an intriguing glimpse of a second deck. Love the use of materials in this garden, from cable systems on the arbor to metal grating pathway and ribbed planters.

To the left is a second, more intimate area from which to enjoy the garden. It is partially hidden from view thanks to some clever plantings that create a gauzy scrim effect.

I loved the way these two spaces were connected using a straight path composed of a linear metal grate that cut behind the curved planting bed and ended at a modern circular planter (with horizontal banding for added interest and texture), before turning at 90' to the smaller patio. So clever and such great attention to detail.

So many great ideas here: notice how the long parallel lines makes the distant planter seem farther away while drawing you further into the garden. From here you can't quite see how to reach the second patio…mystery is always good in a garden

By placing these two sitting areas in opposite corners of the garden it draws the eye along the diagonal axis – a favorite design trick of mine to make a small space feel larger. Likewise by using small changes in elevation the garden seemed much grander somehow. All easy ideas anyone can use in their own space.

Lush, abundant, tropical – yet very doable. Most of these plants are readily available in temperate climates (Tiarella, hosta, Nandina, boxwood, Heuchera) – but the careful combination of textures and restrained color palette really makes this a top notch collection. Where the palms are not hardy one could substitute a houseplant for the summer season.

The plant palette was delightful and some might say was the heart of the design and included several subtropical species of the French Riviera as well as more familiar favorites including Japanese maples, jasmine, and boxwood.

Although many of the plants were in shades of green, the pops of white, yellow, and lavender added interest while the coral lupins added that "wow" factor. Gorgeous.

Congratulations Michelle – can't wait to see what you do next year.

Subscribe to Receive Blog Posts

Gardening inspiration delivered right to your inbox from Le Jardinet


  1. Mary Perez on July 12, 2022 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful garden. Scanned the show gardens online during the show, but better to see several detailed photos of your favorites. My Niece is in England for 7 weeks, and joined the RHS so she could go to Hampton Court Show and visit other gardens while there. She moved to Sonoma from New York during the worst of Covid and has fallen in love with gardening. Even willing to help me clean up leaves! Loved seeing you and Katie together. I hope that didn't mean she has moved there?? Best to you, Mary

    • Karen Chapman on July 12, 2022 at 9:33 am

      Hi Mary – always lovely to hear from you! I'm sure your daughter will have a fabulous time. We will be leading a tour to Hampton Court and other top notch gardens in the SE and East Anglia next July – watch out for the details!
      No Katie is still here – this was a fun trip for just the two of us. A whole week of exploring gardens and sightseeing together around London. A real highlight.

  2. Gary Lythe on July 12, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for showing us this garden. I watched all of the BBC's Chelsea Flower Show programs, but didn't see this garden in any of them (that I remember). They missed a wonderful one.

    • Karen Chapman on July 12, 2022 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Gary, thanks for your feedback. This is what I find frustrating about show coverage – they often have a fixed filming agenda based on what they deem will "sell" ie the biggest, the grandest, the weirdest LOL. Yet they can miss the gems like this one. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

  3. Bren Haas on July 23, 2022 at 11:20 am

    Finally…. real coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show. It is content shared like this that makes me even more envious of those who are fortunate to attend. Thank you for share this post. I can't wait to follow more of your show shares. My favorite is the wood structure for that the wisteria is hanging through.

    Thank you!

    • Karen Chapman on July 23, 2022 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks Bren – I appreciate your appreciation LOL! This was a bucket-list moment for me for sure.

  4. […] This was my second favorite Sanctuary Garden at the RHS CHelsea Flower  Show this year. Did you miss my top pick? It may surprise you! You can read about it here. […]

  5. Sue Montgomery on July 26, 2022 at 6:55 am

    Thank you Karen for your lovely newsletters! Once again they inspired, encouraged, and brought and peaceful joy to this gardener’s heart. I always feel I’ve just sat down with a cup of tea with a friend. Refreshing!

    • Karen Chapman on July 26, 2022 at 7:34 am

      You're too kind Sue – thank you! Hope you're keeping well – take care