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Container Gardening at the Chelsea Flower Show: A Tiny Garden with a Big Message

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Container Gardening at the Chelsea Flower Show: A Tiny Garden with a Big Message

September 23, 2021

Anna Dabrowska only found out in April this year that she would be making her debut at the Chelsea Flower Show, and she’s still having a pinch-me moment. Her container garden, a new category at the show, was inspired by the pandemic lockdown and the ensuing conversations around mental health that have only grown more pressing since then. That theme is quietly woven through this pitch-perfect design in just 3 by 4 meters of soulful beauty.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

The water was treated with an organic black dye for a dramatic reflection.
Above: The water was treated with an organic black dye for a dramatic reflection.

On one side, a living wall is dark and contemplative with its lush forms—including Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ and ferns—reflected into a dark pool of the same dimensions. The reflections are made sharper by the addition of an organic dye that keeps the water jet black. It’s a simple trick that could be recreated on any scale, but the effect is mesmerizing.

A staghorn sumac tree grows from the back left planter.
Above: A staghorn sumac tree grows from the back left planter.

On the opposite side of the garden, a single multistem tree, Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta’, gives texture and a strong counterpoint to the green wall. The staghorn sumac tree has crimson fruits in a hornlike shape and fiery leaf color a little later in the season.

The scalloped planters are carved from tree trunks.
Above: The scalloped planters are carved from tree trunks.

Another triumph of this diminutive container garden are the oak planters that were inspired by the shape of seashells and carved from tree trunks. Each of the three planters balances so that, from a distance, it seems as though it is floating above the terracotta gravel base, ramping up the light mood. The plantings here—with billowy soft pastels in the form of Astrantia major ‘Star of Billion’, Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide White’, airy Sesleria autumnalis as well as nepeta and pittosporum—are in complete contrast to the lush living wall. The same plants are repeated in all three planters.

An amethyst is embedded in the metal backdrop to represent peace and calm.
Above: An amethyst is embedded in the metal backdrop to represent peace and calm.

All of this is picture perfect thanks to the porcelain backdrop in gunmetal grey. Dark backdrops have appeared in many gardens during Chelsea this year, but here the surface is sleek and elegant and studded in the center with a giant amethyst, a crystal thought to promote a sense of calm, to highlight the garden’s mental health theme.

For Dabrowska, who graduated from KLC School of Design shortly before the pandemic struck, having her first show garden on Chelsea’s world stage has been a whirlwind experience, although you’d never know it: As the show opened she was, just like her garden, a vision of calm.

For more on the 2021 Chelsea Flower Show, see:

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