What a week it was! The RHS Chelsea Flower Show; a glorious week of gardens that's one of the highlights of our year here at Burgon & Ball, and certainly one of the busiest. With our planning starting up to a year in advance, the show itself seems to flash by in the blink of an eye. But however hard we’re working on our stand on Main Avenue during the show, we always try to see what’s going on around the rest of the show, and to catch up with friends old and new.
One friend we wanted to meet up with was garden designer Lilly Gomm, who, mentored by Sarah Eberle, designed the ‘Stihl Hillier Garden’ in the Great Pavilion. With Sarah recognised as Chelsea’s most successful designer, and Hillier’s sights set on a record 74th consecutive gold medal, a heavy weight of expectation rested on Lilly’s young shoulders, and we wanted to see how her first Chelsea project was going for her.
We first got to know Lilly three years ago in 2016, when we provided some tools for her to create and then decorate her first show garden, at RHS Tatton Park. The July show is known as a springboard for designers starting out on their career, featuring a Young Designer competition open exclusively to designers aged 28 and under. Lilly’s garden ‘A Space to Ruminate’ managed to pack in a space to grow, a space to ruminate, and a place to relax – all in just 88sqm! But it managed to feel peaceful, and inviting, and restful… the perfect place to potter. And it was a gorgeous temporary home for our RHS-endorsed tools.
In 2017 Lilly returned to RHS Tatton Park with a larger show garden, and the following year saw Lilly design a show garden at RHS Hampton Court. And now Lilly’s show garden journey has brought her to RHS Chelsea’s Great Pavilion, in the golden company of Sarah Eberle and Hillier Nurseries. So how had the build gone for her?
We caught up with Lilly on the Sunday of the Chelsea build-up – the day before the grand opening and Press Day. She’d been working on site for 12 days already, arriving on site to see the landscaping work take shape. The planting team had arrived on the Monday, a week before the start of the show. With the dense planting of the garden, they’d certainly had their work cut out.
So how was the garden looking? Well, as you’d expect in Chelsea’s Great Pavilion, it was absolutely immaculate. With a central location, it could be approached from all sides, so had to look spectacular from every angle. The planting featured areas of bright, almost tropical pinks and oranges, fading through to a restful green and white palette. Designed to provide ‘achievable inspiration’ to the Chelsea visitor, it featured different soils and situation in each bed, including ericaceous, wet, woodland, dry, shady, sunny… Wherever you garden, this design had plenty to inspire and lots of ideas to take home, all beautifully realised with the immaculate plants from Hillier’s Hampshire nurseries.
Adding a peaceful soundtrack to the garden over the Chelsea hubbub, was the striking water feature. The water is circulated in the feature, running down beads to keep the droplets perfectly aligned. It’s easy to imagine the peace and coolness such a water feature would lend to any garden, with the gentle sound of trickling water helping the world beyond the garden fade away.
Another element of the planting with huge impact was the stunning Yoshino cherries around the garden, all in exquisite full bloom. The trees had been managed carefully for months, explained Lilly, to get them to bloom at the perfect Chelsea moment. “They’ve been in temperature-controlled storage since October. But once we got them into the marquee, they opened almost instantly, over a lunchtime.” The blossom-coverage trees created spectacular accents around the garden.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the Hillier team and the outstanding plants,” explained Lilly. “It’s always a challenge for the growers to get everything looking perfect for the show, and they’ve done a brilliant job.” And Lilly’s favourite area of the garden? “"Well, I love the water feature, and in terms of planting, I really like the wet area, with the irises.” And with the mesmerising water feature as a backdrop, the spectacular purple irises - very much the flower of the moment at this year’s show - certainly created an elegant and very restful area of the garden.
It was lovely to visit Lilly in her Chelsea garden; we’ve followed her career since RHS Tatton Park’s Young Designer competition. We’re working with more young talent in this year’s Young Designer competition, too; Kristian Reay. We helped Kristian out with tools for his entry in the Long Border competition at RHS Chatsworth last year, and we’re thrilled that he’s taking part at RHS Tatton Park in July.
So, did Lilly go for gold at Chelsea? We're very pleased to report that the judges loved her garden, awarding it a coveted gold medal. When the verdict was announced, Lilly revealed “I am beyond thrilled that we have been able to carry on the momentum and win a 74th consecutive gold for Hillier.”
So, where next for Lilly? Well, she told us she’s hoping to buy a new house soon; with for the first time, a garden of own. We wish her the best of luck in her new home; we hope she’ll be able to put down strong roots there, and grow beautiful irises to enjoy.
With thanks to Lilly Gomm for taking the time to chat on a very long and busy day, and very many congratulations to her (and of course to the rest of the team!) on her first Chelsea gold medal.