Show Gardens at the Ideal Home Show

Just before Easter I headed off to the Ideal Home Show at Olympia for the first time in many years - and it was the first time in many years that it was there having moved from Earls Court just up the road. I wasn't looking forward to the journey, but travelling via West Brompton wasn't anywhere near as bad or confuluted as I thought it might be.

I arrived just after lunch and remembered the drill from previous years, which is to check the queue at the Show Houses first. They were longer than I wanted to queue for so I found something else to entertain me until MOH joined me after work, which was pretty easy to do. I knew he'd be most interested in the Home Build section (for bi-fold conservatory doors) and the Garden section (for unobtainable Hawaiian style pods) and I was very good and waited for him to arrive before going into either of those areas. I wish though I'd cheated a little bit and spent some more time in these Show Gardens, because they were lovely - and because I'd like to have had more time to take some photos.

The six Show Gardens have been designed and built by students from the top UK horticultural colleges in just a few days as part of the Ideal Young Gardeners of the Year competition. We voted - using the tried and tested green disc method a la Waitrose charity voting - and right now I'm struggling to find out how the garden we liked did.  More on which one(s) we voted for later on in the post.

Each of the gardens have just a 5.5 m x 4m plot and are founded on sustainability and tranquility in urban spaces and this year they have all considered how they can make best use of excess rainwater in their designs. It's the fifth year of the competition run in association with the Prince's Foundation and organised by TV Gardener David Domoney (from Love Your Garden).  So onto the gardens...

1. Splash the Cache, Chichester College

This is designed as a secret retreat and somewhere to unwind from the stress of a busy urban lifestyle. The living roof, water harvesting system, chains and water barrels enable saving water and the plants and structures support garden wildlife too. The planting scheme is simple and the grasses are used to soften the vertical elements.

I like the watering can waterfall but it's unlikely that I'll incorporate something like this into our garden. I'm more tempted by the paving, with the gravel inserts among the blocks. MOH was taken with the simple wooden benches and was seen strolling up and down muttering things like "you could make this yourself" and "it's only bits of wood bracketed together" so now I'm expecting great things, but between you and me I'm not holding my breath!

2. The Shower of Life Garden, Capel Manor College

This garden claims to provide an environment where you can carry out many of life's daily functions, as it's a place to relax, cook, eat and cleanse oneself. I'm less sure about the last one, I must say - an outdoor shower abroad is a much more attractive option!  It's a tranquil garden though with a light and relaxed seating area where you can enjoy the warmth from the fire (and you'll need it after that outdoor shower!)

It was a lovely light garden and I think lighter than I'd want in a garden, I wasn't sure about the metal gabions filled with white stones and plumbing scrap materials, but I did like the vertical living wall behind the fire and we've toyed with something like that before, but decided against for now. The thing I liked most though was the horizontal scaffolding boards to divide the space, along with the bird feeder in the picture above.

3. Regeneration Garden, Shuttleworth College

This garden was designed to bring the countryside to the city and demonstrate how fruit, vegetables and herbs can be grown alongside edible ornamentals and cottage herbaceous perennials to create a haven for wildlife and provide a tranquil space for rest and relaxation.

Of the Show Gardens I think this one is most like a normal garden, and that's not a bad thing. I've got bags of that grey slate (well a tonne to be precise) waiting to be distributed around our garden at some point. I'm also a big fan of the vintage-style table and chairs, although MOH thought they could do with a good rub down, rust treatment and a nice coat of Hammerite - and he wonders why I won't let him near my vintage French table. We bought a set similar to this (but in better nick) at Chelsea a few years ago, but it lives in our Conservatory as I don't want it getting wet outside. Seriously. The French table lives outside though - one day I'll get around to doing it up!

I've also noticed that Birch is becoming quite the thing and I like these ones set at different heights with holes drilled into them for insects and to hold various bird feeders - but can you imagine what fun the wildlife in my garden would have with something like this?

4. Beyond the Wood Garden, Writtle College

This garden was designed for an urban city space and aims to create a green space that reduces dependency on mains water and helps clean the air. The garden has a woodland feel with clean lines and slick materials. It uses millboard - a composite decking - instead of timber for the wall which has low energy lighting as well as feature lighting within it.

I liked the dark walls of this garden, though again I'm not sure that's right for our garden, I love the planting as there's lots of ground cover going on - I like my soil covered - and I like the many levels and the contrast in the materials used for the step. Definitely food for thought in this garden.

5. Go With The Flow, Pershore College

This garden design creates an idyllic urban retreat for the city dweller with an inner circle of peach which is constantly changing. It makes good use of the vertical dimension and provides privacy despite the garden being overlooked. Elements, such as the trickling of water down the chains and the gentle rushing of the bamboo are used to help block out the noise of the surrounding city.


I like the flooring area of sliced wooden logs, which I think would be relatively easy to replicate at home. I'm less sure about relaxing back onto a fish tank though, I don't think I'd ever fully relax for fear of falling through it and in with the fish! That'd be quite a shock for both of us.  

6. Urban Feast Garden, Askham Bryan College

This garden is about growing your own and making that easy to do so with moveable containers to help with space management and garden functionality, and gives you the flexibility to adapt to the weather. The plants reflect those of a traditional allotment and the herbs, fruit and flowers echo a Victorian plot where each plant is displayed for aesthetics as well as selected for cooking or medicinal purposes, and in this garden makes the best use of vertical height too.

I liked the bright colours of this garden, but it was the plants that I was really drawn to here. I think that's because I like to grow vegetables, and in containers too so I'm always looking for new ideas. I can't see us growing veg on the top of a pergola though, but it's an interesting idea. And look, there's those scaffolding planks as a divider again, I think I need some of those somewhere... 

And the winners are... 

As I've written this post I've discovered the awards given to each garden, I've not yet found the People's Choice winner so I'll continue to look for that. And clearly they're all winners, but here's how the awards went: 

  • Bronze - Urban Feast (#6 above) and Splash the Cache (#1 above)
  • Silver - Regeneration (#3 above) 
  • Silver Gilt - Shower of Life (#2 above) 
  • Gold - Go With The Flow (#5 above) 
  • Gold and Best At Show - Beyond the Wood (#4 above)  

And as promised I said I'd share which I voted for. I used most of my green discs (we had a handful each) on the eventual winner, Beyond the Wood but also voted for Splash the Cache as my second choice and the Urban Feast as my third choice. Unusually there was agreement from MOH who also voted Beyond the Wood as his first choice, so I'm glad it won as it was pretty special. 

There's lots of inspiration though from each of the Show Gardens, which one or parts of the gardens do you like?