Coming Full Circle: Tom Stuart-Smith

An update on the National Garden Scheme 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden by the designer, Tom-Stuart Smith.

National Garden Scheme RHS Chelsea Garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith

On the NGS press call “New Year – New Gardens” this morning, Tom Stuart Smith explained that with designing the NGS RHS Chelsea Garden and his much anticipated return to the show, he has come “full circle”.

The designer explained that as of 2024, he has opened his own garden at Serge Hill, for the NGS for 30 years. Though he laughed that this impressive milestone made him feel “extremely old”, Stuart-Smith explained that opening his garden for the charity is a “central part of their summer life”. He added that the NGS RHS Chelsea garden “connects his own garden” with the years of opening for the NGS, and the people he has befriended and worked with through the years, such as Crocus who will be building the garden.

Regarding Crocus, Stuart-Smith confirmed the rumours that this will be “the last ever” RHS Chelsea Garden built by the Chelsea legends. Crocus, led by Mark Fane and Peter Clay have built an impressive 36 RHS Chelsea Show Gardens for many of the world’s best designers, such as Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, Andy Sturgeon, Cleve West and Sarah Price for which they have accumulated an incredible 33 gold medals and won over 10 ‘Best in Show’.

The NGS RHS Chelsea garden will be fully funded by Project Giving Back, the grant-making charity which is supporting fifteen gardens at the this year’s show. Admittedly initially sceptical, Stuart-Smith explained that at first he questioned “Why, instead of just giving the money directly to the charity, is Project Giving Back giving money to building gardens at Chelsea, which are these extraordinarily expensive, high octane endeavours?” A question, which many have asked.

He went on to explain, “Interestingly talking to Horatio’s Gardens, they said that having a garden at Chelsea last year has been completely transformative for them as a charity”. He hopes that this show garden could do the same for the NGS. “If it gives it a higher, national profile – amongst people who don’t know about it, that would be a wonderful thing because admittedly in the national psyche the NGS is still a relatively unknown phenomenon. Maybe the garden will change the scale of it”, he added.

Stuart Smith is working closely with the landscape architect on his team, Honor Reekie on the show garden. He credited Reekie and George Plumptre, the Chief Executive of the NGS with the idea to incorporate plants on the garden, grown by over ten NGS garden owners, to reflect the general generosity of all the garden owners committed to the scheme.

Stuart-Smith has designed the garden, with its “web of paths”, to be “beautiful, but simple and quiet, with much hidden detail” in the woodland setting. Inspired by its final destination, Maggie’s Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, there are five vast hazel trees shading a carpet of interesting, common and rare woodland plants – with an emphasis on dry woodland conditions. He mentioned; Astrantia, Iris Siberia, Thalictrum delavayi, Kirengeshoma palmata and the rarer, yellow flowering Saruma henryi.

A cleft oak structure, made of UK grown oak is central to the garden design and to the idea of bringing visitors and volunteers together, and has been designed by Ben Stuart-Smith and created by Fenton Fielder. Stuart-Smiths hopes that this building will become a useful place of refuge for the volunteers at Maggie’s.