As the light levels dip on British summertime, Garden Designer Lee Bestall looks back at a dramatic year.

The summer of 2017 has been part of a very exciting year for us. Not only are we busier than ever, we took on the huge challenge of creating two gardens for prestigious RHS shows.  Back in May we displayed ‘500 years of Covent Garden’ on main avenue at the worlds’ most prestigious Flower Show.  Sited amongst famous designers such as our neighbour Chris Beardshaw. Our 11M x 11M garden took inspiration from Covent Garden’s rich floral heritage, and featured as of one of Chelsea’s main show gardens.

The build-up to Chelsea began in June 2016, just four weeks after the team finished last years’ show, so for Bestall & Co life has been a cycle of Chelsea, Christmas, Chelsea, Christmas, Chelsea Lee Laughed.  A trip to Belgium in October last year was very fruitful (pun intended)! When he managed to source three, fourty year old Apple trees. Once displayed at Chelsea, became the centre piece to the Nyetimber pop-up bar the team installed back in Covent Garden for the summer.


Traditional English flowers such as Roses, Lupins and Peonies bloomed alongside more naturalistic plantings of native ferns and softer wild flowers.  The Apple trees were under planted with shade loving plants. The iconic cobbles found in the streets of Covent Garden, laid beside reclaimed York Stone we found in a reclamation yard back here in Yorkshire.


Press day on Main Avenue at Chelsea was great fun. Meeting Her Majesty the Queen was an honour (even though I was so nervous I forgot to remove my flat cap! – public apology). As too was having celebrities visit the garden. The thing which overwhelmed me the most was the emotional public reaction.  We had some heartfelt comments about the beautiful planting (it seems people had missed ‘real flowers’ at Chelsea). The garden even moved some visitors to tears!


For those who don’t know about the flower show, it’s the gardening equivalent to playing at Wembley. So you could say Lee was rather pleased with his Silver award.  For those unable to see it in reality, or on the many hours of TV, the garden has now been reconfigured and is enjoyed by the general public on a daily basis in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. At the same time I was entertaining the horticultural elite, there was a contractor busily working back in Derbyshire. Creating our exhibit for the inaugural Chatsworth Flower Show.  The weather was hot, the ground was dry and the work was tough.  Dry stone walling, ground contouring and turfing were all carried out in a very open and sunny site.  Plants required gallons of water as too did the 4 year old wild flower matting we imported from York. Thanks to technology and via the magic of Facetime, I managed to instruct the implementation team on a daily basis.


When I finally made it back home, planting time at Chatsworth had arrived … along with the coldest, wettest and windiest weather we’d had for months.  Planting in cold, muddy soil was bad, but the wind was the hardest element to battle against.  It whipped down the valley and battered the trees and flowers. Most of whom had been happily been growing in full sun just a few days ago.  But as gardeners do, we battled on through and planted up the garden just in time for judging day.


Press day at Chatsworth was a less glamorous event that at Chelsea, mainly due to the weather. But it didn’t stop the Duke and his wife joining us for a picnic on the garden which was sponsored by Visit Peak District and Derbyshire.  The show opened to the visitors as planned, and although muddy was a great success.  Twenty thousand people attended the show each day, the local roads heaved but the show was definitely worth the wait.


After clearing the show site and rebuilding the garden back here at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire (home of the Sitwell family and our design studio) My happy life has returned to normal.  I’d forgotten what life without Chelsea was like, and although we’re working on a concept for 2019. It looks like next year may be the year I actually get to see my Wisteria in flower!