RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020: The best performing plants for urban gardens

Rethinking tricky gardens with Charlotte Harris.

Gold-medal winning garden designer Charlotte Harris unveils her list of essential, hard-working garden plants seen looking resplendent in urban gardens, London’s parks and public spaces.


Discover what makes them special, from vivid summer flowers to textural foliage and fabulous autumn colour, plus what makes them great candidates for different urban gardens.


California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are hardy annuals that bring a vivid splash of colour to summer borders. The Californian poppy prefers light well drained soils, will tolerate maritime conditions, but a sunny site is essential. These flowers are noted for attracting wildlife and can also be used as food or a garnish.

urban garden plants

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Now is the time to give your borders a boost by planting perennials, and if you feel your garden could be more relaxing, blue is the colour to go for. Shades of azure, cobalt, lavender and indigo imbue flowerbeds with a palpable calm, and many blue flowers are brimming with nectar, in turn luring wildlife into the garden. Garden designers love using blue cornflowers because it gives a sense of depth and space, and can be used to offset brighter shades such as red and orange.

This wonderful bloom can continue for two or three months in the summer. The usual time for sowing is from April to May. Cornflowers are ideal for beginner gardeners as they are so easy to grow and keep. The blooms are high in nectar, so they are perfect for pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

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Euphorbias come from a large family that includes poinsettias and cacti. They are easy to grow and look exotic all year round. They add structure and texture to a mixed planting scheme, making them a great companion for colourful shrubs and perennials.

Euphorbias also do not suffer from any particular pests and diseases, so are a great option for a low-maintenance garden.

urban garden plants

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Molinia Moorhexe is a terrific British native ornamental grass, forming large clumps of erect leaves, from which tall spikes of purple flowers emerge in summer. It’s ideal for growing at the front of a border, filtering views to the plants behind. The foliage fades to an electric yellow in the autumn.

urban garden plants


A walk down country roads, or along public footpaths bordering agricultural land, will reveal the considerable range of plants that nature uses to create banks of hedging. The Guelder rose can be used to stunning, wild effect in an organic garden. This flamboyant flower is a fabulous wildlife beacon. The rose will brighten a garden with blossoms in the spring and summer, and vibrant berries in the autumn. This flower truly has something for all seasons.

urban garden plants


Water has long been used in gardens not just as a practical resource but as a means to evoke mood, sound and movement, or simply a focal point of pleasure. The planting in and around it is as vital to these effects as the water itself, however.

For colour, water and flag irises are all marginals of choice, capable of blurring the water’s edges and being used as ways to link waters’ edge with planting in borders situated further into the garden. The iris will help to soften the edges of ponds, provide shelter and a safe place for animals to lay eggs.

Urban garden

Jennifer Ebert
Deputy Editor (Digital)

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.