Exclusive Interview with RHS Judge Manoj Malde!

Wednesday, September 22 , 2021

Exclusive Interview with RHS Judge Manoj Malde!

This exceptional September Chelsea Flower Show is breaking all the rules and expectations for it’s long awaited return. New season, new planting schemes and a new RHS Judge! We are very excited to interview garden designer, TV presenter and the latest member of the medal awarding judging panel Manoj Malde!

Manoj knows exactly what it is like to exhibit at Chelsea having created a silver-gilt medal winning garden in 2017. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.

Thank you, Manoj for kindly answering our questions.
This is the first year that the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been in September instead of May, what is your favourite planting change you’ve seen this year?

Many people have said to me, “I go to Chelsea every year and I see the same colour and the same plants”. Sometimes the whole show ends up looking like one big garden. It was for this reason that I chose to use a very different palette of plants in my Chelsea Flower Show garden ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’ in 2017.

Beneath a Mexican Sky Garden RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 Design: Manoj Malde. Built by: Living Landscapes Photography © Copyright Jonathan Buckley

So, you can imagine my joy when the RHS announced that the show was being moved to September. This meant a different planting and colour palette and we even got to see some interesting seed heads.

Seed heads have been a feature in the autumn gardens this year. Photo Manoj Malde

In a May show designers often use grasses as fillers but in this year’s show grasses came into their own. Visitors were able to marvel at the plumes and seed heads as they swayed in the gentle breeze.

Hot autumnal colours of oranges, reds, yellows and zingy pinks were everywhere. Dahlias, Kniphofia and Echinacea were present. A few of the gardens had planted Heptacodium, a stunning tree that blooms in autumn.

Two varieties that made an appearance were Salvia uliginosa and Asters. We do not see these at the May shows as they are autumn flowering plants.

A heady mix of grasses, Salvias and Echinacea to create a stand-out autumn planting scheme. Photo Manoj Malde

Which new trends have you spotted at Chelsea that you hope catch on with the wider gardening community?

The really strong messages coming through from Chelsea are :-

  1. Sustainability – that’s at the top of the list.
  2. Back to nature and living in harmony with our environment. Our well-being depends on it.
  3. The importance of creating wildlife habitats within our gardens. This is their world as well as ours.
  4. Not to be so prescriptive in our gardens. Formality is passé. Manicured gardens are definitely not on trend.
  5. Almost every garden had natural flowing water.
  6. More natural materials have been used overall. Lots of timber with different treatments, gravel, stone, clay pavers, rocks and boulders.

Water features were a prominent in many of the gardens. Photo Manoj Malde.

This year the RHS funded four balcony gardens. A little birdy tells me that this is due to become a judged category. I think this is a great idea. With more people living in flats these will be a powerful source of inspiration.

You are known for using a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours, bringing interior design outdoors in your garden designs. With the houseplant trend continuing and the winter looming if you reversed this concept and brought the outdoors inside to conservatories, bright kitchens with bi-folds etc. what features would you bring indoors and why?

This is such a great question. Since presenting on TV I have had so many people say to me ‘I live in a flat and don’t have a garden’. My answer is, you can create a small garden indoors. Plants are good for our well-being both indoors and outdoors. Certain plants such Sansevieria (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) helps to purify the air by removing toxins and it is incredibly drought tolerant.

Manoj Malde’s roof garden design incorporates many mixed planters. Photo Paul Debois.

  1. As one would create mixed containers for outdoors, why not do the same indoors?
  2. Be bold and invest in some taller specimens to give that feeling of having trees indoors. Under-plant these with smaller plants.
  3. Place a chair in a corner or near a window and surround it with a group of potted plants. It will give you the feeling of being in a garden. There is an abundance of garden furniture that can be used indoors and outdoors. Rules are made to broken!
  4. Think about creating a living wall using indoor plants. Many living wall companies provide panels for indoors

In my new home I am going to give the lounge the feel of an orangerie. I am using wallpaper covered in foliage. There is going to be a feature cane chair and plants such as Strelitzia, Nolina, Anthurium to create a sub-tropical feel indoors

Houseplant displays were prominent at Chelsea this year.

I collaborate on projects with architects and what is really on trend is creating internal courtyards. A small outdoor space that draws light into the middle of the house. This works well for old Victorian houses where the middle of the house tends to be dark, cold and gloomy. The perfect opportunity to create a little oasis.

What is your favourite plant to grow?

Omg, that is such a hard question to answer. There are so many plants that I love! New ones get added to that list all the time. I am the proud owner of 2 gorgeous Aloe polyphylla. One was gifted to me. These are now rare in their natural habitat.

Succulents featured in Manoj’s Chelsea garden. Photo Johnathan Buckley

I also love Arbutus (strawberry tree) which I included in my garden at Chelsea. An evergreen tree with amazing branch structure which grows in the UK and in the Mediterranean. I would love to have an Arbutus x andrachnoides in my garden. I have recently tried Calamagrostis varia in a client’s planting scheme. It has nodding plumes that dance gently in the breeze. Paeonia Coral Charm (in fact any of the charms) are stunning. They have the sophistication of a couture show. Geranium Joy, Geranium Ballerina and Geranium Psilostemon are some of my favourite geraniums.

As you can see that was not an easy question for me to answer and there are so many more to add to this list.

Your Under a Mexican Sky Chelsea Garden in 2017 featured a number of drought tolerant plants, do you incorporate climate friendly or sustainable elements in many of your garden designs?

I love using and working with Mediterranean plants. With regards to climate friendly and sustainable I do try and use plants that are drought tolerant and have longer flowering periods which gives the clients more bang for their buck.

Beneath a Mexican Sky garden designed by Manoj Malde. Photo Jonathan Buckley

I have in recent years become more aware of permeability. Allowing rainwater to penetrate back into the ground is something that we should all be taking very seriously. Excess use of hardscape has increased flooding, air pollution, the heat island effect, pollution of our waterways and is having a really detrimental effect on our health and well-being. I’m using more permeable foundations and materials. I am also trying to create a higher percentage of planted areas and less hard landscaped areas, working towards a 60% planting and 40% hardscape. I don’t use artificial turf. In fact I have convinced clients who wanted to use artificial turf to use real grass. As a designer it is about constantly educating your clients so they can make informed choices.

I also try and encourage my clients to compost. We should all try and compost and use it back in our gardens.

Manoj Malde roof garden with large planted beds to reduce the hardscaping. Photo: Paul Debois.

What would you like to see more of at Chelsea?

I would like to see more diversity at Chelsea. That is not a criticism of the RHS whose work I am very supportive of. I would like to see designers from diverse backgrounds being brave and having a go at submitting designs. After all, gardening is for everyone regardless of race, creed, colour or religion. I would also like to see more unknown names coming forward creating gardens at Chelsea and I would love to see more organisations taking advantage of the marketing opportunity that the Chelsea Flower Show has to offer. Which other show provides a week of prime-time BBC coverage, national and international press and almost 200,000 visitors from various countries throughout the world?

The Guangzhau Garden uses materials to connect people with nature. Photo Manoj Malde

After years as a fashion designer are there any elements of fashion or fabric that have inspired your garden designs?

My signature style gets recognised for combinations and use of colour. I am not shy about using colour. I believe the courage to use bold hues in my designs comes not only from having worked in the fashion industry, but also through my heritage. Indians love bright colours. As a child I was surrounded by beautiful women in stunning saris. I have the adage of being born in Kenya; seeing the wonderful flora and fauna of the country and the incredible tribal culture. Creating planting schemes is like working a print on a sumptuous piece of silk.

Bright yellows, purples and blues are part of the September colour palate using Asters, Rudbeckia, Verbena and, Salvias. Photo Manoj Malde.

Your signature style contrasts with the typical country garden, how would you use/customise Chilstone’s products to create a vibrant garden design that was unmistakably Manoj Malde?

Now there is the million dollar question. I think we need to discuss this further over a lovely meal.

Manoj Malde is an award winning Garden Designer and TV Presenter. Photo Manoj Malde.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your beautiful photos from this year’s unique show. We can’t wait to see your future projects and hope to see you judging the next show.


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