Wisteria and a moongate! Tour the Bridgerton Garden at RHS Chelsea

chelsea flower show 2024 sanctuary garden bridgerton garden designed by holly johnston
The Bridgerton garden at RHS ChelseaRHS/Sarah Cuttle

The Bridgerton Garden, unveiled at the 2024 Chelsea Flower Show, is a secretive and secluded space that makes a nod to the opulent florals seen on screen.

Designed by first-time Chelsea designer Holly Johnston, the garden – which was awarded a silver medal by the judges – is based on Penelope Featherington, the wallflower-like character at the forefront of the current third season of the Netflix period drama.

'It's a big commitment signing up to Chelsea, there are long days and it's a long process building up to it,' garden designer Holly Johnston tells House Beautiful. 'And I think with this design in particular, we have a lot on a radius, everything has to be cut perfectly to radius to fit together, that includes the moongate and the sunken seating area, so getting that exactly right is really key. But I'm delighted to say that when we came to build it, it all came to plan. The dimensions fit perfectly and it was a very, very gratifying moment.'

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Bridgerton stars Ruth Gemmell (Lady Violet Bridgerton), Hannah Dodd (Francesca Bridgerton) and Adjoa Andoh (Lady Danbury) visited the garden during Monday's press day (20th May). There was also a celebrity visit from chef, baker and TV presenter Mary Berry, and a royal visit from Queen Camilla.

chelsea flower show 2024 bridgerton garden
Craig Gibson/Netflix
queen camilla visits the rhs chelsea flower show bridgerton garden
ADRIAN DENNIS - Getty Images

The Bridgerton Garden: key details

  • Category: Sanctuary Gardens

  • Designed by: Holly Johnston

  • Built by: Stewart Landscape Construction

  • Sponsored by: Netflix

What are the key elements of this garden design?

Designed to represent three chapters or 'episodes', the garden looks informal and 'relatively undone', with a natural feel and whimsical planting that reflects feelings of secrecy, growth and desire.

As the garden mirrors Penelope's personal journey (how she grapples with her hidden identity and navigates the expectations of society), there's a moongate leading to an ornate water feature, plus a sunken seating area in the heart of the garden.

chelsea flower show 2024 sanctuary garden bridgerton garden designed by holly johnston
RHS/Sarah Cuttle

Down one half is a shaded space, alluding to themes of mystery, turmoil, and defiance, where layers of groundcover, ferns, hostas, and ivy represent a woven network of secrets.

'I wanted this area to very intentionally represent the fact that Penelope is in the shadow, she's in the shade,' Holly tells us. 'She's a wallflower, kind of unnoticed and overlooked by society, but also she holds this key secret that she is Lady Whistledown and that is something that has to be in the shadows as well. So this shade border is a representation of that.'

In contrast, the other half of the garden features a bright palette of sophisticated colours. This 'full bloom' effect is symbolic of Penelope's self development and growing confidence. A curving path towards the back of the garden features an inscribed monolith symbolising change.

Explaining the journey through the garden, Holly reveals: 'Standing at the front of the plot, visitors will see a moongate that beautifully frames the entrance to the garden. It leads to the second internal space which is a sunken seating area. Encircling an opulent three-tiered water feature and surrounded by a ring of characterful dwarf elms, this is where I pictured the character of Penelope sitting and sharpening her Lady Whistledown quill to write and share the salacious secrets of ‘the Ton’. The third space is punctuated by a hand carved wall fountain engraved with a phrase that cements Penelope’s growth. Finally, the curved path back through the garden uses planting which evolves from shade on one side to light on the other, providing a visual backdrop for the development in Penelope’s character.'

chelsea flower show 2024 sanctuary garden bridgerton garden designed by holly johnston
RHS/Sarah Cuttle

The moongate

Fun fact: It's been nearly 20 years since a moongate has featured at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the last being Through the moongate, designed by Lesley Bremness in 2007.

The moongate has origins in Chinese architecture, typically built with stone or brick (but metal and wood offers a more contemporary alternative). These circular structures or arches are said to represent harmony and new beginnings.

The moongate is one of the most iconic parts of the Bridgerton garden, transporting you to a personal sanctuary: a planted haven with hedging and trees for screening, dense planting for interest, and intimate spaces for seating and contemplation.

chelsea flower show 2024 sanctuary garden bridgerton garden designed by holly johnston
RHS/Sarah Cuttle

'The moongate in the garden is symbolic of new beginnings, and is inherently feminine,' says Holly. 'This beautiful space offers privacy and respite and is also a metaphor for women defiantly and courageously finding their voice – a rite of passage many can identify with. The moongate can be seen as a portal into that person’s personal journey – and the ensuing garden shows the remarkable and personal transformative power of growth.'

What plants are used?

All plants have been chosen to represent themes of confidence, new beginnings and the evolution of new seasons.

'One of the key flowers throughout is our white rose which is a David Austin Desdemona and that is all about romance and whimsy,' Holly tells us. 'It has this beautiful fragrance to it as well and it just grounds the entire colour palette because it is placed throughout the garden.'

Wisteria is another key feature (a nod to the wisteria seen on the Bridgerton family home in the Netflix series), which climbs against the moongate entrance. 'The wisteria was up my sleeve for months,' Holly reveals. 'It was always my plan. It was always my hope. I had a plan B, I had a plan C, I did not know if it would happen. It was certainly the hope and dream and it came together beautifully. And it's flowering, it's fragrant, it kind of welcomes people into the portal, so I'm really thrilled with that.'

Other key plants include:

  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Snow Thimble’

  • Ferns – Blechnum spicant, dryopteris affinis agg, asplenium scolopendrium.

  • Ulmus minor var. suberosa

  • Rosa ‘White Pet’

  • Hedera helix

Where will the garden relocate to?

Following RHS Chelsea, the Bridgerton Garden will relocate to Cambridge University Hospitals. The garden will be located in a courtyard within the hospital grounds, creating a substantial outside space for patients and staff.

What happens in Bridgerton season three?

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) has finally given up on her long-held crush on Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) after hearing his disparaging words about her last season. She decides it’s time to find a husband who will provide her with enough independence to continue her double life as Lady Whistledown, and get her far away from her mother and sisters. But, lacking in confidence, Penelope’s attempts fail spectacularly.

bridgerton nicola coughlan as penelope featherington
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope FeatheringtonLaurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

Meanwhile, Colin has returned from his summer travels with a new look but he's disheartened to realise that Penelope is giving him the cold shoulder. Eager to win back her friendship, Colin offers to mentor Penelope to help her build confidence, and in turn find a husband. But soon, Colin must grapple with whether his feelings for Penelope are purely platonic.

bridgerton, luke newton as colin bridgerton, nicola coughlan as penelope featherington
Colin Bridgerton and Penelope FeatheringtonLiam Daniel/Netflix

To complicate matters, Penelope's ex-best friend Eloise (Claudia Jessie) has found a new friend in a very unlikely place, while Penelope's growing presence in the ton makes it all the more difficult to keep her Lady Whistledown alter ego a secret.

Bridgerton season three (part one) is available to watch on Netflix. Part two airs on 13th June 2024.

bridgerton nicola coughlan as penelope featherington in garden
Penelope Featherington, played by Nicola Coughlan, is the lead character in Bridgerton’s third seasonLiam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

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