Christina Cobb has designed Viking's garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Credit: Viking

Chelsea Flower Show 2023: Green goddess

Author: Vicky Mayer

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Talented gardening designer Christina Cobb on her Chelsea Flower Show debut and the parallels between gardening and cruising

Can you tell us about the Restorative Balcony Garden you designed for this year’s Chelsea Flower show?
The Restorative Balcony Garden sponsored by Viking brings reclaimed and natural materials together with soft and textured planting to create a calm and inviting space. The garden’s aim is to encourage people to maximise their own outside space, and to see that a small footprint is not synonymous with a restricted design.

Why are you a champion of small gardens?
I have lived on a houseboat with a tiny deck and in London flats with very small balconies, so I recognise the importance of smart designs which make efficient use of the limited space. I am passionate about the impact that green spaces have on our mood and mental health. Even a single beautiful pot on a tiny balcony is better than looking at an empty, urban space

What tips can you give to our readers with small gardens?
You need to make a plan – it’s natural to look at an empty space, panic, and then just buy the first pots and plants you see. Often these are disproportionate, don't make efficient use of the space, and don’t give you value for money. So sketch out the space, to scale if possible, as this will help you visualise what you can fit into the garden.

The Restorative Balcony Garden utlises reclaimed and natural materials. Credit: Viking

What trends do you see happening in gardens in the next couple of years?
I believe planting for pollinators and accepting a more wild, natural style will be a positive trend in 2023. Many of the Show Gardens, Sanctuary Gardens and All About Plants gardens at this year's Chelsea Flower Show have adopted a very naturalistic, informal style of planting which will no doubt inspire visitors to the show.

Sometimes people can shy away from adopting more natural planting as they believe it will look messy and unkempt, but the planting in my design will show people that they can still have a beautiful and well-kept space which is hugely beneficial for pollinators and wildlife.

You recently travelled to Norway with Viking on your first ocean cruise. How was it?
I travelled with Viking on their In Search of the Northern Lights itinerary – it was spectacular. I would say a Northern Lights voyage is an excellent first choice – we really made the most of the Nordic Spa, pools, and relaxation spaces without feeling guilty about not being out in the sun.

The ship was the perfect sanctuary to come back to after a day of being out in the Norwegian wilderness – there are so many cosy spaces to unwind in and there was always a beautiful view to look out on from our veranda or the upper decks.

The trip completely exceeded any expectations I had beforehand. Snowmobiling across the snowy tundra with the aurora shimmering overhead is something that will stay with me forever.

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Do you see any parallels between gardening and cruising?
Gardening can be a powerful therapeutic tool. It is well known that the process of gardening – digging, weeding, planting seeds and staying connected with nature – is good for your overall health and wellbeing.

Travel is also known for its restorative nature – it allows you to release, repair and restore. Cruising especially allows you to wake up to a new destination and explore a new landscape each day which is particularly restorative.

Are there elements of the Viking ocean ship which have inspired your balcony garden design?
I love the Scandinavian design influences of the Viking ocean ships. Many of the spaces and interiors onboard are simple but with clear attention to detail. I want to ensure this translates into the feeling of my garden – the design of my garden is very much minimalist and understated.

I was particularly inspired by the Nordic Spa – there are so many natural elements used from Swedish limestone to black slate and recycled and etched opaque glass which aligns directly with the aim of my garden being to combine reclaimed and natural materials together to create a peaceful space.

Viking also share my passion for maximising small spaces, and they achieve this in so many clever ways. Even the colour palette has clearly been considered to make rooms feel spacious – they use soothing, minimalist colours such as pale blues and whites, with rust accents.

Viking share Christina's passion for maximising small spaces. Credit: Viking

What are your personal favourite gardens, both here and abroad?
I live relatively close to The Barbican and revisit Nigel Dunnett's inspired planting again and again. It really is a masterclass in creating an ever-changing, always interesting planting scheme, and demonstrates the huge payoff of using the right plants in the right place.

A few years ago, I visited Singapore with my family and was completely blown away by the Gardens by the Bay, but also the city itself which is so lush and green. Even though skyscrapers dominate the skyline it's amazing to see how full of greenery the streets and balconies are, and how planting is even incorporated into the design of tall buildings.

The Gardens by the Bay were incredible as there were so many plants you just don't see in the UK, so much use of vertical space, and a naturalistic style of planting. I was excited to see that Viking offer a shore excursion to The Gardens by the Bay on their Secrets of Southeast Asia itinerary sailing from Bali to Singapore.

Keep your eyes peeled for Christina appearing on Viking.TV very soon. You can find out more about her work at

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.