Who is Tom Massey, the garden designer making history at the Chelsea Flower Show?

Tom Massey is an award-winning garden designer, landscaper and RHS Chelsea Flower Show favourite. For 2023, Tom has brought the first-ever insect laboratory to the show. The Royal Entomological Society Garden, designed for the aforementioned charity (RES), will conduct live insect surveys throughout the show.

This isn’t Tom’s only ‘first-ever’ at Chelsea. In 2021, he designed a completely organic garden which went on to win two Gold Medals. He told Country Living at the time that he believed that the Yeo Valley Organic Garden was the first attempt at growing everything organically at RHS Chelsea.

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David M. Benett//Getty Images

But who is Tom Massey – graduate of the London College of Garden Design and presenter of BBC Two’s Your Garden Made Perfect – making history at the biggest gardening event in the annual calendar?

Who is Tom Massey?

Tom Massey grew up in South West London, near Richmond Park. On his website says he was inspired by spending long childhood summers on the Roseland Peninsula in rural Cornwall, where he developed a deep love and appreciation for the natural world.

After completing a degree in animation at the Arts University, Bournemouth, he worked in advertising, events and the renovation of a warehouse in Hackney, North London, before deciding to pursue his passion for landscape and garden design.

He took a diploma at the London College of Garden Design, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, and graduated with a distinction. Since forming his own practice, Tom Massey Studio, in 2015, he has won a string of awards, including a RHS Gold Medal and The BBC People’s Choice Award for the Yeo Valley Organic Garden at RHS Chelsea in 2021.

He’s also a presenter for BBC Two’s Your Garden Made Perfect, and in April 2023, published his first book, RHS Resilient Garden: Sustainable Gardening for a Changing Climate.


Tom Massey’s RHS medal history

  • The Yeo Valley Organic Garden received a Gold Medal for the Show Garden Category.
  • The Yeo Valley Organic Garden also won the BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award for Best Show Garden
  • RHS Silver-Gilt Medal at Chelsea 2018 for the Lemon Tree Trust Garden
  • RHS Silver-Gilt Medal at Hampton Court 2017 for the Perennial Sanctuary Garden
  • RHS Gold Medal and ‘Best Conceptual Garden’ at Hampton Court 2016 for the UNHCR ‘Border Control’ Garden

Tom Massey’s 2021 Chelsea garden: The Royal Entomological Society Garden

“The insect laboratory will be used to study insect numbers visiting the garden during the show, and project magnified images of these insects onto a screen for visitors to gain insight into the biodiversity created by planting,” a spokesperson for the RES tells Country Living.

The garden’s outdoor lab will be built into a hillside and take visitors down into the landscape, offering an “insect eye view.”

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Sharon Amos

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RHS/Neil Hepworth

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Tom Massey’s 2021 Chelsea garden: The Yeo Valley Organic Garden

Designed by Tom Massey and supported by Sarah Mead, from the sponsor Yeo Valley Organic, The Yeo Valley Organic Garden was a celebration of wildlife, habitats and plants found in Somerset. You can read an in-depth profile on the garden design here.

We caught up with Tom to ask him all about his 2021 Chelsea design, organic gardening practices and what the future holds after the first ever autumnal Chelsea Flower Show…

Chelsea’s first organic show garden – that’s quite a coup…

    As far as we know, it’s never been done before. I’m determined to create a garden without chemical pesticides or fertilisers, using peat-free soil and minimal plastic. Other show gardens have incorporated organic elements but I believe the Yeo Valley Organic Garden is the first attempt at growing everything organically.

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    RHS|Tom Massey

    Does that make it more stressful?

    Gardening this way is less predictable but that makes it more exciting. Sarah Mead, the head gardener at Yeo Valley, has made it clear that winning a medal is definitely secondary to creating a garden that’s genuinely organic and promotes that approach. This is my fifth show garden, so I’m familiar with the process, but I’m sure I won’t be feeling relaxed the day before judging!

    Walk us through your garden…

    We’ve planned a mix of perennials and ornamental grasses. There’s going to be meadowland and woodland with birch, willow, medlar and quince trees, so it’ll feel like a little slice of Somerset. A stream will flow alongside a stepping-stone pathway leading to a hanging egg-shaped oak hide by Tom Raffield. Mendip stone boulders and charred logs come from Yeo Valley’s farmland and will be returned there once the show is over.

    Is organic just scruffy and buggy?

    We want to prove it can be beautiful, too. Of course, not using chemical pesticides means plants are at more risk from aphids, vine weevils and slugs, but there are good chemical-free pesticides out there such as SB Invigorator. Organic plants don’t grow as big but are more resilient, as they don’t rely on chemicals for survival.

    Any other bug-busting tips?

    Encourage predators into your garden – a small pond will bring toads who love to eat slugs. Or, if you know a plant is susceptible to pests, put a bird feeder nearby – the birds will dispense with them.

    Could the Chelsea Flower Show go fully organic?

    Things are already changing, with the show going peat-free. The next step could be banning chemical pesticides and fertilisers and asking exhibitors to use organic potting compost. I think the judges should also offer marks for sustainability as an incentive. For me, it’s about protecting the natural world. At the moment, 40% of insect species in the UK are declining, with a third classed as ‘endangered’. If we carry on using insecticides,
    we’re looking at mass insect extinction in the next 50 years.

    How is the show different this year?

    Sarah and I were thrilled when the show was scheduled for September. We had been due to exhibit in 2020, when it was cancelled. I didn’t want the plants to be wasted, so we delivered them to hospitals. A few were saved for this year. It’s been a challenge keeping them vibrant, but organic principles promote reuse over a manicured garden and the ferns and grasses are fuller. I love seeing fruit on trees and silhouettes of seed heads against low autumn light.

    Dancing couple water feature

    Dancing couple water feature
    Credit: Crocus

    This romantic design for a solar powered water feature in easy to install and completely self-contained. Powered by solar, there is no plumbing required. The descriptions read: “Two solar panels recharge in direct sunlight to operate the low-voltage pump, which circulates water up from the bowl reservoir, down the pavilion roof and back into the bowl.” This water feature will work best during spring and summer. 

    Smart Garden Genoa Cascade Fountain

    Smart Garden Genoa Cascade Fountain
    Credit: Robert Dyas

    This three-tier, solar powered fountain brings a rustic, oriental look to the garden. It’s powered by a remote solar panel and is small and compact, making it perfect for placing in borders or on patios or balconies. This solar fountain constantly recycles the water in it.

    Solar Ceramic Cascade Fountain Indoor

    Solar Ceramic Cascade Fountain Indoor
    Credit: Etsy

    The description for this four-tiered solar powered water fountain reads: “Enhance the garden with a brush of charm and get the artistic Aibek Ceramic Cascade. A tiered design with a cascading function, it is crafted to constantly recycle the same water. The fountain is powered by a separate Aibek panel and low voltage water pump with a filter. It includes a submersible and recirculating pump.”

    Senders Solar Fountain Pump

    Senders Solar Fountain Pump
    Credit: Amazon

    Fancy designing your own solar water feature? This is the pump you’ll need. Then you can design and add elements around it – just remember to keep the solar panels clear so they can trap the sunlight. 

    500LPH Floating Solar Water Feature

    500LPH Floating Solar Water Feature
    Credit: primrose.co.uk

    This solar water feature is powered by a separate solar panel on a 3m cable. Sunlight runs a low voltage water pump and the water is filtered. It comes with different fountain heads to create different effects. 

    Cascading Barrel Fountain

    GardenKraft Cascading Barrel Fountain
    Credit: Amazon

    This 90cm x 41cm solar water feature is uniquely designed with four lotus leaves, a coy fish and a rotating water wheel, giving it a distinctive look. The water fountain is powered from a 2.5 metre cable and will attract lots of new wildlife to your garden.

    Solar Bird Bath Fountain

    TekHome Solar Bird Bath Fountain
    Credit: Amazon

    This solar water feature is also a bird bath! Sit back and relax in your garden while watching birds splash around on a warm day. This water pump comes with four nozzles which allows you to choose fountain patterns. We love the blue mosaic tiles. 

    Tipping Pail Garden Water Feature

    Smart Solar Tipping Pail Garden Water Feature
    Credit: Amazon

    A more ornamental, sculptural design, this bronze effect fountain is powered by two wire-free, integrated solar panels. The fountain depicts two children pumping water out of a well and into a bucket. 

    Solar Water Feature Terracotta

    Aqua Moda Solar Water Feature Terracotta
    Credit: Amazon

    This ceramic terracotta solar water feature comes complete with 2.5W solar panel and 200LPH pump. LED lights are included making it perfect for night-time use.

    Gardenwize Solar Marble Water Feature

    Gardenwize Solar Marble Water Feature
    Credit: Argos

    This is a sleek design for a water fountain which will add curves and style to your garden. It runs entirely on solar energy and has a solar on-demand back-up battery power source.

    Gardenwize Solar Cascading Slate-Effect Water Feature

    Gardenwize Solar Cascading Slate-Effect Water Feature
    Credit: Argos

    This cascading slate-effect water feature runs entirely on solar energy and has a solar on-demand back-up battery power source so you can still run it on overcast days. It also has an LED light that comes on at night.

    Wishing Well Solar Water Fountain

    Wishing Well Solar Water Fountain
    Credit: Etsy

    This water feature has the option to operate in two ways: via electrics (during winter or on overcast days) or using a solar panel. The design mimics cobblestones for a rustic look.  

    Gardenwize Solar Cascading Water Feature with Rock Planter

    Gardenwize Solar Cascading Water Feature with Rock Planter
    Credit: Argos

    The natural look of this solar water feature means it can blend in seamlessly into a border. It also has two small planter spaces to add foliage and colour to the fountain. It runs entirely on solar energy, with a solar on-demand back-up battery power source.

    Table top water fountain

    Drsensei Table top water fountain
    Credit: Etsy

    This popular table top water fountain is handmade from bamboo and coconut shell. It’s right at the top of our wish list…

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