Bloom or bust?
It’s every plant lover’s dream, but there’s a lot to take in at the Chelsea Flower Show ... Here’s my rundown of what was hot and what was not this year
It was Chelsea Flower Show last week – for many the highlight of the horticultural calendar. But there has been one significant change this year – the smaller number of show gardens, with various reasons being given.
A lack of sponsors, say some, but from personal experience it may be time the RHS appreciated those sponsors who do contribute so much and treat the garden designers better.
If lessons aren’t learnt, this venerable show may lose its lustre. I’ve never been one for the formulaic show gardens and with this year’s crop, once again there was a feeling I’d seen much of it before.
However, it’s always lovely to view gardens, absorbing ideas and marvelling at the technical ability to seduce plants into the grandest of shows for the starting bell on the Monday of the third week of May.
My method when reviewing Chelsea is to look beyond the obvious and study the smaller, quieter areas in search of sparkles of passion in courtyard and artisan plots.
In addition this year, there were the Radio 2 Feelgood Gardens based on the five senses. Chris Evans fronted the Taste Garden, designed by Jon Wheatley, and my favourite was the Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, designed by Matt Keightley.
His planting was an exploration of different plant textures, featuring many different leaf shapes – architectural ferns, soft mossy mounds, heart-shaped epimediums and lots of clipped Pinus mugo.
In some areas, his planting was ethereal, a dreamy mix of floaty perennials and feathery grasses – pink umbels, Stipa tenuissima and pale yellow poppies danced behind veils of bronze fennel – delicious!
And there were occasional bursts of vivid colours with Iris ‘Kent Pride’, Cirsium atropurpureum, and Verbascum ‘Firedance’. And, of course, Chelsea is all about plants.
The Great Pavilion is a dream for all plantaholics to admire the very best that British nurseries can produce. Every year the RHS awards a prize for the best new plant and past winners in this horticultural hall of fame include the very popular Geranium ‘Rozanne,’ Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ and Digitalis ‘Illumination’.
This year’s award went to a dwarf mulberry bush called ‘Charlotte Russe’. It was introduced to the market this spring by Suttons and the first batch sold out within a week.
It’s the perfect size for small gardens and patios as it only reaches a height of 1.5m.
It’s a self-pollinating plant that produces berries from June to September on plants that are only one year old – most mulberry plants take around eight years to mature.
I also like the runner-up – Salvia ‘Crystal Blue’. Salvias are great plants for the herbaceous border as they are low maintenance and long flowering.
This new variety from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is unusual for its light skyblue colour – a pastel which will blend well with other gentle hued cottage garden plants.
Thompson and Morgan came in third place with a delightful orange hibiscus. ‘Petit Orange’ is a compact variety, perfect for the patio, but remember it is tender and will need to come in before the first frost.
And no visit to Chelsea is complete without a trip to the rose stands. Peter Beales Classic Roses have introduced a new shrub ‘Margaret Greville’ which has delightful tight buds of deep coral pink that open to semidouble coral and salmon pink blooms.
It’s tolerant to poorer soil and can be grown successfully as a hedge, reaching 4ft in height and is very free flowering. On David Austin’s stand, the new rose is Vanessa Bell, a beautiful free-flowering shrub rose with delicate yellow blooms with a green tea fragrance.
I missed exhibiting at Chelsea this year because I couldn’t endure the RHS mandarins for the second year in a row – and perhaps the sobering number of entries on show will encourage a rethink.
Beautiful: Margaret Greville Petit Orange Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine in the wonderful Texture Garden
The new rose Vanessa Bell
With Diarmuid Gavin