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

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin

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

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