X ‘Crystal Cloud’
Pale lilac compact catmint and a new colour. Cottage Garden Plants, started off growing plants in a small terraced garden in Camberley in 1988 using plants from relatives’ gardens. Her sister-in-law Anne had collected plants from the best nurseries in the south of England and that is partly why Hardy’s ended up with such a great range. A move to a walled garden on the Laverstoke estate followed; just a stone’s throw from their present-day site, a 13-acre nursery at Freefolk, near Whitchurch in Hampshire, which they bought 19 years ago.
“We allow everything to grow outside as much as possible because plant material should be tough and our exposed hillside means that they get buffeted by the wind, so they develop strong root systems,” says Rosy.
One polytunnel is used for propagating, one for display plants, and they grow many plants from seed, some self-collected and some acquired from Botanic World Seeds and Jelitto.
When Brewin Dolphin decided to do its fifth consecutive Chelsea show garden, Rosy’s name came up. “I got a phone call. Robert was jumping about full of enthusiasm – then it emerged we had 36 hours to do a plan and get it back to them. But I’m probably better with a deadline,” says Rosy. “I knew Brewin Dolphin like to think out of the box, so we came up with an idea that reflected their history as well as ours.”
The inspiration for Forever Freefolk came from the River Test, a chalk stream within walking distance of the nursery, and a nearby NGS garden called Bere Mill, which has water meadows that flood, as well as drier areas. Brewin Dolphin, a stockbrokers founded in 1762, would have handled bank notes on paper milled at Bere Mill, which began making paper in 1712. Paper making in the Test Valley continues today and nearby Overton Mill still makes high-security paper for more than 150 national currencies.
The river is represented on the show garden by paving seamed with gleaming aluminium, which should shine in sunlight. Dry gravel beds will be full of silver foliage, and pink and purple flowers. The boggier areas will feature a stronger palette of blues, purples and oranges along with elegant foliage. There will also be clear yellows, running through like a thread on a tapestry. Wild apples growing along the Test Valley provided wood for the rollers and cogs in the mill machinery, so Rosy is using a symbolic crab apple, Malus ‘Winter Gold’, and multi-stemmed cutleaved alders to balance the hard landscape. Alnus glutinosa ‘Laciniata’, introduced from France in 1705, fits perfectly with her timeline. The gleaming sculpture at the heart of the garden (left), designed by Rosy and Robert, and known as the coccosphere after small marine animals fossilised in the chalk, represents the crystalline structure responsible for percolating and purifying the water. Although it’s Rosy’s first foray on to Chelsea’s Main Avenue, she cut her teeth building seven show gardens at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show between 2000 and 2007.
“Those gardens taught me that the same plant material can look formal or soft and billowy, depending on the hard landscape,” she says.
Soft and billowy is definitely Rosy’s style, and I can still remember a sea of Echinacea pallida, with its swooning pink petals, woven through rich blue sea hollies. And with that it’s back to reality: she’s off to the polytunnels to check that her plants are at the peak of perfection.
Contender: Rosy Hardy, above; the walk-through ‘coccosphere’ sculpture, below, is represented by the white form on the plan, above left