Purple Wellies

One woman's musings of plant lust for intoxicating blooms

Nothing Quite Like Chelsea

Well here we are again, I’m sure it won’t have escaped your notice – its Chelsea week. The one time of the year when ‘us’ green fingered lot can finally get our own back on all ‘you’ sporting types with full saturation on both TV and press of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the epitome of the gardening calendar.

This year Chelsea sees a decline in the number of main show gardens, down from last year to just 8 but still with 5 fresh gardens (described as thought-provoking, unconventional and exciting) and 9 artisian gardens on smaller sized plots. There are also the new 5 Feel Good gardens. Perhaps this is just more of a return to Chelsea once was! But don’t let this put you off, there is still so much to see and explore. There are over 100 exhibitors in the Great Pavilion, so Chelsea can offer something to all levels of gardener and plant admirer.

Painted Fern visited the show on Tuesday, the first public day and has been exploring both the gardens and Great Pavillion to bring you some of our favourite picks.

The Silk Road Gardens on main avenue by Patrick Collins and Laurie Chetwood are sited on the tricky triangular shaped plot with a sewer sited below. Sponsored by Chengdu Government, this garden highlights the ancient trade route and the capital of Sichuan Province. A stunning flat-packed architectural structure runs through the design mimicking the mountainous topographic regions. Unfortunately this prefabricated form didn’t go together as easily as the furniture you get from Ikea. They obviously didn’t have the right allen key! The structure is inter-planted with species from Sichuan, and they are mostly that, species of plants, something I myself have been drawn to using in the past. Don’t think there won’t be recognisable subjects though, there is such a vast array of flora from this region in cultivation - Viburnum davidii, Buddleja davidii and Viburnum rhytidophyllum (as used by Tom Stuart Smith at his Chelsea garden back in 2006) jostle for attention. These Viburnums were not without their problems too, having arrived in flower and suffering the loss of one specimen, but never-the-less, despite the hiccups, they still achieved a Silver-Gilt medal.

Celebrating 500 years of Covent Garden market in London sees Lee Bestall with his Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden. A picture perfect delight that could very easily sit in any garden at home. The judges awarded this a silver medal. Maturity in planting comes in the form of a 60 year old apple tree with anchoring spheres of Taxus baccata infilled with herbaceous planting in soft shades of white and pink to replicate the blossom of the apple trees. Arches, like those at Covent Garden, create a striking contrast with the softer planting beneath and the four planters housing the Taxus pull the same turquoise colour used on the arches right through to ground level.

Now to the winner of the Fresh Gardens category is City Living by Kate Gould. An inspiring example of how to beautify urban living. Fantastic use of the planted wall features more unusual and larger specimens such as Schefflera and Fatsia japonica due to the increased size of the planting pockets. Now normally designers limit the amount of materials used in a garden, but here we see a wider range, unified through the use of the colour grey. Shady, leafy planting features underneath (how jealous am I of those Farfugium’s) and sun loving characters creep in above opening up the palette of plants to the full.

Inside the Great Pavillion there were many plants that caught my eye, but I’ve picked out my favourite two. Glumicalyx flanaganii. A rare, perennial delight, for the connoisseur from sub-alpine South African. I think what attracted me to it in the first place is that on first glancing the flowers resemble the Edgeworthia, a shrub very dear to my heart. It flowers throughout July and August and is hardy to zone 6 (down to about -20). It needs a rich, moist well drained site, that does not get too dry.

Now I’m sure the next one will go unnoticed to many as it is so diminutive. Often thought of as a grass, it is in actual fact a relative of the lily family from New Zealand - Athropodium candicum maculatum. Strappy, speckled brown leaves, over time form a carpet, topped by small starry lily-like flowers in June and July. Could be used as an alternative to Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Niger' growing in sun or part shade.

Given the vast array of plants on offer there is something for all tastes and walks of life. For the garden newbies it is certainly somewhere to visit to gain ideas and to select plants from a visual perspective and talk to the growers direct to find out if they are right for your site conditions and maintenance levels. Most nursery folk can’t wait to impart their knowledge.

You can take plant combination ideas from the show gardens, although sometimes it pays to not be too literal. Home gardens need the plants spaced out more than the show gardens. They are capturing a moment in-time, an idea and need to be packed to the gunnels. Your garden will need time to grow, evolve and develop. Not all of the plant combinations shown would work long-term as plants require different conditions or have unequal vigour. Some wouldn’t have enough seasonality to offer the rest of the year, so would tire and look bland, but that said the last few years have seen planting utilising more plants out of flower mixed through.

If you haven’t visited Chelsea before, then why not give it a try, or perhaps one of the other RHS gardening shows on throughout the rest of the year. They have so much to offer and you will only ever see the best all in one handy location with plenty of sound advice to boot, if you need it. There really is nothing quite like Chelsea.

Posted: 24/05/2017 13:33:52 by Pamela Barden