Monday, 25 May 2015

RHS Chelsea 2015. Inside the Great Pavilion

I’ve spent the past few days on the blog blathering on about the show gardens at Chelsea this year, and have still only scratched the surface, concentrating on some small details in a selection of the main avenue gardens. That’s not to say I didn’t spend time in the with the Artisan and Fresh gardens, but there’s only so much my mind can grapple with before my brain explodes, let alone my cameras memory card. Quite apart from which, the gardens are only part of the story, for, just as a space needs a human presence to qualify as a garden, its need for plants is arguably just as great. (Some argue that it’s entirely possibly to have a garden without plants. They are wrong.) Of course the Great Pavilion at the heart of the Chelsea showground is a true paradise for a plantsperson and, while I can only aspire to that moniker, it’s a source of endless fascination, inspiration and, I’ll admit, a certain degree of bewilderment to me.

I spend a lot of time ricocheting about the inside of the enormous tent, constantly losing my bearings, my attention being focused entirely on the plants, rather than where my feet are taking me. I try to keep a note of which nursery is responsible for which plant but, inevitably, I get carried away, and my camera is full of shots of orphaned specimens, which I then try to locate by the style of writing on the label, or some clue in the corner of the frame.

More informed plant folk will be able to tell you what was new, and what was interesting at Chelsea this year. As for me...well, I can only share with you photographs of those plants that caught my magpie eye, and hope you enjoy them as much as I do.



There were a couple of sock-exploding splashes of blue out on main avenue on the Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Matthew Wilson. One was Iris 'Mer du sud', and the other, seen here on the stand of Bluebell Cottage Gardens & Nursery, was from Anchusa 'Loddon Royalist' – a stunning blue flower, with reddish purple stems and bright green leaves.

Anchusa 'Loddon Royalist'. Bluebell Cottage Gardens & Nursery

The same display featured a chocolate leaved hardy geranium with pink flowers, which reminded me that I still have to buy 'Dusky Crug'. This one is 'Orkney Cherry'.

Geranium 'Orkney Cherry'. Bluebell Cottage Gardens & Nursery

Last year the RHS shows seemed to have been besieged by the admittedly splendid Geum 'Totally Tangerine', so it was pleasing to spend some time in the company of something else - a scarlet, semi-double flowered variety, Geum 'Flames of Passion'.

Geum 'Flames of Passion'. Bluebell Cottage Gardens & Nursery

Harveys Garden Plants had something entirely new to me – an exquisite red-stemmed Solomon’s Seal called, with unerring accuracy but little imagination, Polygonatum odoratum 'Red Stem'...

Polygonatum odoratum 'Red Stem'. Harveys Garden Plants.


...as well as something I seem to see at every RHS show, but of which I never tire, Tiarella 'Sugar & Spice'.

Tiarella 'Sugar & Spice'. Harveys Garden Plants.


The stand of Barnsdale Gardens posed a question in my mind regarding the naming of cultivars with a couple of well known persicarias side by side. Why would you give two such different plants of the same genus, but different species, the identical cultivar name? Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' grows to 90cm tall, with pale pink flowers, while its diminutive cousin Persicaria affinis 'Superba' grows to only 20cm in height. Sounds like a recipe for confusion!

Persicaria affinis 'Superba'. Barnsdale Gardens

Persicaria bistorta 'Superba'. Barnsdale Gardens
On to the stand of Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants, where I spent some minutes gazing at marvelously hairy. sundews. They look like precisely the kind of thing that would quickly expire in my care.

Drosera binata 'T form'. Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants

Drosera regia. Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants

Drosera cuineifolia Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants
And here’s where I really let myself down. So excited was I to see friendly plants and faces from Kentish parts – Dysons from Great Comp – I just snapped away and forgot to get any of the plant details. Still, they’re only round the corner, I have another excuse to go and visit now.

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvia 'Dyson’s Joy'. Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent

Salvias from Dyson’s Nurseries, Kent


The National Collection of Digitalis is held by The Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire, and their stand was a vision of spikes and spires in all manner of colours and textures. I practically ran up to it.

The Botanic Nursery stand with the plants from the National Collection of Digitalis.

Digitalis purpurea 'Pam’s Choice'. The Botanic Nursery


The texture of Digitalis 'Polkadot Pippa' is something I’d not encountered in a foxglove before, appearing as though somebody had knitted the flower or, better still, made it out of felt. This hybrid perennial foxglove is sterile, which makes for an extended flowering period and a longer lived plant, although it won’t establish colonies of pleasingly random offspring.

Digitalis 'Polkadot Pippa'. The Botanic Nursery
Avon Bulbs had at the very least three things that I’ve added to my plant wish list. Firstly, this honesty, Lunaria annua 'Chedglow', with deep, maroon leaves and almost violet flowers. I suspect it will cross-pollinate with the usual white and purple varieties, but it’s worth the effort, I think.

Lunaria annua 'Chedglow'. Avon Bulbs
Next, Topaeolum tricolor, a fragile-looking climber with vibrant orange, purple and yellow flowers sporting a long spur.

Tropaeolum tricolor. Avon Bulbs
And then I was rather keen on this creamy green allium, which appears to be too lazy to raise its flower above the foliage. I’m not quite sure where or how I’d use it, but it’s got me thinking.

Allium 'Ivory Queen'. Avon Bulbs
No visit to the Grand Pavilion would be complete without several trips to the stand of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, this year garnering a truly well-deserved 20th Chelsea gold for Rob and Rosy Hardy who labour so tirelessly to produce plants of such quality. Having been stunned by vivid cerulean blues elsewhere at the show, it was paler shades of that hue that really caught my eye here, notably Amsonia ciliata – a variety of the North American bluestar.

Amsonia ciliata. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants
Also on the pale blue theme, how about Veronica gentianoides x intermedia? Rosy’s blog informs us that these can be quite variable, with the colour verging on the palest blue, almost a cold white, but the shade selected for the show was bang on the money.

Veronica gentianoides x intermedia. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants

I can’t help but wonder if all this concentration on blue shades somehow forced my subconcious to compensate by grabbing a shot of the wonderful pink ragged robbin as I left the stand.
Lycnis flos-cuculi. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants



All this was enough to make my head spin, not to mention to add several pages to the already lengthy tome that is my plant wish list. But my absolute highlight of Chelsea 2015 was being invited by the lovely folk at Fibrex Nurseries to help them with the set up of their display of pelargoniums, of which they hold the national collection. I was enormously relieved to discover that my inclusion in the proceedings didn’t count too dearly against them in the eyes of the judges, and they were able to continue their impressive run of gold medals. Of course, knowing my soft spot for these plants, I have a whole host of images from the Fibrex display, which I’m sure will form the body of another post. But to end this lengthy ramble, here are just a couple.

Pelargoniums from the national collection. Fibrex Nurseries

Pelargoniums from the national collection. Fibrex Nurseries




Tuesday, 19 May 2015

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, part 2

That in which the devil sits


Being the second part of my blogged coverage of RHS Chelsea 2015. Please click here for the first part

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
Continuing the theme of water and stone which runs through the gardens at Chelsea this year, James Basson has created A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse for sponsors L’Occitane. Modelled around the communal space of a traditional Provencal lavoir, aromatic herbs and flowers  tumble about in the semi-arid soil around a stone edged rill which feeds the main pool. For a Kentish gardener who spends much of his time keeping lavender in its fluffy, juvenile state, it was incredibly refreshing to see the Mediterranean plants given the freedom to grow long and leggy – you could almost imagine them shaking themselves free of the sandy ground and taking a loping stroll about the garden.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
A small, blue-topped cafe table and chairs sit invitingly in the shade of an olive grove, while low mounds of thyme  border the water channel, the stones of which provide a home for foliose lichens. Details, again.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
The weather was pretty filthy while I stood here. But I was imagining it in the summer sun,  the air filled with hum of bees and the complex bouquet of smells from the herbs. A place for midsummer dozes, poetry and...other things. Magic.

Detail from James Basson’s Perfume Grower's Garden in Grasse for L'Occitane
I’ve long been a fan of Chris Beardshaw’s show gardens, particularly impressed by the way he combines beautiful and practical gardens with community spaces. In fact, I think it’s the way that he puts communities of people at the heart of his design that informs the whole process and brings integrity and meaning into the spaces he creates. And if that sounds like waffle, it isn’t – gardens are entirely about people, utterly anthropocentric. Even Dan Pearson’s is a managed space. Chris’s Healthy City Garden for Morgan Stanley has been created for a community project in Poplar, East London, and it will be installed there once Chelsea is over. It’s a modern take on a formal knot garden, referencing the area’s historic ties with the shipping industry.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The low, tightly clipped box edging outlines a modified cross paved with smooth, polished limestone, in the centre of which one of those fountains that bubbles up from the slabs plays happily, threatening to shoot water up your trouser leg (though it’s supposed to stop when you walk over it).

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The standout features for me are the four beautiful field maples (Acer campestre), a fresh, spring green now clothed in their young leaves and dripping with bunches of ‘keys’, but come autumn, this tree provides one of the most stunningly rich yellows in the British countryside – how fantastic to bring it into the heart of the city.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The planting around the base of the trees is a joy – frothy, but with lots of strong vertical accents from lupins and verbascums, with slightly more laid back uprights from the cirsiums.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
The rusty orange tones of the weather steel on the walls is a perfect foil to the lush green of the hedging, reflected in the coppery tones of the sculpture of an adult holding a child on its shoulders.

Detail from The Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities Garden by Chris Beardshaw
This is all harmony and delight, though a second full sized sculpture of a human figure – apparently a man eating an octopus with some apparent difficulty – is a bit more of a puzzler, and I’m not entirely convinced it adds anything to the experience.

Man eats octopus? Big bowl of udon noodles? What’s going on here?
My only concern about this garden is that, if anything, it’s rather too beautiful and well manicured for an inner city space, especially compared to the Urban Oasis gardens he produced for Groundwork and the RHS in 2012. It will be interesting to see how this fares in Poplar over the medium to long term.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden from Adam Frost again presents a pleasing palette of oranges and greens – burnt oranges from the weathered corten steel of the main structure and its cladding in strips of red cedar, the main path constructed from the same timber, and the strong greens, deep green from the yew panels set into the concrete wall, with mounds of the same plant dotted throughout the planting. There’s a freshness about the use of the yew here which I really enjoy – it’s been tightly clipped, but the first flush of brighter green spring growth has been allowed to remain, feathering the edges. I’ve christened it #waftyyew, and declared it A Thing.

Another urban community space, in plan the garden is a set of parallel strips running across the site, bisected by a serpentine timber walkway leading from the front of the garden to the building at the back, which sports a green roof of wildflower turf. Two of the strips are formed of long pools fed by vertical water features set into corresponding panels in the wall – a simple but effective geometric conception.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
The remaining panels are either turfed, or planted with wildlife friendly perennials.  Katsura trees (Cercidophyllum japonicum) have been used to provide the height, as well as fabulous autumnal colour, and tree ferns Dicksonia antarctica at the back lend an exotic feel to the communal space.

Detail from The Homebase Urban Retreat Garden by Adam Frost
I thought the planting here was delightful – well executed, and visually uplifting, a perfect fit for the brief.

Detail from the Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers
Wafty yew was featured again in the neighbouring Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers. The space also featured a moveable shed constructed from oak, glass and steel, with a system of rails and turntables to transport it around the garden. The bumf describes this as the garden’s pi├Ęce de resistance, and who are we to argue?

Detail from the Cloudy Bay garden by the Rich brothers

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Further accomplished planting was in evidence on Matt Keightly’s Sentebale garden, Hope in Vulnerablilty.

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Stone, water, rusty metal again, and a palette of familiar plants, but used here to invoke the atmosphere of the Lesotho landscape in which the Sentebale children’s home sits.

Detail from Matt Keightley’s Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability
Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
Marcus Barnett’s garden for the Daily Telegraph grew on me, if you’ll pardon the non-intentional pun. I’m not a huge fan of modernism or the De Stijl movement from which the key inspiration has been drawn, although I can appreciate the purity of the clean lines.

Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
Such a rigid approach to gardening at the micro level is something I find troubling – too clinical for my tastes and somehow politically worrying. However, I did like the way that the natural materials were already fighting back, the foliage softening lines, the surface of the water rippling in the breeze. That gave me some hope, and I enjoyed the tension. Even I have to admit, the details were very well resolved. And that, as we’ve already established, is what it’s all about.

Detail from Marcus Barnett’s Daily Telegraph garden
For part one of this blog on the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, click here. Still more to come...