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. 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