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The Greatest Show on Earth

This week I went to the press day at Chelsea Flower Show, probably the most famous flower show in the world.  Apart from the incredible show gardens and a mass of celebrities to ogle, there was also the chance to really get up close to the stands in the Pavilion where many local growers were exhibiting.

One of my favourite categories in the show is the Artisan Gardens. These are small almost theatrical gardens usually themed and they showcase incredible attention to detail through the planting as well as other details including landscaping and artefacts.

A favourite of mine was by a Dorset based company, The Plankbridge Hutmakers, who designed The Plankbridge Shepherd’s Hut Garden. Inspired by the Dorset countryside as immortalised by Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd, this nostalgic garden featured as a centrepiece a wonderful hand-made shepherd’s hut based on the hut that features in the opening scenes of the book. The garden also showed heirloom cultivars of heritage vegetables in rustic containers demonstrating their unusual and striking characteristics. Most of the plants were British native wildflowers and the entire effect was incredibly peaceful and serene.

The Satoyama Life garden was also worthy of good close look, this beautiful garden was a contrast to the Shepherd’s Hut Garden featuring incredibly beautiful mounds of moss as well as Acers and a small hut with a green roof.

The Somerset region was well represented in the pavilion, particularly by local nursery The Botanic Nursery at Atworth who received a Gold Medal for their amazing display of Foxgloves. Considering the recent weather conditions and the lateness of spring their display was a riot of spires in all colours. A particular favourite of mine is Digitalis x mertonensis, also known as the strawberry foxglove with flowers the colour of strawberry puree. This is a perennial as opposed to the normal biennial foxglove and self-seeds happily in shade.

Another local grower Avon Bulbs also won a Gold Medal, based in South Petherton, they are a regular at Chelsea and were launching their new Autumn 2012 catalogue featuring Colchicums and spring bulbs. Their stand was a beautiful layout as ever, featuring some gorgeous alliums.

Kelways from Langport in Somerset were displaying their wonderful peonies and irises. They won a Silver-Gilt medal and their plants were also to be found on Peter Dowle’s Gold Medal-winning L’Occitane Imortelle garden as well as the Silver-gilt winning garden for Renault UK. They also supplied a number of other medal winning gardens at the show.

Westdale Nurseries from Bradford on Avon also won a Silver-Gilt with their huge display of Bougainvillea.  Established as a family business in the 1940’s the nursery stocks over 200 varieties and demonstrates how versatile these plants can be to climate and how they can grace any conservatory or greenhouse.

Pennard Plants from The Walled Gardens in East Pennard had a display potager and fruit garden stand, featuring espaliered fruit trees and small raised beds. Their heritage and heirloom seeds are a favourite of mine particularly the salad seed.   This year they won a Silver Flora medal.

This year’s Chelsea also saw a range of plants being introduced via growers. David Austin has several new roses including Rosa Boscobel, Rosa Heathcliff and a special Royal Jubilee Rose, ‘Ausparad’ which is deep pink with large clusters with a fruity fragrance.

There are lots of new Irises soon to be commercially available from Cayeaux Iris including the Iris ‘Aigue Marine’ which is pure sky blue with upright stalks and flowers from mid May onwards. Hilliers have produced a new Choisya called C. x detwitteana ‘Aztec Gold’ with golden aromatic foliage and twice flowering during early summer and autumn.

Another one to watch is the new Sweet Pea ‘Carol Klein’ which is dark mauve and has a good perfume. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants are also offering (from June) a new Leucathemum x superbum called ‘Freak!’ and this is a repeat flowering form from early April which flowers in sun or part shade and has repeat blooms with daisy shaped flowers.

The main show gardens were the usual array of enormous imported trees, lavish landscaping and a great deal of topiary this year. The Korean DMZ garden showed how gardens need not look pretty and how they can make you stop and think. This garden was incredibly moving and standing as it was next to the giant and very showy Diarmiud Gavin’s tower, The Westland Magical Garden, this unassuming and very sad garden which not only reflected the zone between North and South Korea and the loss of life and separation of families but also a theme of healing and the restoring power of nature and the circulation of life.

Another one, which caught my eye, was Jo Thompson’s A Celebration of Caravanning. Beautiful planting included Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’ as well as a cream and pink mix of roses, salvias, irises and grasses. Very gentle, very feminine and very easy to live with!

Links: All of the gardens and growers mentioned in this article can be found on: