Highlights from the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Time for my annual round up of the Chelsea Flower Show!  Bit late this year, as I just haven’t had the time up until now, but actually it’s good to take a moment to look back at the hundreds of photos I took at the time, and see what still stands out.

There were 3 things that struck me about this year’s show – loads of lupins, loads of domed hedging plants (beech, box, yew) and the lack of garden pavilions!   In recent years it has appeared de rigueur to have a building/pavilion/structure in every show garden.  This year everything seemed a little bit simpler.

Lupins in the Great Pavilion

Lupins in the Great Pavilion

And it was nice to see so many lupins on show – beautiful to look at, but a pain to grow in my experience as the slugs and snails always get to them first!  Still, the Chelsea Flower Show is an idealised version of the garden world, with no such things as slugs and snails, so lupins abounded this year.  And clipped domes cropped up everywhere, but were lovely nonetheless.

The Laurent Perrier Garden

The Laurent Perrier Garden

Luciano Giubbilei deservedly won ‘Best in Show’ for his Laurent-Perrier Garden which was a very stylish number with simple geometric shapes.  I particularly liked the textural contrasts in the beautiful marble stonework (and the gorgeous Lupin ‘Chandelier’ and clipped domes of Beech).

Beautifully detailed hard landscaping on the Laurent-Perrier Garden

Beautifully detailed hard landscaping on the Laurent-Perrier Garden

The Telegraph Garden by del Buono Gazerwitz was probably my favourite this year.

The Telegraph Garden - just gorgeous

The Telegraph Garden – just gorgeous

Again, another simple geometric design, with lots of space to see the beautiful planting. The colour palette was very restrained and the overall effect was very calm and classy.  Lime trees which were ‘roof-trained’ and domes of clipped box provided structure.

Clipped box domes contrast with cool herbaceous planting

Clipped box domes contrast with cool herbaceous planting

As a complete contrast, the Positively Stoke on Trent garden was very slick and contemporary.

Positively Stoke on Trent.JPG

I really liked the curving wall and seat, and the landscaping was beautifully implemented.

A simple, but nicely executed garden was designed by Patrick Collins for the Neonatal unit at St George’s Hospital.

Corten steel used to terrace the garden and channel water to a pool below

Corten steel used to terrace the garden and channel water to a pool below

The garden was built on a slope using Corten steel to create steps and a really nice water fall.  Planting was simple and effective – and the beauty of it being a sloping garden was that it was easy for visitors to see everything, which is often a problem with the larger gardens as mere mortals aren’t allowed into them to take a proper look around.

One garden which did have a building this year was the Homebase Garden designed by Adam Frost.  And a very nice building it was too – an open-sided oak and stone arbour, complete with a wildlife-friendly green roof and a fireplace.

Homebase Garden.JPG

It was a very appealing space, and as the garden was designed ‘to encourage us to stop and spend quality time with each other’, I’d say it fulfilled the brief very well.

Along with the lupins, another key plant in many gardens this year was Iris sibirica which is a great favourite of mine.  Iris were planted en masse to represent a channel of water in Hugo Bugg’s Waterscape Garden.

Waterscape, planting.JPG

And the very beautiful wine red spikes of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ are always a welcome sight.  The cast concrete paving was really effective too – and a very clever way to represent sun-baked cracked ground.


Clever cast concrete paving in Hugo Bugg's Waterscape Garden

Clever cast concrete paving in Hugo Bugg’s Waterscape Garden

In the ‘Fresh Gardens’ section of the show I particularly liked the Well Child Garden by Olivia Kirk.

The WellChild Garden.JPG

She had designed a wonderful curving cedar shingle wall and the planting complemented the bronze colour of the hard landscaping really well.  After seeing so much blue, green and white elsewhere, this made a refreshing change!

In the RNIB sensory garden I was very taken with the use of granite – cut as plank paving for a clean contemporary look, but also used to create a simple but really attractive water feature which would be at home in pretty much any garden.


When I analyse many of the planting schemes at Chelsea, it’s pretty obvious that if they were transplanted to a real garden they wouldn’t work for more than a few weeks at most. They are designed to look fantastic for a week – and they always do – but on the whole use way too many plants in a small space.

Shade planting.JPG

But there’s no denying that it’s a brilliant event to see new plants, great planting combinations and top quality garden design, and the point is (I think) it’s an event to inspire us, so whether it’s realistic or not, it’s a show I feel I can’t miss!


Picture credits:  Janet Bligh

Fabulous plants for July

There are so many wonderful plants to recommend at this time of year it’s hard to draw up a short list, but here are just a few of my favourites for July interest:

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

Rosa The Generous Gardener

I have to admit I’m not an expert on roses but when I was looking for a climbing rose for my own garden this was top of my list. Although ‘The Generous Gardener’ is a tall shrub rose (about 5’ high) I have trained it as a climber on a fairly shady wall, and it’s perfect as it doesn’t get too high (maximum 10’).  New buds are pink and the flowers are a beautiful soft pink, with petals turning creamy white before they fall.  It’s a repeat flowerer too which I think is important for a rose when it’s planted in a key position in the garden.  I chose this variety not just because of its disease resistance, beautiful flower shape and colour (and a great name!), but because it has a lovely scent too – which after all is one of the major reasons for growing roses.

Roses are best grown in good soil with regular moisture and feeding.  Deadheading throughout the season will prolong flowering.

There are so many roses to choose from that it can be a bit bewildering (and I speak from experience!), so it’s important to research ultimate size and vigour of plants as well as shade tolerance and of course the length of their flowering period and strength of scent.  If you can get out to visit rose gardens at this time of year, it’s a great way to see the massive variety of roses at their best.

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’
Ornamental grasses have become very popular garden plants over recent years. And it’s not surprising given their long period of interest (often right through the winter).

Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' in July

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ in July

For a sunny garden with light, well-drained soil Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ is a lovely choice.  More upright than many Pennisetum (or fountain grass) varieties, it has lovely pale pink flowers from midsummer onwards and makes a beautiful low hedge (although its foliage will die back over winter).

Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' in autumn as the flowers fade in colour

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ in autumn as the flower colour fades

It’s such a tactile (and neat) plant it works really well next to a path or seating area.

Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’
Hemerocallis (or daylilies) are very easy perennials to grow for midsummer colour (generally yellows, oranges, reds and some pinks).  They form clumps of strappy bright green foliage (which can provide a great contrast in texture to many other summer flowering perennials so valuable on that count alone) and they are generally tough and reliable plants.

Hemerocallis Stafford

Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ is an evergreen daylily with striking red flowers with a yellow throat.  It makes a real statement in a summer border, contrasting well with hot colours as well as blues and purples.  Happy in average soil and also clay, they really are easy to grow – as long as they’ve got a reasonable amount of moisture and good light levels.

Trachelospermum jasminoides
This is an evergreen climber I wouldn’t be without.  It has glossy bright green pointed leaves, a lovely twining habit (making it ideal to grow through trellis panels) and is covered in clusters of delicate, star-shaped, jasmine-scented white flowers in midsummer. Hardly surprising then that it’s commonly known as the ‘Star Jasmine’ or referred to as an ‘evergreen Jasmine’.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Trachelospermum jasminoides is quite a large plant so it will need good support and space to spread.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Also, it’s a little on the tender side – but given a well-drained soil and a fairly sheltered position, should cope very well through even freezing winter weather.  Highly recommended!

To get more inspiration about fantastic plants to grow for midsummer interest, check out a couple of my previous blogs:

Flowering shrubs for hot dry gardens and Make room for Pollinators

Picture credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in July

water your garden

Watering is key during prolonged dry spells at this time of year – and not just for your herbaceous planting.  Don’t forget to keep any eye on any recently planted trees, hedging and shrubs.  Lawns can be left (unless they were laid recently) – even if they go dry and brown, they will recover with a bit of rain.

Ornamental and fruiting Cherry trees (Prunus) should be pruned in midsummer. 

If you trim your box hedging and topiary now, it should stay looking neat for the rest of the year, though you might want to clip it over lightly in September too.  Avoid clipping box plants in hot weather or bright sunlight as the cut areas might burn and turn brown.

WisteriaPrune whippy summer growth of Wisteria to within five of six buds of the main stems, and cut main stems back if they have outgrown their space.

Deadhead roses and once they’ve finished their first flowering flush, feed them with rose food or general purpose feed (making sure to water in the granules for easy absorbtion).

If you grow Philadelphus, make sure to prune your shrubs on an annual basis after flowering.  Mature congested shrubs in particular should be pruned by taking out the oldest stems at the base to ensure the production of healthy new flowering stems for next year. 

Take cuttings of evergreen shrubs such as Camellia and Rhododendrons and prune established Weigela florida after flowering.


Cut back hardy Geraniums if they’ve finished flowering. This will encourage new foliage, and possibly new flowers later in the summer

Japanese Anemone by Firgrove PhotographicFeed late flowering perennials such as Japanese Anemone & Asters (sprinkle & water in a general purpose fertiliser).

Cut back hardy Geraniums if they’ve finished flowering. This will encourage new foliage, and possibly new flowers later in the summer.

Divide old clumps of bearded Iris which have become congested, and replant them.
Regularly dead head annuals and perennials such as daylilies (Hemerocallis) and Helenium. Knautia, Scabiosa and Salvia.  Use secateurs, snipping stems as low as possible to avoid leaving unsightly stubs.
Lupins by Firgrove Photographic 

Cut back old flower stems of Delphiniums and Lupins to their base.

Plant autumn-flowering bulbs such as Colchicum and autumn Crocus.

Raise the blade height of your lawn mower in hot and dry weather. Letting it grow slightly longer will help keep it green. Avoid laying any new turf at this time of year.

Top up your pond when the water level drops due to evaporation in hot weather (preferably from water butts not tap water).

Regularly add liquid feed to pots and hanging baskets.  If you’re going away, move all your pots to a cool shady spot where they won’t dry out so quickly.

NB this information applies to gardens in the UK and of course, you need to take account of your own local weather conditions when carrying out any work in the garden.

If you’re growing fruit & veg. or flowers for cutting, take a look at my blog on Jobs for the productive garden in July.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in July

Lots to do in July if you’re growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting! 

Keep cutting Sweet peas and Cosmos regularly to encourage more flowers.

Cut and dry (or freeze) herbs

Drying lavender

Cut Lavender for drying and take cuttings of woody herbs such as Lavender, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.
Keep sowing salad vegetables and herbs regularly.  There’s still time to sow carrot & parsnip seeds.  Sow salads and spinach for autumn as well as spring cabbage.
Tidy strawberry beds when fruiting is over – compost any straw, shear the plants to about 5cm from the ground (removing all the rubbish), add fertiliser and water well.  If you want to grow new plants, leave some of the stronger old plants alone and pin down the runners.  These will form new plants with roots and can be cut away from the main plant and replanted in autumn.
redcurrants blackcurrantsHarvest berries & currants.  Cut out the fruited stems of summer raspberries & loganberries. Protect ripening fruit trees (cherry, plum, peach, nectarine) from birds.

Thin out heavy crops of plums, apples & pears to avoid branches breaking with the weight, and prune overlong shoots on trained fruit trees such as espaliers, cordons & arches.

Tip-prune figs to encourage bushier growth & more fruit buds (pinch out new growth beyond 5 or 6 leaves).

Remove surplus leaves and sideshoots on grape vines to stop them shading the fruit.


Pick courgettes, cucumbers, and beans regularly or they will spoil, and harvest autumn-planted onions, garlic & shallots when ready.

When early crops are over, clear the beds and sprinkle organic fertilizer, fork over the soil and keep them free of weeds.

Use a copper-based fungicide to prevent blight on potatoes and tomatoes.  Check brassicas for Cabbage white butterfly eggs.

Keep up with your watering.  Giving plants a good soaking in the evening is most effective.  While you have the hose out damp down the greenhouse floor to keep the atmosphere moist and to discourage red spider mites.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh