RHS Chelsea flower show 2018 – highlights

Another year, another Chelsea Flower Show!  I was worried that it may turn out to be a disappointment like the 2017 show was, with very few of the large Show Gardens to enjoy, but the numbers were up this year and there was actually plenty to see.

That said, the overall winning show garden (‘The Morgan Stanley garden for the NSPCC’) was actually very difficult to see!  We mere mortals who pay for tickets to the show don’t have the honour of being ‘allowed’ in to wander around the gardens and see them from every angle, so the view looking into the garden from outside is critical.  There were 2 gardens this year where I just couldn’t get any sense of what was going on because the visibility was so limited. One was the Morgan Stanley Garden, and the other was the ‘Spirit of Cornwall garden’.  I’m sure they were both lovely, but I’ll never know for sure!

 

M & G garden

There are always a few contentious gardens where visitors to the show just ‘don’t get’ what the garden is about.  This year I think the main contender was probably ‘The M&G Garden’ by Sarah Price which won a gold medal.  For someone looking for a quintessential English garden, this was far from it.

M&G Garden

Colours were muted, the planting was sparse and made up of Mediterranean drought-loving plants, and the hard landscaping had a distinct dusky pink hue.  So all in all, not very British!  I liked it, and am always pleased to see something original at the show – that’s why I go!

Perhaps not surprisingly, two of the BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award winners were very traditionally English in style, although at opposite ends of the design spectrum.  Mark Gregory’s ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ was beautifully built and a very lovely slice of Yorkshire sitting in the middle of London.  As a (proud) Yorkshire woman I could appreciate how realistic it was and the attention to detail was phenomenal.

Welcome to Yorkshire

As a total contrast, in the artisan garden category ‘A Very English Garden’ was a much more formal affair, but had some stunning stonework and really beautiful planting.  I’m not generally that keen on the artisan gardens as so many of them try to pack too much in (in my humble opinion), but this was a classy little garden.

A Very English Garden

The third People’s Choice winner was also one of my favourites.  This was ‘The Silent Pool Gin Garden’, designed by David Neale.  It was a very attractive contemporary garden with a calm atmosphere, a lovely mix of materials, and all very well executed.  It felt like the sort of stylish garden which would translate very well to a domestic setting.

Silent Pool Gin Garden

‘The Trailfinders Garden South African Wine Estate garden’ illustrated an interesting mix of influences with its Cape Dutch homestead building, a very romantic front garden in what we’d think of as an English cottage garden style, and then beyond the garden boundary a section of vines, merging with an area planted to represent the wild South African landscape.

Trailfinders South African

It was a really nicely put together garden, and as my companion at the show is very familiar with South Africa it was good to learn about more about all the authentic details used in the design.

I think plant of the year for 2018 was definitely the Lupin.  And all I can say to that is there are clearly no slugs allowed at the Chelsea Flower Show!  Two of my favourite small gardens (both in the ‘Space to Grow 2018’ category) featured stunning Lupins.

Seedlip planting

One was ‘The Seedlip Garden’ which was stuffed with Lupins and all the species of plants used in the garden were related to the pea family.   I also came away with serious ‘Peavilion’ envy (their name for the pavilion, not mine I promise).

The Seedlip Garden

Lupins were also used to great dramatic effect in the ‘Urban Flow’ garden which had a subtle mix of materials and planting, and some lovely metalwork throughout.

Urban Flow

This garden won a gold medal for the designer Tony Woods.

Silent Pool Gin

Another of the main show gardens I enjoyed was ‘The David Harber and Savills Garden’.

David Harber & Savills

I liked the steel screens and the relatively simple layout which was set off by some very nice planting (including – wait for it – lupins!!).

David Harber Savills

 

With the usual stunning array of plants in the pavilion, some warm sunshine and a nice drop of Pimms at lunch time, I have to say that all in all it was a good show this year. I’ll be back for more in 2019 no doubt!

Advertisements

5 essential … plants for a flowering hedge

We tend to think of hedges as plain green blocks, made up of plants such as Yew, Beech and Laurel, marking the boundaries of our beds and gardens and providing the backdrop to more interesting planting. It doesn’t have to be this way: flowering hedges can be decorative elements in their own right.  As the traditional hedge planting season draws to a close, there’s still plenty of time to plant a flowering alternative.

Choisya ternata

A hedge of Choisya ternata provides both backdrop and decoration: the glossy, aromatic, bright green foliage provides an excellent year-round background for a mixed border, and in late spring the whole plant is smothered in highly scented, star-shaped white flowers. Other factors that make this evergreen shrub a popular choice for hedging include its fast rate of growth, dense habit and easy-going nature: Choisya ternata grows well on any reasonably well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade, reaching a maximum height and spread of around 2m by 2.5m. Its only special requirement is a relatively sheltered site as it won’t be happy in a very cold or windy spot.

 

Choisya ternata.JPG

The cultivar Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ has the same characteristics as its relative, but the young leaves are a glossy bright yellow in full sun or a more subtle yellow/green when grown in partial shade.  I have to admit I’m not a fan of this variety as I think it looks a bit sick but it does brighten a gloomy area!
Garden care: established hedges should be pruned fairly hard immediately after flowering which may also encourage a second flush of flowering in autumn. Cut out frost damaged stems in early spring.

Hydrangeas are great shrubs that flower all summer and autumn and make highly decorative informal hedges. There a number of different varieties, but Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars make an excellent choice for hedging as they have large, long-lasting flowers and a compact, rounded habit and require only minimal pruning once a year.

Hydrangea, Nymans

Although deciduous, the mopheads in particular retain year-round interest as the dried flower heads persist well through the winter. Which cultivar to choose will probably pose the biggest problem as the flowers come in two shapes – round ‘mopheads’ or flattened lacecaps – and a wide range of colours – whites, pinks, violets, blues and reds – while the stems and leaves can vary from green through red to near black. The final variant is size, cultivars varying from around one to two metres eventual height and spread.

Once the choice is made, all the macrophylla Hydrangeas are fully hardy shrubs that require little shelter and thrive in windy gardens, including seaside ones, and perform well in full sun to part shade, but they do appreciate having their feet in cool moist conditions so prefer a deep, rich soil with plenty of organic matter dug in and a good spring mulch.
Garden care: it is best to leave the flower heads over winter to give protection to the growth buds below. Dead head in spring after the danger of frosts, cutting back the stem to just above the first healthy buds.

Hypericum x hidcoteense ‘Hidcote’ is one of a large genus, commonly known as St John’s Wort, that includes annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs which are all instantly recognisable for their prolific bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers. Of all the family, Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ is the most commonly used for hedging because of its dense, bushy, spreading habit, and its hardiness and versatility.

 

Hypericum Hidcote

This is a very hardy plant surviving temperatures down to -12 degrees centigrade, making it suitable for most areas although it will appreciate some protection from cold winds. It grows well in most types of soil, preferably well-drained, and is happy in full sun or partial to full shade although flowering will be more prolific in a sunny spot. Appearances obviously matter too, and the dark green foliage makes a superb backdrop to the profusion of stunning golden yellow flowers with orange stamens which come in relentless succession from mid-summer until late autumn.

Hypericum Hidcote is referred to as ‘semi-evergreen’ as the leaves can drop for a couple of months in the hardest of winters but regenerate in spring when the whole hedge will benefit from a trim to remove last year’s growth and maintain its bushy habit. Eventual height is 1.5m, but Hypericum Hidcote hedges are best kept to a maximum of 1m high to prevent them getting straggly.
Garden care: apply a good mulch of rich organic matter after pruning.

The relatively recent move towards more naturalistic planting has led to a much wider use of ornamental grasses in planting designs and the introduction of the idea of using grasses as screens and hedges. Although maybe not the most obvious choice when thinking of hedging, grasses lend themselves very well to the job as they add both colour and movement and can be designed to be a textural through-line in a garden, lending themselves easily to straight lines or sweeping curves.

Miscanthus Yaki Dwarf

Of the many grasses available, it’s hard to beat the cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis for their long season of interest, colourful flowers and sturdy ability to remain standing through winter.  Miscanthus ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ has fine textured, silvery-green leaves that form upright, arching clumps up to 1.2m high and in late summer long-lasting plume like panicles of pinky-brown, silky flowerheads emerge and delicately change to silvery white as they mature. The flowerheads and leaves glow with gold and orange when they catch the winter sun and are breathtakingly beautiful with a coating of hoar frost.

It’s not a fussy creature, apart from disliking winter wet, and grows well in any fairly moist and well-drained soil, becoming drought tolerant once established. Maintenance couldn’t be much easier either: simply cut down once a year before new leaves start to grow and divide every few years.  I like the fact that a hedge of grasses is a dynamic addition to the garden, and changes throughout the year rather than simply being a static object like a more traditional hedge.

Shrubby Potentillas are the victims of considerable garden snobbery: mention their name to many gardeners and what comes to mind is a rather common, ‘old-fashioned’ little plant covered in brash yellow flowers. It’s one of those tough old plants, like Mahonias and Forsythias, that got their unfavourable image largely through being the uncared-for survivors of long neglected gardens and their unfortunate tendency to have unsubtle, unfashionable bright yellow flowers. But times have moved on and nowadays Potentilla fruticosa, the most commonly available species in the UK, comes in a whole range of colours, still including many yellows, but also numerous shades of white, pink, orange and red.

Potentilla Abbotswood
Potentilla fruticans ‘Abbotswood’

It’s a good idea to choose your colour carefully as you’ll be seeing a lot of it – given a sunny spot, Potentilla fruticosa will produce masses of saucer shaped flowers, resembling those of single roses, from May until September and needs very little care or attention to do so. The dainty, deeply divided, deciduous leaves vary in colour from dark to grey/green and the shrub has a spreading habit that forms neat mounds roughly 1m high by 1.5m wide. Potentilla fruticans ‘Primrose Beauty’ AGM is a particularly long-flowering variety with pale yellow flowers and grey/green foliage and Potentilla ‘Abbotswood’ AGM has large, pure white flowers and mid green leaves.

Potentilla fruticans is a tough, resilient, fully hardy shrub that needs no watering once established, thrives in poor, well-drained soils and is pretty much impervious to pests, diseases and deer. All of this makes it an ideal choice for hedging, especially on a hot, dry site and it makes a very good companion for other drought tolerant plants, especially those with silver leaves.
Garden care: trim lightly with shears after flowering.

 

Potentilla Goldfinger
A splash of summer colour from Potentilla ‘Goldfinger’

 

 

5 essential … plants for winter interest

In the depths of winter plants which provide structure, colour and fragrance in a garden are especially welcome. Here are a few easy plants which will offer much, if not all, of that.

It isn’t just leaves and flowers that add colour to the garden – stems can do it too and those of shrubby Cornus (commonly known as ‘dogwoods’) do it in style. Depending on the variety, at this time of year their upright stems provide a stunningly vivid display of dark red, orange, limey green or dark bronze-black, from leaf fall right through the winter.

cornus stems

For maximum impact, go for a group planting of 3 or more and they will look truly spectacular in an open spot where they will literally light up when the winter sun hits them.

Although you could argue its star turn is in winter, Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ also produces small white flowers in spring followed by white berries in autumn and its golden yellow leaves turn red and orange in Autumn.

cornus

So basically it’s a great plant for interest pretty much all year round.  It isn’t fussy about soil, but will do best in moist soil and is a useful plant for wet areas of the garden.
Top tip: Prune hard to 30-40cm above ground in early spring to prevent the shrub getting too large and to rejuvenate it so that fresh coloured stems grow each year.

Hamamelis or ‘witch hazel’ is definitely a wonder in winter when the bare branches are covered in clusters of sweetly scented yellow, orange or red spidery flowers. Plant it on a woodland edge, or in winter border alongside a path, where its fragrance can be appreciated and you can cut the flowering twigs and bring them indoors to perfume your house in winter.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Bernstein'

This large spreading shrub/small tree grows (slowly!) up to around 4m in height and spread, so give it plenty of space to expand in time. Hamamelis prefer a moist, well-drained neutral to acid soil in sun or partial shade.

Helleborus sternii is a very attractive evergreen perennial with pretty creamy-pink-green flowers that will brighten up a winter woodland or shady border from January to March.

 

Hellebore sternii.JPG (1)

Standing about 30cm tall it has glossy, prickly-edged leaves and provides architectural shape in the border all year round, so it’s a great plant if you want some attractive evergreen structure at a low level or to grow under trees and shrubs.  It’s also ideal to plant in a raised flower bed, where the flowers can be seen more easily.  Helleborus sternii likes a neutral to alkaline soil in sun or partial shade and will benefit from a mulch of well rotted organic matter in autumn. Most hellebores are very hardy, but this variety may need a bit of shelter from cold winter winds.

Phyllostachys Aurea is a tall, strongly upright growing bamboo that’s great for hedging and screening, but also makes a very elegant specimen plant whose stems when mature can add a wonderful splash of golden colour to your winter garden.

Phyllostachys

For maximum impact, plant in full sun and prune the lower side shoots away to reveal the canes in all their glory.  If you’re not too keen on the yellow colour, opt instead for Phyllostachys nigra which has very attractive black shoots.  Plant in moist, well drained soil in sun or partial shade, and protect from cold, drying winds.  Top tip: if you don’t want to find this plant running amok through your garden (and the garden next door!) surround the roots with a non-perishable barrier that will restrict the plant’s spread. You have been warned!!

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a tall, imposing and highly architectural plant that will add year round structure and winter interest to a shady area of the garden. Despite its large size and prickly leaves, this plant has one of the most delicious and delicate of scents, very like that of Lily of the Valley, which makes a wonderful surprise in the winter.

mahonia charity

The spikes of fragrant pale yellow flowers are held above rosettes of large dark green, holly-like leaves from November to March and provide a valuable source of nectar for pollinating insects in winter while the blue/black berries that follow will attract birds into your garden.  This hardy shrub will be happy in a moderately fertile moist or well drained soil.

Mahonia

 

You can also find more plants for winter interest in my previous blogs:

5 essential … plants for winter seedheads

5 essential … small evergreen plants

 

Photos:  Janet Bligh

 

 

5 essential … trees for spring blossom

Nothing lifts flagging winter spirits like the first signs of blossom on the boughs, the clouds of pink and white that follow bringing with them the first true promise of spring and a new gardening year. While the iconic blossom trees are April’s ornamental cherries, the blossom season lasts from February to early May, moving through the Prunus family (from blackthorn, apricots, plums and cherries) and then on to the later crab apples, apples and Hawthorn.  And right now it’s the perfect time to be planting trees so get busy and ensure you have lots of beautiful blossom to look forward to!

One of the earliest blossom trees to flower is Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidore’, a dainty Japanese apricot that grows to only 3 metres and produces deep carmine pink, almond scented flowers on bare stems in late February to March.

Prunus Beni-chidori ©Ornamental Trees

The yellow fruits that follow are edible, but not pleasantly so as they are very bitter. It prefers a moist, fertile, well-drained soil and is best planted in a sunny, sheltered spot next to a path in order to catch the scent. It also makes a good container plant.

For something a little bit different, ornamental pear trees flower ahead of most other blossom trees and are usually easy to grow, tolerant of most soils and conditions and disease resistant. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ is one of the best. It is an upright, compact tree to 7-10m in height and carries large white flowers on bare stems in March.

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer © Marc Deraeve

The fruit aren’t suitable for human consumption, but make useful late season food for birds and the leaves take on fiery tints in autumn, later than many other trees.

Amelanchier lamarkii is another early bloomer, smothering itself in delicate, star shaped white flowers in March to April. In early summer these go on to produce edible purple/black fruits that are a particular favourite of blackbirds. The small leaves provide dappled shade in summer and turn from striking bronze when they emerge to green and then brilliant red and orange in autumn.

Amelanchier. © beechwood nurseries

It is a slow grower and makes an excellent choice as a specimen for smaller gardens. It can also be grown as a multi-stemmed tree, providing additional structural interest in winter. Happy in sun or partial shade, this tree tolerates extreme cold and wet, but does need a lime free soil.

The real stars of the show are the ornamental cherries, many of which have Japanese names as they were bred from Japanese garden cherries by the famous plantsman, Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingrams. Amongst the most unusual of these is Prunus ‘Ukon’ as its clusters of large, semi-double blossoms are neither pink nor white, but pale sulphur yellow. These open from pink buds in mid to late April and are perfectly complemented by its bronze/brown young foliage. It has an attractive, spreading habit and umbrella-like canopy and is altogether a beautiful tree for any garden. (Ultimate height and spread approximately 8m x 10m).  Prunus avium Plena (AGM) is not Japanese, but the double flowered version of our native cherry and is covered in a profusion of pure white drooping flowers in late April to May. Its young bronze leaves turn to dark green and then a rich, vibrant red in autumn. At about 10m x 10m it makes a spectacular specimen or avenue tree in a large garden.

Prunus avium plena ©RHS plants

 

If it’s pink that takes your fancy, Prunus ‘Ichiyo’ is a lovely, dainty tree (up to 6m tall) with neat, shell-pink blooms set off by bronze-green foliage.

Prunus Ichiyo ©rhs
Ornamental cherries grow best in fertile, well-drained, soil in sun or partial shade. They will not tolerate water logging.
Late bloomers, but no less beautiful for it, the crab apples see the blossom season out in style. They are related to our domestic apple (for which they make excellent pollinators), but have much smaller fruits which can only be eaten cooked and are mostly made into jellies and jams. In late spring, they have pretty, scented, usually single flowers, ranging in colour from pure white to deep pink, depending on the variety.  Some cultivars have purple leaves.  In autumn, they have small, attractively coloured red or yellow ‘miniature apples’ and they often have good autumn leaf colour as well. Most crab apples do not grow to more than 6m tall, and take quite a long time to get there so they are excellent trees for small gardens.  Malus hupehensis is an exception to this rule and, at up to 12 metres tall, makes a wonderful spreading specimen tree.

Malus-hupehensis ©rhs

It has profuse clusters of pink-budded white flowers in spring, followed by cherry-shaped, deep-red fruits, and red and yellow autumn tints to the leaves.
Crab apples are very hardy, and happy to grow in almost any soil, provided it does not dry out easily in summer. They like a sunny position, but will tolerate some shade.

 

Photos credits:  Ornamental Trees, Marc Deraeve, Beechwood Nurseries, Royal Horticultural Society.