Greater variety, daring planting and wild, naturalistic show gardens.
This year the Chelsea Flower Show may not have the weather but there is greater variety on show in the Main Avenue gardens, new trends in evidence and wonderful new plants in the Floral Marquee.
Here are our top trends for gardeners to try at home:
Several of the show gardens wooed visitors with heady scent, most notably James Basson’s Perfumer’s Garden for L’Occitane, which wonderfully evoked the perfume capital of Grasse with its skilled tapestry of scented flowers and shrubs. Rosemary, rose, thyme, fig and Osmanthus mingled in perfect harmony in a garden that charmed all the senses.
In Kamelia Bin Zaal’s modern interpretation of an Islamic garden, the deep musky perfume of scented planting added to the exotic feel of the garden and when the sun came out the sensation of being in a far flung Riad in the Arab world was almost real.
It’s been a long time since Chelsea saw a rock garden but this year they were back – supersized – without a heather or alpine in sight. Instead designers in the show gardens and nurseries in the floral marquee used large boulders and rocks in combination with woodland plants and wild flowers, blurring the boundaries between wild landscapes and managed gardens.
Dan Pearson’s skilled interpretation of Joseph Paxton’s Victorian Rockery at Chatsworth easily scooped Best in Show, whilst water tumbled over boulders in both the Sentebale, Hope in Vulnerability garden and the Hidden Beauty of Kranji.
Attention turned to native trees with willows, oak, hawthorn and field maples outflanking the ubiquitous silver birch.
Shrubs have been rather out of fashion, with designers instead relying on tightly clipped box and yew for structural interest but this year small trees and shrubs provided the backbone of many gardens. Notably the pretty dogwood, Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ and the airy shrub Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Victoria’ with its delicate bell shaped, pink flushed flowers.
Many gardens hung onto a palette of purple flowered perennials, and old favourite Salvia Nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ was back, along with Chelsea stalwart Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, which rubbed shoulders with the zesty orange Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ in more than one show garden and on several nursery stands.
Plant of the Year
This hotly contested title went to a new Vibrunum cultivar, ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ from Burncoose Nursery. It claims four seasons of interest, soft white changing to pale pink lacecap flowers in Spring, deep red berries in Summer, a second light flowering in late summer and splendid red/purple foliage in Autumn. A worthy plant for any garden.
Grasses and Rushes
Grasses and rushes appeared in both the wild naturalistic, and the finely groomed, show gardens. Melica uniflora ‘Alba’ was perhaps the most prolific grass in use this year, it’s one of the earliest grasses to flower making it a prime candidate for Chelsea. Its dainty grain like flowers catch the light beautifully and it associates well with other plants in a border.
Rushes also popped up in watery settings, notably Juncus effusus and the Snowy Wood Rush, Luzula nivea, both invaluable for their year round structural interest and Luzula nivea for it’s downy, white pom pom puffs of flower.
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