Each year at the Chelsea Flower Show, certain plants are guaranteed. Frivolous bearded irises, drumstick heads of purple alliums and aquilegia star in amazing show gardens year after year. It’s because they flower in early summer anyway so they’re relatively easy to speed up a little and get in peak condition for the show in late May.
Another addition that always sets a show garden apart is a statement shrub or tree. Wow-factor early flowerers such as Cornus kousa have such a sophisticated look you can bring a bit of show-garden style to your own space – and they don’t get too big either.
‘Milky Way’ took on a starring role on designer Jo Thompson’s ‘The Writer’s Retreat’ garden at this year’s show. It’s spangled with creamy-white flowers in June and reaches 7m (22ft) tall. Or try Cercidiphyllum japonicum, a beautifully graceful tree with round, translucent leaves. They turn fiery shades of orange and scarlet in autumn, when they also give off a delicious toffee apple smell. One’s probably enough, although Adam Frost used six in his Homebase garden this year!
As well as the stalwarts designers choose because they know they can be relied on, there’s often a new trendy plant that crops up over and over again. At 2014’s show, it was Lysimachia atropurpurea, a perennial that popped up on several show gardens to grace borders with its strange spires of dusky claret flowers and silver-grey leaves. You don’t need to be able to afford a Chelsea townhouse to grow it, seed is available from Thompson & Morgan for £3.69.
In this year’s gardens, designers looked for more unusual, adventurous versions of the old favourites, too. Not just plain old aquilegia, but dainty little Aquilegia ecalcarata in Jo Thompson’s garden and on Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth garden, there was lemony Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’. Aquilegia ecalcarata has soft pinky-purple flowers that nod gracefully over filigree foliage, and Jo mixed it with another newly-trendy plant: Daucus carota or wild carrot. This carrot’s not grown for its roots, but its cow parsley-like flowers and fine, feathery leaves. Jo chose the variety ‘Dara' whose leaves are a lovely shade of burgundy. It's set to be the Next Big Thing. You read it here first!
MUST-BUY PLANT… Aquilegia
Granny’s bonnets are a cottage garden favourite that will self-seed around for flowers that are normally shades of pink and purple.
Aquilegia ‘Yellow Queen’
Ring the changes with this show-garden star. Long-spurred flowers in a lovely shade of lemony-yellow add bright, zingy colour.
- Garden News is on sale every Tuesday or subscribe and try your first 4 issues for just £1 – Call 0844 848 8872 or visit www.greatmagazines.co.uk/YFIG and quote YFIG. T&Cs apply.
There's more gardening in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday