If you’re lucky enough to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, or if you’ve been before, you’ll know how amazing the show gardens are. True, they cost thousands of pounds to build and not many of us could afford to replicate them, but they’re brilliant for inspiration and planting ideas.
Right now, designers will be frantically building their gardens on the show’s site at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, ready for the May 20 opening. We don’t yet know what this year’s ‘trendy’ plant will be but somewhere, 2014’s must-have Chelsea plant will be being mollycoddled to be at the peak of perfection for show week. Soon it will be painstakingly wrapped – sometimes even in cotton wool! – and delicately transported to be given pride of place in one of the gardens.
Last year, a beautiful deep purple verbascum called Violetta was the plant everyone wanted to take away. Purple flowers are often used in Chelsea gardens, partly because late May is when flowers such as starry purple alliums and velvety mauve and violet bearded irises bloom naturally, so they don’t need costly, panic-inducing forcing to get them to bloom.
It does happen that plants don’t behave and refuse to bloom for the show, especially when the weather fails to co-operate. A display of bearded irises from French nursery Cayeux Iris once stayed firmly in bud at the start of the show, when the displays are judged, and only opened towards the end of the week, despite the exhibitors trying everything under the sun to get their flowers to open for the judges, including using a hairdryer!
Other growers have to slow their plants down. Displays of daffodils in mid-May are only possible if the bulbs spend a few months in carefully controlled cold storage. So much effort is needed to create a show-stopping exhibit, and when you factor in the vagaries of the British weather too, the skill and dedication of Chelsea’s exhibitors is breathtaking. I’m just glad I don’t have the world’s press and TV cameras scrutinising my garden and plants once a year!
MUST-BUY PLANT… Acanthus
Acanthus mollis or bear’s breeches, is a perennial with large green leaves and tall spiny flower heads of purple and white – very Chelsea!
Acanthus ‘Tasmanian Angel’
For a change of foliage colour, choose Acanthus mollis ‘Tasmanian Angel’, which has similar flowers in white and pink, and very unusual variegated leaves.
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