Reflections on Chelsea 20188th June 2018 • Chelsea Flower Show • Stephanie Donaldson
With no shortage of television commentary and press coverage of every type, there is no point in me writing an in-depth review – so instead this is a round-up of the things that caught my eye – the people, the plants, the gardens. This was not a vintage Chelsea in my estimation, but then I go there with a critical eye, whilst most visitors are there to enjoy themselves and there was plenty of evidence of that, even if the gardens were a bit thin on the ground.
I love the way that people embrace the floral theme – these are a few enthusiasts that caught my eye.
Well-known garden writer, Peter Seabrook, dons this tie for all special horticultural occasions. It was given to him by American friends and whenever he is photographed wearing it in the presence of royalty he sends the photo through to them and they have it made into a fridge magnet. He recently told the Duchess of Cornwall that their photo would be on a fridge in Minnesota within the week!
From Chelsea Pensioner to a floral feast of a jacket, red stood out from the crowds
The couple running this cactus stand have certainly embraced their love of cacti.
The theme was green for garden designer Ann-Marie Powell and a stylish attendee – and very lovely they both looked.
There were lashings of lupins around in the show gardens, but over the years I’ve found they are not the most reliable of plants, succumbing to slugs, wilt and aphid attack, so I was much more attracted to their tougher relative the baptisia which is now available in a range of colours, rather than just blue. It’s a plant I will seek out.
I’m always a sucker for a poppy and this soft pink Papaver dubium lecoqii Album was a lovely presence in several of the gardens. The seed is available form Derry Watkin’s Special Plants and at Great Dixter.
John Massey’s Ashwood Hellebores were hugely admired in the Great Pavilion –his skills as a plant breeder and his ability as a grower meant he could present such a wide range of cultivars all in flower for Chelsea.
I’ve developed a bit of a thing for species streptocarpus – they are so much more delicate than the larger cultivars that are popular houseplants – I spotted this one Streptocarpus baudertii on the Dibley’s stand in the Great Pavilion.
I’ll probably never grow trilliums – very expensive slug fodder in my estimation – but I could certainly admire the peerless beauty of this double white on the Kevock stand.
Cayeaux Irises had many beautiful bearded irises on their stand – by far the most attention grabbing, both for its looks and its appearance was ‘Bewilderbeast’.
A German grower had brought some amazing orchids to Chelsea – the stand was beautifully styled with antique collecting tools and books. My skills at orchid growing does not extend beyond moth orchids, so this was very much a case of admiring without coveting.
On my recent visit to the Cotswolds I bought a kniphofia pauciflora – smaller and more delicate than most red hot pokers – not a plant I knew before, but there it was a Chelsea.
One of the loveliest stands in the Great Pavilion was Flowers from the Farm. They are a co-operative of artisan cut flower growers across the UK who supply both wholesalers and the public with a wonderful array of British grown flowers. It is so good to see British flower growers really getting established.
The Show Gardens
There were three standout gardens for me, only one of which attracted a gold medal. Sarah Price’s Mediterranean-inspired garden did evoke that landscape that inspired it most wonderfully, but then so did the South African garden with its Cape Dutch house and fynbos planting, as did the Yorkshire garden, which was a masterclass in stonemasonry.
On a more modest scale, one of the best ideas I saw was on the Lemon Tree Trust garden, where breeze blocks were used to create stepped planters. The Trust provides support, materials and expertise to refugees who want to create small gardens in the camps.
Invasive Plant Alert
I was surprised to find that I have four of the listed invasive species in my garden. I think of buddleja, cotoneaster horizontalis and crocosmia as thugs, rather than unmanageable invaders and rosa rugosa as a useful plant where nothing else will grow. In my own garden I would add Spanish Bluebells and hemerocallis to the rogues gallery, but the important point is to make sure that you get rid of excess plants responsibly. I shred mine and then compost them and if there are just too many I take them to the local green waste site for composting there.