Made in Chelsea
As the world's biggest horticultural show is almost upon us again, Hannah Stephenson leafs through some of the highly anticipated highlights of this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show...
The buzz has, until recently, been about the royal baby, but when Chelsea kicks off all eyes will be on Prince Harry, whose charity Sentebale is returning to Chelsea with a garden (19-23 May).
The Hope in Vulnerability garden by designer Matt Keightley is modelled on a children's camp in Lesotho, adding to the authenticity of the Southern African-styled space. Coppiced, peeled sweet chestnut will form beautiful hurdle fencing nestled in among the planting.
Keightley was the man behind last year's popular Hope on the Horizon garden for Help For Heroes, which won the People's Choice accolade at the show.
Ribbons of colour will dance through the beds linking hard and soft landscaping elements. Matt is also attempting to germinate a native Lesotho Poppy, 'Papaver Aculeatum', to display at Chelsea for the first time.
There's likely to be a lot of interest in Jo Thompson's M&G Retreat Garden, based on a sylvan retreat, with a large natural swimming pond and writers' retreat.
It features a two-storey oak framed building inspired by the writing room of poet Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst Castle, a swimming pond edged with water-loving plants, a woodland of river birches, acacias and acers, and a garden with tumbling roses and peonies in a palette of greens, punctuated by soft pinks, lavender blues and creams, with a touch of orange.
Visitors should also get a whiff of beauty firm L'Occitane's scented garden, inspired by the perfume industry in Grasse, France's perfume capital.
Some gardens will be lifted and moved to their final resting place after the show. The Laurent-Perrier garden, which represents a small part of the grand Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire, is being designed by Dan Pearson, who will be overseeing its final relocation to the Trout Stream area of Chatsworth.
Chis Beardshaw's Healthy Cities Garden, sponsored by Morgan Stanley, is a theatrical representation of community which will be relocated after the show to form the centrepiece in a new community project in East London.
History has also inspired several of this year's gardens. The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is represented in The Living Legacy Garden, designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam.
The garden's design reconciles the drama and violence of the battle with a progressive and positive future. Elements are inspired by the landscape and terrain of Waterloo which Wellington used to his advantage, the battle formations that successfully repelled attack, the regimental colours of British and Allied troops and the eight aptitudes central to the teaching of Wellington College.
In the artisan gardens section, Chorley Council is staging a garden commemorating the anniversary of the end of World War Two, based on designer John Everiss' father, who was a World War Two evader shot down in France. The focal point is a sculpture of a young flyer who, seconds after parachuting into France, hides in the ruins of a war damaged church, surrounded by a mass planting of perennials and annuals in shades from cream to purple.
Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden in the same section marks the 1215 date with a medieval garden designed by A Touch Of France.
There'll also be a plethora of new plants at Chelsea, including the deep pink Streptocarpus 'Menai' named by the Anglesey branch of the WI for their centenary celebrations this year (Dibleys, dibleys.com); and Lavandula angustifolia 'Purity' from Downderry Nursery (downderry-nursery.co.uk), a pure white lavender.
If you can't get there, you can always watch the action on TV. Monty Don will be hosting coverage on BBC2, with Sophie Raworth presenting the BBC One early evening shows.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, runs from May 19 to 23. For more information visit rhs.org.uk
Best of the Bunch
The saxifrage (or saxifraga) is the low-growing stalwart of rock gardens and scree beds in late spring, when a mass of delicate star or saucer-shaped flowers in shades from white to rose and indigo appear above mounds of ground-hugging foliage. There are more than 400 species, including evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous perennials and biennials. As well as being grown in rock gardens, they are also grown in alpine troughs or used to soften walls and paving. Most prefer moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Good types include Saxifraga 'Apple Blossom', a pink type which is great to grow in crevices and borders, and 'Tumbling Waters, a white variety.
Good Enough to Eat
If you have sown your sweetcorn and are almost ready to plant it out, remember to always plant it in blocks of at least 12 plants (such as four rows of three) as sweetcorn is wind-pollinated and won't do as well if you plant in rows. The female flowers, which eventually form the cobs, are pollinated by the male tassels at the end of the plant. You can help pollination by shaking the plants on a still evening to release clouds of pollen.
Some people think that sweetcorn can't be grown in Northern Ireland, but some of the F1 hybrids such as 'Lark' have changed all that. But if you live in a cold region, don't plant your seedlings out until late May or early June.
- In a nursery bed, sow seeds of wallflowers and forget-me-nots and of biennial flowers like honesty and Canterbury bells, which can be transplanted to their flowering spot later in the year
- Prune out old flower stems of euphorbias to provide more space for new stems, wearing gloves as the sap is a skin irritant
- Tie in new growth and flower stems on clematis, directing the stems where you want blooms
- Feed roses, sprinkling a generous handful of rose fertilizer around the base of your roses, hoeing into the soil
- Continue sowing mangetout peas in shallow trenches
- Harden off rooted cuttings of dahlias, ready to plant out when risk of frost has passed
- Gradually lower the height of your mower blades when cutting, as grass growth gets stronger
- Pot up begonia tubers in the greenhouse