Last week, I gritted my teeth around the Chelsea Flower Show. Once I had finished moaning to my mother about inappropriate planting (who ever saw an Armeria maritima variety growing amongst mosses and grasses at a lake-side?) and the stupidity of a sailing boat and ruined castle included in one garden scheme, I calmed to a point where I enjoyed the positive aspects. Yes, there is much to applaud in some show gardens, but I seem to be against the zeitgeist in finding more loose, meadow- style planting schemes a bit trying. This year the designers had excluded some of the grasses, (there was still lots of purple salvias), but added lupins and white camassia, the latter always a little tatty in my opinion, but fitting the bill for many designers, I suppose, in being a meadow- type bulb, and not blue.
I am also against the zeitgeist and clearly have bad taste, as I most enjoyed the ‘Silk Road’ garden, which was, from what I can see, criticised by some of the horticultural press for bulky, stilted planting and lack of academic rigour.
But I was glad to see it: brave and gaudy, with its vibrant colour scheme enclosed in a timber structure of graded reds and pinks. There were lots of shrubs, including compact pink rhododendron, un-favoured by designers right now and looking a bit like a granny’s hat for Ascot with candelabra primula, some in yellow and orange, those most despised of garden colours. Hurray! Someone throwing the good taste to the wind and giving us all something to ogle at. We have embraced the 70’s again in many ways, could we have something more dynamic on the planting front? It doesn’t take a meadow flower to please a honey bee. It’s the flower structure that counts; not its situation amongst a group of meadow-like pastel friends that is going to give it the nectar it needs.
Feeling buoyed up by the Silk Road, I strolled off to the tent. Here’s the point of Chelsea: nurseries that devote years to breeding new plant varieties and preserving old ones. At the Hardy’s stand, I misbehaved by invading the plant displays to rescue a bee from drowning in a dyed black pool. I had asked the man if I could do so, it’s just that he changed his mind when he saw me clambering around the pool edge. There is something about the whole culture of these flower shows, of the ‘instant’ garden ( how many times have clients told me that they cannot wait for their garden and they want it straight away), that makes me feel afraid for nature, so I’ll put my bad behaviour down to that.
Lupins were the ‘in’ plant though, or perhaps I just noticed them. Short flowering, greedy, but blousy and wonderful, perhaps sales will rocket again. Which brings me back to the Island, calm sanity after that lot, where the specie lupin (Lupinus arboreus) is flowering prolifically amongst the sand dunes, surrounded by spikes of foxgloves. Closer to the ground hummocks of sea thrift crouch in the dunes. Yes, the same plant Armeria maritima, of Chelsea’s mossy river banks. You can’t beat seeing plants in their native environment for learning a lesson or two, which means, if I want my tropical garden to work, I have an excuse for booking some rather nice holidays.