Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kiwi plant scores at Chelsea

I was poking around the specimens on the RHS Chelsea 2011 Plant of the Year stand, and came upon this Kiwi-bred sedge which was one of the finalists. Uncinia rubra 'Belinda's Find' is a neat little upright plant, with dramatically coloured foliage - the leaves are bronze with bright red margins. It's evergreen too, so it stays colourful right through winter. Big congrats to Malcolm Woolmore, from Lyndale Nurseries, who bred it; and Belinda too - it's named after the nursery worker who discovered it while walking along a sand dune.

The winning Plant of the Year 2011 was an anemone (Anemone 'Wild Swan') which had a lovely drift of white nodding flowers with a blue reverse. But my personal favourite finalist was the tropical pitcher plant, Nepenthes 'Princess'. It's a hybrid of N. ventricosa and N. mira and it's named after Kate Middleton - in fact the breeders, Borneo Exotics, are waiting to hear if they can officially name this cultivar Nepenthes 'Princess William of Wales'. Kate Middleton's getting so many plants named after her (as I mentioned there's also a 'William and Catherine' rose and a 'William and Catherine' sweetpea) she'll soon be able to have her very own tribute bed in Anglesey. The flowers are all very well, but the carnivorous nepenthes will give her some real horticultural street cred.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Chelsea Flower Show: Key Trends

Hi from London! I was reading the Independent newspaper over breakfast this morning and in it the Royal Horticultural Society, which organises the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, has named what they think are the five key trends in garden design: water features, wild flowers, shaped trees, sculptures, and the "garden office."

I have to agree about the water features. Nearly every garden at Chelsea this year features water in some capacity. It's lucky it's not swimming weather though (I am sitting in my hotel writing this by the light of the lightning strikes, English summer anyone?) since no one's done anything as predictable as just put a pool in: these are water features with cultural resonance or biological metaphorical significance.

The Australian Garden presented by the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne has a billabong-type pond shaped like a hunting boomerang in fact the whole garden is designed to reflect the journey of water across Australia), while The British Heart Foundation Mending Broken Hearts Appeal Garden has a pool you can cross with red stepping stones which symbolise blood platelets (the garden also contains red steel arches which represent veins and arteries). And the HESCO Garden, designed by Leeds City Council, even had a working water wheel.

While there were wildflowers everywhere, it seems to me that the real trend at Chelsea wasn't planting wildflowers but planting for wildlife. Bees, bugs, birds, garden designers were trying to attract them all. Not just by planting, in fact, but by building. I saw three gardens that contained bug hotels including a nine storey Insect Hilton in the B&Q Garden (it's the tallest display garden in Chelsea history) which looked considerably nicer than my own hotel. The RBC New Wild Garden had integrated bug habitats into its dry stone walls and the outside of the recycled shipping container that was the garden's central structure (there's that "garden office" trend). No wonder both gardens were positively humming with bees. I guess the news of a cheap London hotel room was bound to get around.

I wasn't so convinced by the Irish Sky Garden, designed by Diarmuid Gavin. On the ground, there are 25 metal pools, reflecting the sky above, and bisected by a serpentine corten steel pathway. And floating above all that is the pink "garden pod", planted both inside and out (the top and bottom are covered with uncut turf, while on the inner skin of the pod a collection of hostas, ferns, grasses and rosemary is growing). The garden's big USP (unique selling point) is that the "garden pod" is on a crane and can be raised and lowered at your whim. While I do see that this would be a good way to avoid unwanted interruptions in your "garden office", I'm not sure if it really pulls off its aim of creating a "hanging Eden". I mean, who'd want a whacking great crane in the garden?

And when it comes to the sculptures, I did rather fall for this sofa, carved from a single piece of quarried stone by Birmingham artist Michael Scheuermann. Unfortunately, at 80,000 pounds it's possibly over my budget - not to mention my luggage allowance.

2011 Chelsea Flower Show: New Plants

I saw not one but two plants being launched at Chelsea called 'William and Catherine': a rose and a sweet pea. I didn't think much of the 'William and Catherine' rose (pictured), an English musk hybrid with flowers which open apricot and fade to cream and then pure white. But I decided to buy a few of the salmon pink sweet pea 'William and Catherine' seeds to bring home as a slightly more creative alternative to a royal wedding teatowel. I also bought a stunning variety, 'Just Jenny', which is midnight blue (almost black really), and the plum-on-silver 'Lisa Marie'. After I'd bought the seeds, I checked the restrictions on importing Lathyrus odoratus into New Zealand. The MAF website says they "require assessment" so I'll declare them and see how I go. Although it'd be ironic if I couldn't bring them in to the country - these varieties were bred in New Zealand for the UK market by a grower in Gisborne.

It was almost too difficult to look at the nursery displays in the Great Pavilion: so many amazing plants, no way of bringing them home with me. I did rather love the begonias on Bristol nursery Blackmore & Langdon's stand - the size of saucers and in a range of eye-popping colours. I loved some of the green chrysanthemums too, the oversized 'Anasthasia Green' (pictured) and the pompom 'Feeling Green'. But for flowers it was hard to go past the Nong Nooch Tropical Garden display "Fantastic Thailand". It featured a replica of the Temple of Dawn, and a scattering of elephant and dragon statues, all made up of pink, yellow and red flowers which had been individually threated onto pieces of string.