Chelsea Flower Show 2015: what not to miss

Val Bourne / 28 April 2015

Chelsea Flower Show 2015 promises brilliant colours and daring ideas. Val Bourne shares her pick of trends, designers and new plants to look out for.



The mood at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was rather subdued, with many garden designers concentrating on lush foliage and pallid flowers, almost as though they were playing safe.

Marcus Barnett: bold colours, geometric shapes

This year innovation and colour return to Chelsea with a bold attempt by Marcus Barnett, designer of The Daily Telegraph’s show garden, to capture the pared down geometric style used by artists connected to the De Stijl Movement. Rectangular blocks of plants in primary colours will almost certainly provoke controversy - just what Chelsea needs.    

Read our guide to using colour in your garden.

Claire Austin: colourful new irises from America

Colour always abounds in the Floral Marquee and Claire Austin makes a welcome return after four years away having moved her entire nursery from Shropshire to mid-Wales. Her courtyard garden contains some American introductions bred in Oregon, an area that has a climate similar to Britain. ‘Coal Seam’ is a Tall Bearded velvet-black, but my favourite is ‘Parting Glances’ an iris with dark-purple falls and violet and buff standards. Irises, goddesses of the rainbow, can also be seen on Kelways, who also display peonies and tree ferns, and on Cayeux the French nursery who specialise in the frilly and flamboyant.

Read our guide to growing bearded irises.

Sarah Cook: a recreation of a classic garden

Plant Heritage collection holder Sarah Cook will display her Benton End irises, originally raised and selected by the East Anglian artist Cedric Morris in his Suffolk garden. Morris, who exhibited at Chelsea between the late 1940s and mid-1950s is credited with breeding the first true-pink iris in 1948. The seedling was selected by the Queen who, says Sarah, “graciously consented to have it named ‘Strathmore’ after her own home.” Sarah is collaborating with Suffolk-based nurseryman David Howard and both are Ipswich Town Football Club fans so there’s bound to be a touch of canary-yellow on this recreation of Morris’ studio and garden.  

Dan Pearson: naturalistic rockery and stream

Dan Pearson, who’s been away for a decade (though perhaps you caught him in February on Desert Island Discs), is designing The Laurent Perrier Show Garden. This features the ‘less-trodden’ parts of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Paxton’s rockery and a gurgling trout stream allude to bubbly Champagne grown on limestone terrain, and Pearson’s trademark naturalistic planting will almost certainly grab Laurent Perrier’s 14th Gold Medal.

Read our guide to creating a rockery of your own.

Surrey County Council celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta

History is a major theme this year, running through the show like a golden thread through a medieval tapestry. The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta is being celebrated by Surrey County Council, who recreate a Medieval Garden in the ever-popular Artisan Garden section of small country-themed gardens. Roses and honeysuckle twine through wattle arches and there’s a turf seat overlooking a riverside meadow.  Heraldic pennants embroidered by Rhoda Nevin, who worked on the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, surround the fountain and at the forefront a slice of wood, taken from the nearby ancient Ankerwycke Yew will be inscribed with a quote from the original Magna Carta.

New plants at Chelsea 2015

There will be lots of new plants at Chelsea too, but my favourite is a new lupin named ‘Magic Lantern’. This is dedicated to Johnny Walker, the retired policeman who rescued some of George Russell’s lupins (Russell was the great 20th century lupin breeder) and then passed his own seed strains on to Sarah Conibear of Westcountry Nurseries. It’s a deep-blue with a golden aura, matching Johnny’s jaunty personality.

Also making its debut is Clematis 'Cloudburst'; this dazzling viticella clematis, from Polish breeder Szczepan Marczynski, has pink-veined violet flowers, each with a white starry eye that highlights a dark purple-black boss of stamens.

Look out also for Rosa 'Kelmscott'. Named after the country retreat of William Morris, this new David Austin rose has a simple rustic style suited to the Arts and Crafts movement. Pink buds open to form cup-shaped flowers that mature to show a boss of bee-friendly stamens. A vigorous shrub rose, 1.5 x 0.9m (5 x 3ft), this would make a fine specimen rose and I am aching to grow it.

About Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show takes place at Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London, on May 19 - 23 2015. For more information, including an A-Z of Chelsea gardens and to check ticket availability, visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show website.

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