What not to miss at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019

Val Bourne / 30 April 2019

Planning on visiting the gardening event of the year? Find out what not to miss at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019.

A garden fit for a princess

Chelsea’s always had royal connections, but this year The Duchess of Cambridge has collaborated with landscape architects Andree Davies and Adam White on the RHS Back to Nature Garden, designed to appeal to adventurous children. A den, waterfall, a stream and bridge for Pooh sticks leads to a treehouse in an ancient oak tree, displaying a stags horn of dead branches, promoting the idea that outdoor play is healthy and creative for every family member - young and old alike.

The soothing colour palette, using restful blues and greens, is designed to alleviate stress and the plants have also been chosen to sustain wildlife. Expect birdsong and the buzz of bees.

Clematis 'Meghan'

Clematis ‘Meghan’

The royal theme continues in the Grand Pavilion and one of the highlights, Clematis ‘Meghan’ (above) can be found on Thorncroft Clematis. This frilly-edged, purple-red clematis is compact enough for a container, although it could be planted in a border. ‘Meghan’ will flower in May and June and then again between July and September. Thorncroft also hope to have another royal, Prince Louis’, and this purple-blue clematis has a soft white stripe down each petal. ‘Prince William’, also on the stand, was launched last year.

Returning favourites

A handful of established Gold Medal winning designers are back on Main Avenue once again and many of the Show Gardens have a wooded theme so there’ll be plenty of foliage on offer. Andy Sturgeon, who’s a wizard at combining plants, has a modern take on a woodland setting in his M & G Garden. He uses South African restios, grass-like plants that look like upright, rolled cigars, and horsetail, or Equisteum, with ferns. This primordial mixture is set among rocky outcrops, formed from burnt timber. This one’s a contender for Best in Show.

The forest theme continues with Sarah Eberle’s garden celebrating the hundredth birthday of The Forestry Commission. Sarah, who always produces exciting plant lists, combines exotic and native trees and underlines their ecological importance and the threat of climate change. A large water silo, harvesting rainfall, may be a challenge to the eye. Elsewhere water abounds this year and Jo Thompson’s Wedgewood Garden echoes the Potteries reliance on water transport in the 18th century, via canals. Her soft palette of coffee, ivory and ‘dirty’ rose-madder pink will feature feathery giant fennel foliage and the pale-pink domes of Valeriana pyrenaica under the feathery foliage of Metasequoia glyptostroboides, the dawn redwood.

You’ll also find pines and conifers on Walker’s Forgotten Quarry Garden, one of the Artisan Gardens designed by Graham Boodle - who won best in category last year. The rusted metal and industrial feel reflect his Donacaster roots and Yorkshire have their own garden, designed by fellow Yorkshireman Mark Gregory, who scooped the coveted People’s Choice Award as well as a Gold last year. It’s Mark’s 31st Chelsea and, although this local authority don’t have a massive budget, I predict another Gold.

The Artisan Gardens, the smaller gardens, are highly popular and the one not to miss is Green Switch, by the legendary Japanese designer Kazuyuki Ishihara. He has been exhibiting here since 2004 and, as usual, this will be perfection, with a gushing waterfall, trademark moss hummocks and a glass-walled tea house that’s a perfect place to switch off as you commune with nature.

Jonathan Snow, who designed The Trailfinders South African homestead garden last year, is back with Undiscovered Latin America in a bid to win his first Gold. His sloping garden features rainforest planting, so there’s plenty of lush foliage, but there are also touches of red as well. A vivid wooden walkway winds above the planting and many of the Chilean plants also display red flowers. This distinctive flora evolved over millions of years, because Chile is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes to the east. Dave Root of Kelways has supplied most of the plants and they include calceolarias, gunnera, fuchsia species and alstroemerias. Some of the unusual annuals have been grown from seed flown over from a specialist supplier in Chile. Jonathan, who went to Chile, is trying to make the public aware that rainforests are under threat from logging, deforestation and forest fires.

New David Austin roses
New David Austin roses for 2019, L-R: 'Eustacia Vye' and 'Gabriel Oak'

The growers

Kelways, who exhibited at the first Chelsea Flower show, are supplying plants for six gardens here, so they’re not in the Grand Pavilion this year. Other notable absentees are Avon Bulbs and Penbarth Plants. However the roses will be as glorious as ever and this year David Austin and Harkness have gone literary.

Harkness’s ‘Chawton House’, named after Jane Austin’s home, is adored by Philip Harkness the raiser. It’s a healthy, repeat-flowering climber with R. persica blood, so the semi-double white flowers have a red eye and the foliage is deliciously dark and glossy. David Austin celebrates Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd with two new English roses. The vigorous ‘Gabriel Oak’ has deep-pink full flowers and ‘Eustacia Vye’ is a soft, apricot pink.

Dianthus 'Cherry Burst'

Finally don’t miss Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, put together by Rosy Hardy with her usual artistry. They include three new British-bred plants that will almost certainly be vying for RHS Plant of the Year. The hardy digitalis hybrid, ‘Firebird’, has pink outer petals lined in gold. Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’ is a shrubby salvia combining white flowers tipped in rich-purple and there’s a new highly fragrant, single dianthus named ‘Cherry Burst’ (above), from Whetman’s Pinks in Devon.

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