It is always with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I leave our own garden on this cusp of spring and summer to attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Doing the familiar garden round yesterday evening there were signs that spring was almost over like the tightly coiled flower stalks of Cyclamen hederifolium drawing the seed capsules to hug the ground before the seed is released. There also was plenty of promise of the summer colour to come. Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’ was displaying the first of its whorls of flowers with pale lemon hoods over mid yellow lips. It is similar to Phlomis russeliana, one of its parents, the other being P. fruticosa which is more evident in the leaves.
If Corner Cottage has a signature plant it has to be Cerinthe major. From time to time I buy new stock of the seed of the cultivar C. major ‘Purpurascens’ as successive generations of self-seeded plants seem to lose their colour intensity. Native to the Mediterranean basin young plants cope with most winters in Staffordshire and romp away in late spring painting the beds a gorgeous metallic purple.
I bid farewell to my Iris ‘White City’ and the next morning found myself admiring Iris ‘Sultan’s Palace’ in the Artisan Garden at Chelsea sponsored by The Donkey Sanctuary and designed by Christina Williams and Annie Prebensen. Cypress trees tower over a bank of lavender and hidden throughout the garden are delightful ceramic geckos made especially by the Devon potter Annabel Hatton.
The Facebook: Beyond the Screen Garden designed by Joe Perkins has a coastal theme complete with lapping water. Plants from coastal habitats around the world echo the global Facebook community. Many share similar adaptations to the harsh environment such as succulent or waxy leaves that help conserve moisture and resist salt-laden winds.
On main avenue it is Tom Hoblyn’s Dubai Majlis Garden that shines out as a dry garden extraordinaire inspired by the sculptural beauty of arid landscapes. ‘Majlis’ means place of sitting. I chatted to Tom about the delights of Olivier Filippii’s nursery near Sète in the south of France. Tom had taken inspiration from his visit there and walking in the local terrain. The garden evokes a Middle Eastern feel with its white limestone and burnt Sienna gravel. Nearby is The Resilience Garden designed by Sarah Eberle which cleverly combines British native plants with exotics that may become ‘at home’ as our climate changes. Hence there is an area with a decidedly dry feel.
In the Great Pavilion I was blown away by the incredible ‘Mountains Of Abundance’ stand sponsored by the South African National Biodiversity Institute – SANBI. It featured plant families abundant in fynbos (fine-leaved bush) areas. Fynbos vegetation thrives on dry summers and mild wet winters and includes fire-adapted shrubs. It is rich in the plant families PROTEACEA (proteas), ERICACEAE (heaths and heathers) and RESTIONACEAE (Restios which are rush-like plants used to thatch roofs in South Africa). Fynbos plants tend to dislike alkaline conditions and are intolerant of phosphorus fertilisers. Having adapted to soils naturally low in phosphorus they are super-efficient at extracting it and are easily overdosed in cultivation.