Chelsea Flower Show 2011: What to buy

For Stephen Lacey deciding on what to buy after the Chelsea Flower Show is where the fun starts


After doses of Chelsea Flower Show razzmatazz – show gardens, floristry extravaganzas and celebrity spotting – I love diving into the Great Pavilion to immerse myself in plants.

“A bloodstained flag hoisted to its pole on a windless day” was how the Edwardian plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described the red Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis punicea.

And, displayed in all its perfection by Kevock Garden Plants, from Lasswade, near Edinburgh, here it was, luring me to part with a dollop of cash and defying me not to kill it. Since I do now manage to keep blue poppies plump and perennial, I think I shall have a go at meeting this one’s more fastidious demands for constant moisture and perfect drainage.

Stella and David Rankin, who own Kevock, are retired teachers who have made a business out of their hobby of exploring the world’s mountains and the flora they see there.

But although they are well-known to Scottish show-goers, this was their first Chelsea: intricately planted around pillars of rock, it was my favourite stand. Other plants of theirs that snared me were Primula alpicola var. alba, an easily grown bog garden primula with pendent flowers of Devon cream, and a hardy border orchid Dactylorhiza ‘Harold Esslemont’, with a compact habit, plump magenta flower heads and unspotted leaves.

Avon Bulbs were showing the newish allium cousin, Nectaroscordum tripedale, which has dense clusters of soft pink, green-striped bells on tall stems very distinct from those of the more common, in fact rather invasive, N. siculum. No doubt that will be easy to please, too.

I have repeatedly failed with Allium schubertii, with flowers like an exploding firework, so I don’t think its long-stemmed hybrid ‘Spider’, making its Chelsea debut, will be for me. Those with sunnier gardens should give it a try.

RHS’s Chelsea Plant of the Year, Anemone ‘Wild Swan’, shown by Hardy’s Plants, looks very promising, resembling a white Japanese anemone but earlier to bloom and with a pronounced violet-blue reverse to its petals.

And I was again mesmerised by the sumptuous tones of Kelway’s chestnut-brown, tall bearded iris ‘Sultan’s Palace’ and semi-double, blood-red herbaceous peony ‘Buckeye Belle’, which Ann-Marie Powell showed exactly how to use in her British Heart Foundation garden: dotted like rubies through lime-green ferns.

The flowering tunnel staged by Raymond Evison Clematis was my second favourite structure of the show – after Marcus Barnett’s brilliant abstract wooden pavilion on the Times Eureka/RBG Kew garden, inspired by the cell structure of plants.

In real life, many clematis flowers would turn up to the light rather than hang downwards so obligingly, but pink ‘Confetti’ is apparently a consummate dangler, as is the very lovely white ‘Gazelle’, though that only grows 4ft high.

Hillier’s compact Exochorda ‘Niagara’, sounds a good new addition. The fleeting white spring blossom of the other exochordas doesn’t really justify the space these large shrubs take up – handsome as they are, especially with purple Clematis alpina or C. macropetala weaving through them.

Finally, I am not able to resist the Australian Garden’s compact bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus ‘White Anzac’.

I am assured it is pretty hardy, but having had my fingers burned this past vicious winter, I think I will be growing it in a pot.

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