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Small trees for Chelsea

Posted: Wednesday 14 March 2012
by Andy Sturgeon

Chelsea is a strange beast, because the garden has to work for the judges and the cameras once they are inside it, and yet the public, who pay a lot of money to visit, must also be able to appreciate it fully from the outside.


Man looking at katsura trees

This year, I’ve decided to go for a woodland edge style of planting for my Chelsea garden, which makes the choice of trees incredibly important, as I won’t get the atmosphere I’m after if I make the wrong selection. I’ve long been a fan of Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the katsura, and having been to its native Japan a few times recently, I’ve found myself using katsuras more and more in my gardens. I travel a lot and this has become a huge influence on my work. 

So I went to Germany with Deepdale Trees, and bought six katsuras, which vary in height between about five and seven metres. This variation is essential to lend The M&G Garden a more naturalistic woodland quality; the trees will be grouped randomly within the garden.

Chelsea is a strange beast, because the garden has to work for the judges and the cameras once they are inside it, and yet the public, who pay a lot of money to visit, must also be able to appreciate it fully from the outside. I relish that dual challenge and it’s one of the reasons I love Chelsea.

I often use trees to shape and define the space and to block and frame views, so that visitors have to look round them, and are encouraged to seek out different views into the garden. This makes the experience more intriguing and interesting. But if you get it wrong, blocking too many views, it simply becomes annoying. It’s a fine balance.

Katsuras prefer a moist soil, although I think they are actually more drought tolerant than the books suggest. Shelter and some sun are definitely required, so they fit perfectly with the overall theme and requirements of the planting in my Chelsea garden. 

But as usual there is some jeopardy involved. They are relatively early into leaf which makes them a good reliable choice for this late spring show (hopefully) but when the heart-shaped leaves open they are a pinkish copper colour. This will go well with the copper sculpture which dominates the garden, but I want the foliage to be already turning green, and this may be a tall order. 



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smflyman 16/03/2012 at 10:39

It will need to be a big greenhouse to bring on the Katsuras into a more green leaf :) Maybe Kew would lodge them? Good luck for Chelsea.