Wilding the Chelsea Flower Show

by Kate Bradbury

In 1985, Chris Baines created the first ever wildlife garden at Chelsea... Apparently it caused quite a stir - wildflowers in those days were often dismissed as 'weeds'...

New Wild Garden at Chelsea 2011In 1985, Chris Baines created the first ever wildlife garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. Apparently it caused quite a stir - wildflowers in those days were often dismissed as 'weeds' - and his medal was mistakenly inscribed "Chris Baines, for a wildfire garden".

Now, 26 years later, the gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show are awash not just with wildflowers, but with green roofs, ponds, streams and insect habitats. Indeed, these are such great gardens for wildlife, that on Sunday morning a couple of ducks were found in Ann Marie Powell's British Heart Foundation Garden and a frog was sat in the stream of the SKYShades Garden. When I arrived on Sunday, everything was buzzing with the sound of honey and bumblebees foraging on the variety of nectar and pollen on offer.

My favourite was the RBC New Wild Garden, designed by Nigel Dunnet, where there wasn't a weed in sight. Instead, urban dry stone walls incorporating insect habitats were surrounded by penstemons, geums, thrift, salvia, geraniums and scabious, against a backdrop of a green-roofed garden office and serene water pools.

I also liked the SKYShades Garden, designed by Marney Hall. Her garden depicted a range of wildlife habitats, including hedgerow and woodland planting schemes. There was also a gorgeous sculpture of two boxing hares.

Even more traditional ornamental gardens featured relaxed, wildlife-friendly planting. Cleve West's Daily Telegraph Garden was made using reclaimed Cotswold stone and yew hedging, along with nectar-rich plants including achillea, astrantia, erigeron and verbascums.

And, thanks to the warm, dry spring, the usual stalwarts of Chelsea - alliums and irises to name two - were few and far between. Instead, lavender, salvias, red valerian and geums took centre stage, bringing a hot, summery feel to the show.

Will you be visiting Chelsea? What will you make a beeline for?

View our Chelsea 2011 image gallery.

View our Chelsea exhibitors image gallery.

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Talkback: Wilding the Chelsea Flower Show
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Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2011 at 08:37

Oh,dear, Kate. We bloggers seem to be more interested in blogs about bees and wasps than the great show that is Chelsea - really down-to-earth people I think. But just supposing I could have gone to Chelsea I would love to see the B&Q garden which is all edible plants, all the gardens classed as naturalistic and those which use wild flowers a lot and recycled materials. Which says a lot about my financial position I think! And of course I would search out the Alpine Garden Society display and any rare or endangered species just to see whether I could help by growing them. I never cease to be grateful to the people who saved the Gingko biloba tree from extinction by cultivating it every time i look at my beautiful young one and think present day gardeners should do the same for endangered species threatened by climate change like the high alpines. And many of our native wild flowers are threatened too so well done all the designers who featured them in Chelsea this year.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2011 at 08:40

PS Thank goodness the plantings are only temporary since all that valerian would absolutely swamp the streets and buildings and walls of London if it was allowed to seed!

Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2011 at 09:15

Thank you happymarion, perhaps I should have called the blog: 'Ducks and frogs at the Chelsea Flower Show'. I can't get valerian to grow in my garden (well, I have a small bit which has been munched by vine weevils) - but it's very welcome!

Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2011 at 09:19

We have lots and lots of Valerian tearing the walls apart in our garden ;-)

Gardeners' World Web User 24/05/2011 at 15:36

I actually planted some valerian in my garden and was taken over. Luckly I removed the lot before I was unable to get up to the top of the steepest part of the garden. I am learning very quickly from this web site. Thanks to everybody I will have to change my screen name, as I am really spending more time in the garden and enjoying getting dirty.

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