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Chaos and serendipity

Posted: Wednesday 28 March 2012
by Andy Sturgeon

I’ve always tried to make my Chelsea gardens as realistic as possible [...] This year, as ever, the pursuit of reality is presenting me with something of a quandary.


Equisetum hyemale in pots

I’ve always tried to make my Chelsea gardens as realistic as possible. So I put in evergreen structure, and seasonal interest, even though the show is only on for six days. I know that sounds daft, but it’s because these gardens, however glitzy and glamorous, are born out of what I’ve learned from creating real, permanent gardens. And actually I just think it makes them appear more believable. This year, as ever, the pursuit of reality is presenting me with something of a quandary.

I’m using a number of plants that self-seed, and spread themselves about, and therefore do not do as they are told. This is something of a problem if you are trying to create a neat, orderly and structured planting scheme, where one plant does not mingle with the next, which is what I had in mind. It’s a problem because it’s unsustainable, it just couldn’t or wouldn’t happen in a real garden situation, and the maintenance would be a hassle.

The main culprits are Anemanthele lessoniana and Pilosella aurantiaca. The former is short-lived – only a few years. So where you originally put it there will eventually be a hole, and where you didn’t put it there will be 10 more unexpected progeny. Pilosella, which produces windblown seedheads, like a dandelion, will just pop up everywhere.

Personally, I like this kind of random gardening, where you can juggle things around in spring, and put the young plants back where you want them. I like the chaos of it and the serendipity. But it doesn’t really suit the look I'm going for at Chelsea.

I’m also concerned about using the giant marestail, Equisetum hyemale. I love the way the slender leafless, vertical stems contrast with its neighbours, no matter what they are. The worry though, is that this plant can spread, or at least people think it can. Where I live in Brighton, the soil is well-drained, and so Equisetum will just slowly form a larger, manageable clump, like many other perennials.

But I’m concerned that the reputation of Equisetum as a rampaging thug precedes it. Sure, in a very damp soil, it will go walkabout, but not in the damp, well-drained soil I'm prescribing. I’m mixing it in with drifts of other perennials, where it would be fine and wouldn’t spread too rapidly. I know this, but will the judges? I’m not so sure.



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C15.52 29/03/2012 at 18:19

what do i plant underneath a horse chestnut