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Choosing plants for Chelsea

Posted: Thursday 22 March 2012
by Andy Sturgeon

It’s amazing how important harmony is in a garden, and at Chelsea it’s even more vital than usual.


Bronze rings with plants in front

It’s amazing how important harmony is in a garden, and at Chelsea it’s even more vital than usual. Leaf colours, tree bark, cushions, stone hues, you name it, everything must work together. It’s at the forefront of my mind because I had to make a last minute change to the stone I’m using this year.

The stone is now something called 'Jurassic Malt', and as the name suggests it’s almost orangey brown. Many of the flowers I’m using, for example wine coloured Sanguisorba menziesii, black Iris chrysographes, and pink Hesperis have no relationship to this colour at all. And in fact even the white cow parsley lookalike Cenolophium denudatum doesn’t sit as comfortably as it might. The yellow euphorbias are heading in the right direction, but I need more links.

Thankfully I already have orangey Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ and the little burnt orange fox and cubs, Pilosella aurantiaca, so they will get promoted. But the one plant I’m really thankful for is the grass Anemanthele lessoniana (which used to be called Stipa arundinacea, when quite frankly everyone was much happier). Anyway, I only grew this as a filler, but it tends to have a bit of rust, which gives the green leaves a bronze tinge, making the perfect link between stone and planting. 

I’ve also been mulling over whether or not to use mounds of loose clipped Ilex crenata, but I’m now conscious that it may be too similar to someone else’s previous Chelsea garden, so that is out the window. Instead I’m now erring towards my fall-back plant, the heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, which I have used in all six of my Chelsea gardens (shhh….don’t tell anyone).

Of course Nandina domestica isn’t a bamboo at all, but it does have a graceful quality and I find it very versatile. I’ve used it as an anonymous space filler, and on occasion in a leading role. It can fulfil the need for a natural look in accordance with the Arts and Crafts ethos, but importantly, it has pinkish copper-tinged young leaves, which are the perfect bridge between the stone and the actual copper sculpture. If there are still any red berries on them I will snip them off.



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seanyhayes1 31/03/2012 at 08:42

I THINK FOR CHELSEA YOU NEED BIG PLANTS WITH LOVELY FLOWERS. ALSO PUT A BIT OF PROPORTION IN YOUR DISPLAY ADDING BORDER PLANTS, CLIMBERS, SCRUBS AND TREES. THIS WILL MAKE AN ATRACTIVE DISPLAY THAT SHOULD AT LEAST WIN YOU BRONZE. IF YOU WANT GOLD ADD A COUPLE OF STRUCTURES LIKE ARCHWAYS AND ALSO MAKE STRUCTURES WITH YOUR PLANTS LIKE PUTTING TREES EITHER SIDE OF A PATHWAY TRY TO STICK THEM CLOSER TOGETHER TO MAKE THEM LOOK TALLER THAN THEY ARE IF YOU HAVE FOLLOWED ALL OF THIS SO FAR YOU SHOULD EARN AT LEAST SILVER. IF YOU WANT GOLD USE A BIT OF ANNISHATIVE AND DO SOMETHING YOURSELF AND DON'T LISTEN TO ME.

kaycurtis 22/06/2012 at 14:43

Andy, glad you did so well at Chelsea, your garden was lovely, although I only saw it on TV.