Flowering in time for Chelsea

Posted: Thursday 5 April 2012
by Andy Sturgeon

At the nursery, Hortus Loci in Hampshire, the staff will be spending the next few weeks moving plants [...] to try to speed up and slow down flowering.

Plants in a polytunnel

What's going on with this weather? I was initially worried that my Cercidiphyllum trees wouldn’t be in leaf properly in time for Chelsea, but the one at the end of my road is almost fully out already. So now I’m worried (it’s important to swap one worry for another to keep you on your toes) that some of the really reliable Chelsea flowerers, like Iris sibirica and the giant angelica, will have gone over by the time the show starts. It doesn’t help that Chelsea is earlier than usual this year. You just can’t win.

At the nursery, Hortus Loci in Hampshire, the staff will be spending the next few weeks moving plants out of tunnels into the open, or into shade where it's cooler, to try to speed up and slow down flowering. Other plants are being intentionally kept in pots in small sizes, to force them into flower and prevent them from putting on too much leaf. In the past the general rule has been that you can get a plant to flower up to three weeks early, or delay it by up to three weeks. But these days I really don’t know what’s going to happen.

I have plenty of contingencies: we're growing nearly 10,000 perennials, and expect to use less than a third. At this stage I really want to be forming some definite plant combinations in my mind, yet the whole thing remains shrouded in uncertainty. Mark Straver, the nurseryman, is 'Captain Optimistic' and assures me that flowering is more to do with day length than sunshine. This does fit with everything I was taught at horticultural college, but that was a few decades ago, and let’s face it, the climate has changed since then.

So, as I wander round my own garden, I see many of the same plants that I’m growing for the M&G Garden at Chelsea. There’s the wonderful fresh green grass Hakonechloa, which will be in full leaf within a week at this rate, but is a dead cert for the show as it doesn’t flower. My Aruncus are only just showing, which is good as they've become a risky choice for Chelsea in recent years - they could be going over by show time. The ace up my sleeve, though, is that I ordered a number of summer flowering plants like the giant hog fennel, Peucedanum verticillare. I thought this was a little foolish at the time, but now if everything else has finished doing its thing I might at least have some rather spectacular towering umbels in the garden.

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happymarion 06/04/2012 at 10:57

Oh, I know so well how you are feeling, Andy. I am opening my garden for the first time to the Friends of Bristol University Bot, Garden on May13th this year and I have been going round my garden daring buds to swell or open too soon. Then I remember giving them a good talking to is giving them extra carbon dioxide and encouraging them to bloom so i shut up. I am sure all my wonderful tulips and even Narcissus poeticus will be over but I am trusting that other things will be early too ,although the sharp frost we had in Bristol last night may have scuppered that. It is never boring being a gardener.

the enduring gardener 12/04/2012 at 11:14

I can't wait to see this. It's fast approaching and I'm looking forward to the highlight of the gardening year that is the Chelsea Flower Show. If you'd like us to promote any aspect of the garden on our site (http://blog.theenduringgardener.com/category/garden-shows-and-events/chelsea-flower-show-2012/)- let us know. Best of luck.