The Wrap Up: Chelsea Flower Show 2012
Photo - Linda Ross
In 2013 the RHS Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centenary. To get you in the mood for the thrills on offer this May, here are our picks of the garden and plant highlights of Chelsea 2012, as selected by three Ross Garden tour leaders: Graham Ross, Libby Cameron and Angus Stewart.
The Magical Tower garden
Some said it was outrageous and disgusting; others thought it inspirational and magical. Whichever way you looked at it you certainly had to look UP to take in Irish garden designer Diarmid Gavin’s controversial entry in this year’s Show Garden category. The tubular steel pyramid towered 24m above the Chelsea Flower Show.
Diarmid’s designed was inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, contemporary concerns about space and the challenge of gardening in unexpected, often difficult places. He went vertical this year, seven stories up to be correct, with seven separate gardens, accessed by an internal, industrial-type lift, stacked in a giant pyramid-shaped skeleton made from black tubular steel clamped together with gold fittings.
Graham was impressed by Diarmid Gavin's vision in his giant pyramidal Magical Tower Garden, which featured a different theme on all seven levels. Photo - CARL COURT/AFP/Gettyimages.com
The first level was welcoming, with moist, lush ferns, hostas, astilbes and clipped Buxus hedges. Common ivy and star jasmine dripped over the outer railings to conceal the steel framework. The second level was Japanese-inspired and included a pavilion, miniature pine trees, lots of Japanese maples just bursting into new growth and bamboo, lots of bamboo - the black and green stems replicating the vertical steel poles. As I walked around this magical aerial garden I felt I was ‘getting the picture’ that Diarmid wanted to communicate - a beautiful garden escape, at any altitude.
The third floor landed me in a paradise overflowing with hundreds of gorgeous candy pink and pristine white peonies mass-planted in self-coloured beds made from roughly hewn timber edging. Simply breathtaking! The scaffolding in all directions was clothed in miles of star jasmine, adding perfume to the scene. And so it continued, with one glorious scene topping the previous. For his efforts the Royal Horticultural Society judges awarded Diarmid a Silver-Gilt Flora medal and the Most Creative Show Garden Award.
Whetman Hybrid dianthus
To choose a favourite plant is a nigh-impossible task, but I’ve narrowed it down to the Whetman Hybrid Dianthus. These dwarf pinks are not just beautiful, they very reliable in the garden. I first introduced them to Australian audiences on the Better Homes & Gardens Chelsea Special in 2008. Each year the Whetman family release another couple of colours. We’ve had them in our home garden for three years now and they are magnificent. The grey foliage spreads about a square metre and they flower reliably with masses of highly perfumed blooms every spring, summer and again in autumn.
Whetman hybrid dianthus are as reliable as they are lovely. Photo - Linda Ross
Satoyama Life garden
What makes one garden at Chelsea so special that you need to see it one more time at the end of a long day? I think it was the sense of serenity that drew me back on tired feet to Satoyama Life, the Artisan Garden by Japanese landscape designer Kazuyuki Ishihara.
The garden celebrated Satoyama, the area in Japan between the lowlands and the mountains, where people live a simple life in harmony with nature. It was a rustic scene, with a simple cottage and a small spring flowing into a stone bowl. A path wound through the garden, creating a flow of vision that led to the house. Recurring round shapes appeared in the moss that clothed the cottage, the ends of the firewood pile and stones used in the low steps and walls. Japanese horsetail, Equisetum ramosissimum var japonicum, banded in dark grey, was an unusual and attractive vertical accent. Further vertical contrast was provided by timber uprights, Liriope muscari and irises, whose deep purple flowers were like bold punctuation marks.
Libby fell for the serenity of the Sayotama Life garden by Japanese designer Kazayuki Ishihara. Photo - Libby Cameron.
A cork oak, Quercus suber, stood at the garden’s entrance, with furrowed bark and twisted trunk that gave it a tactile, aged demeanour. Other trees included low-growing pines and maples, whose bright red foliage gave a lift to the overall green landscape. This colour contrast was gently carried through the garden by the exquisite coppery pink new foliage of Pieris and Dryopteris ferns. The little cottage and its outbuildings, a woodstore and delightful well, nestled into the garden comfortably. The walls were coated in soft balls of moss, while lush, succulent sedum blanketed the tops of the walls and roof. The cottage, and indeed the whole garden, looked as if it had been there for years.
I loved the way the trees had been pruned to allow viewers to look through their branches to appreciate the depth of the vista. Although the garden was obviously planned to perfection, it gave an impression of informality, simplicity and peace that was really alluring. Even after a long day!
Primula auricula hybrids
I adore these gorgeous flowers for they are so perfect and so neat, in a wide range of colours, green-grey to a rich regal purple. I loved the display at Chelsea, which was modern take on the traditional Auricula theatre, with tiered shelves to display a large variety of these beguiling beauties, each in a small terracotta pot. I first encountered an Auricula theatre at Het Loo palace in Holland where I was impressed with the idea of the ‘theatre’ as a way of making a singularly small, yet attractive plant into a ‘wow’ display, and that’s just what it was at Chelsea.
Plant Explorer’s garden
One of the wonders of the Chelsea Flower Show is the avenue of small Artisan Gardens tucked away in the parklands. The idea of these smaller gardens is to showcase the work of up-and-coming garden designers who do not have the resources to construct the much larger Show Gardens.
The intimate atmosphere of the variously themed Artisan Gardens is a feature in itself, and one of these, the Plant Explorer’s garden, really captured my imagination. As a self-confessed plant lover, I really enjoyed the concept of a garden that was created from plants from all over the world. The idea was to embody the spirit of the great English plant collectors such as Joseph Banks and Frank Kingdon Ward. Imagine the wonder and excitement of bringing all sorts of botanical treasures back to the eager British gardening community! The fact that the garden had been designed and built by horticultural students from the Scottish Agricultural College, with designer Karolina Tercjak, was also a wonderful feature.
Angus was impressed by the atmosphere of horticultural wonder created by the Scottish Agricultural College and designer Karolina Tercjak in the Plant Explorer's Garden. Photo -Angus Stewart
The garden had a naturalistic design that was inspired by the natural habitat of the plants in it, many of which have a lush tropical feel, including our very own Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). A small timber glasshouse conjured images of the early English plant collector receiving species from exotic locations around the globe and nursing them through the harsh winters. Other plants that brought a very exotic spirit included the large, attractively textured leaf of Gunnera manicata, glossy elephant’s ear (Alocasia sp), bananas (Musa sp.) and tree ferns. Bamboo (Bambusa sp.), bleeding heart (Dicentra sp), orchids and peonies all added to the eclectic mix of plants. A quaint outdoor office where the plant collector/owner of the garden could record and document the plant finds from around the globe completed the garden.
It is sometimes difficult to identify the ‘x-factor’ that grabs your attention but the obvious passion and dedication of the creators of the Plant Hunter’s garden made it my favourite for Chelsea 2012.
Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Freak’
The shasta daisy is one of my favourite herbaceous perennials, with its large snow-white flower heads set amongst a dark green rosette of foliage. I was attracted to this new cultivar for several reasons. The claim is that it repeat-flowers all through summer, and if that proves to be true in different climates it would really add extra value to a perennial border. It is also very compact, reaching about 30cm in the garden. The flowers have extra layers of pure white ‘petals’ (which are really ray florets) whose fluffy texture adds interest to the flower.