Chelsea Flower Show: edible gardening
by Tom Moggach
The M&G Garden designed by Bunny Guinness
As a nation, our hunger for edible gardening appears insatiable. But what about Chelsea? How far has this national obsession infiltrated this most traditional of events? I went to find out.
Among the show gardens, by far the most inspiring design is The M&G Garden designed by Bunny Guinness. It’s a feast for the senses, and shows the virtues of mixing it up.
Rather than straight rows of veg, the garden is a dense planting of dazzling colour. Climbing beans mingle with Clematis. One bed shows off a wash of greens – parsley, lettuces, and Peacock Tails kale.
Her selection of squashes also caught my eye. For the urban gardener, it can be tricky to find space to grow larger, sprawling types. Guinness uses smaller Little Gem and Tromboncino squashes, training them up and over.
The garden also includes the little-seen ‘half standard’ forms of gooseberries and currants. Here, the fruit bush is grafted onto a single long stem, around 0.75 metres. This gives them an attractive ‘lolly pop’ shape, and looks terrific in large pots.
Opposite the M&G Garden, Jekka McVicar is selling her herbal wares. Well respected in the trade, she runs a herb nursery near Bristol. Stock up on seeds here, and check out her display of less common culinary herbs such as red orach, orange-scented thyme and purple shiso.
Another show garden worth a visit is the B&Q Garden. The design here is modern and linear, including a high wall of vertical planting and window boxes, with tumbling tomatoes. These are planted with trailing Nasturtiums – a nice idea – so that they both cascade downwards in a riot of colour.
Amongst the artisan gardens, admire A Child’s Garden in Wales, designed by Anthea Guthrie and her students. This evokes the ‘make do and mend’ approach to growing food, with a lovely jumble of wood, borage, calendula, beetroot, sunflowers and more.
Inside the Great Pavilion, I was drawn towards the specialist growers such as Victorian Violas. Heartsease is most commonly grown as an edible flower, but the display here shows the plethora of other options, including the sultry Roscastle Black.
For seeds, W. Robinson & Son is always worth a rummage. They have put up a fine display and stock unusual varieties such as Crystal Lemon Cucumbers. Robinson’s are renowned for their ‘show bench’ vegetables.
Nearby, Ken Muir fruit nursery is showing off their unrivalled range of strawberries. New this year is the ever-bearer Monterey.
At Hooksgreen Herbs, Malcolm Dickson stocks some interesting plants, including a pygmy borage – a sprawling type I had never seen before. This is extremely useful for container growing, as common borage is a rather unwieldy, tall plant.
He also has fine examples of gold-tipped oregano, banana mint, ginger rosemary and blackcurrant sage.
Other temptations can be found on the stalls outside. There’s the usual hodge-podge of garden kit, but I was most tempted by a vintage Suttons Catalogue from 1975, £12, on the Garden and Wood stall, complete with divine illustrations of varieties – from the age before the digital camera.
Tom Moggach is a founder of City Leaf, which provides expert food growing training to groups and schools, www.cityleaf.co.uk