Chelsea Flower Show plants: the Great Pavilion – 10 stands for urban garden inspiration

by Rhiannon James

Millais Nurseries’ stand


Shrubs are making a comeback at Chelsea this year and if you want to get in on the trend there’s plenty of inspiration in the Great Pavilion. Rhododendrons appear in both the East Village and The Wasteland gardens and the place to find a plant suitable for your own plot is specialist Millais Nurseries’ stand. They have everything from dwarf rhododendrons (including the tiny Rhododendron keiskei ‘Yaku Fairy’) which can be grown in pots to the giant-leaved Rhododendron sinogrande – perfect for making a statement in a small garden. Look out too for new cultivar ‘Juditha’, a very hardy compact Rhododendron with bright yellow flowers. For a wider range of possibilities, try the Hillier Nurseries’ psychedelic display. The dwarf lilac, Syringa ‘Red Pixie’, Indigofera himalayensis ‘Silk Road’ and cornus including C. controversa ‘Variegata’ are some of the eye-catching varieties worth looking out for.


Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’; Rhododendron ‘Juditha’ and Indigofera himalayensis ‘Silk Road’

Architectural plants

If you’re looking for plants to pack a real punch in your plot, there’s no shortage of drama in the pavilion. Crûg Farm Plants, run by plant hunters Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones, is an excellent first port of call. Gunnera killipiana has striking red-veined foliage and rather startling red inflorescences or, how about Piper heydei, a Guatemalan find which has huge, thick shield-shaped leaves –it will need protection over winter though. There’s also a whole range of hardy, architectural scheffleras and look out too for Oreopanax echinops with its textured leaves. Trewidden Nursery has some flamboyant options for containers including Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunshine’ whose flame/pink colouring lives up to its name and Protea cynaroides with its crimped leaves that encircle big pink flowers in spring.


Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunshine’; Gunnera killipiana and Piper heydei

Fruit, herbs and vegetables

The edible exhibits at Chelsea this year have enthusiastically taken up the centenary theme, with several displays showing how GYO has evolved between 1913 and today. The Pennard Plants stand, which has been created in conjunction with London charity Roots and Shoots, takes an urban perspective. One side shows the vegetable plot of Reston House in Kew Village in 1913 (Roots and Shoots director Linda Phillips is the granddaughter of the then head gardener Charles Russell) with its potting shed surrounded by tidy rows of potatoes, onions and beans. The other side shows a South London food-growing garden in 2013 – an abandoned plot which has been reclaimed by the community and used to grow an exotic collection of crops such as Vietnamese coriander and red perilla in an eclectic mix of recycled containers including old baths, builders bags and cooking oil tins. Even the bike shed roof sprouts alpine strawberries. All the plants have been grown by Roots and Shoots’ horticultural trainees. The Horticolous display similarly, contrasts period planting including vegetables and a cutting garden with a high-tech Solardome where hydroponics and aquaponics are used to grow crops. Barnsdale Gardens’ display meanwhile, has some nice ideas for mixing heritage vegetables with ornamental planting, Semiaquilegia ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ and kale ‘Hungry Gap’, which was introduced in 1923, being one particularly pretty combination.


Horticolous’ and Pennard Plants’ stands


Climbers are an essential in almost all city gardens, and if clematis is your clamberer of choice, then there’s no shortage of inspiration at Chelsea this year. Taylors’ stand is full of ideas for displaying these versatile plants in pots, using arches, screens, obelisks and troughs to display everything from big-flowered beauties such as Clematis ‘Diamantina’ to the more delicate delights of C. micropetala ‘Propertious’ and C. Alpine ‘Helsingborg’. Raymond Evison is showing a new variety called ‘Chelsea’ – a good option for small spaces because it’s extremely compact (growing to only two to three feet) and apparently produces its bluish white flowers from the spring until the autumn. Thorncroft Clematis meanwhile, has the new compact, rosette-bloomed C. ‘Kaiser’ which can be grown in partial shade and in a container.


Clematis ‘Chelsea’ and ‘Kaiser’

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