Today I’ve been turning my attention to plants at the Chelsea Flower Show: first of all there are new plants, and then, there are plants that are new to me! But with only 60ft to play with in London, I have to keep a tight rein on my enthusiasm. Last year’s must-have was Anchusa Azulea Loddon Royalist which I spotted in Adam Frost’s QVC garden. The blue colour of the flowers is so striking, a perfect foil for crimson, red or orange flowers. I ordered some this spring and it’s happily flowering in my garden now.
This year, Dibleys has a new streptocarpus ‘Harlequin Blue’, which has just been made ‘Plant of the Year’ by the Royal Horticultural Society. I’m not usually attracted to bi-colour flowers, but the pale blue and cream mix work pleasingly in this new combination. Streptocarpus are easy house plants to keep – they flower from spring into autumn, belting out flowers. I prefer the richer, sumptuous variety called ‘Scarlet’ also introduced by the company this year. It’s more compact than other red varieties so it sits well on a window sill.
Other new kids on the block are a foxglove with split petals offered by Hillier nurseries. Digitalis ‘Serendipity’ has orchid-like flowers with more delicate foliage than wild digitalis. Andy McIndoe, MD of Hilliers says the key to growing a spectacular specimen is to cut down the flower spike when it’s finished flowering in the first year, in order to encourage the plant to branch out. Lots of people were taken with this plant at the show, including journalist Julian Desborough who took this lovely picture.
If Lily Allen is your style icon then you will probably like the new Asiatic lily by Hyde Nursery. In the same way that dogs often look like their owners, so plants can resemble those they are named after. Lily ‘Lily Allen’ is bold and brash with large black blotches, the colour of black nail polish. If you wanted to take a flower out clubbing into the wee hours, this would be it.
For more delicate lilies, Lilium matargon ‘Russian Red’, attracted my attention on the Jacques Armand stall at the Grand Pavilion. The delicate petals curl upwards in a magical way. ‘Orange Marmalade’ is the orange version of the same plant.
‘Dahlia Ian Hislop’ parentage is d. White Magenta Star backcrossed with the species d. Sorensii (bred by Winchester Growers) For those afraid of organgey –red combinations, this new dahlia works well with muted creams and pale yellows, but would also be outstanding in a hot border combined with red flowers and large exotic leaves.
It’s frustrating not to be able to buy plants at the Chelsea Flower Show, so when I get home I am going straight to the Avon Bulbs website. Every year I make a note of Gladiolus ‘Byzantinus’ and Ixia ‘Mabel’ , both an intense fuchsia pink, in my notebook, but I never get round to growing it. Both are quite delicate and will make ideal specimens in a pot. I have a selection of terracotta pans that I keep for growing small bulbs. I finish them off with fine gravel which shows them off to best effect.
If you have an observant eye, you will be able to spot some emerging trends in garden planting. No prizes for counting how many designers are using bearded irises in their show gardens, but Val Bradley, part of the The Sun newspaper’s dynamic gardening trio (along with husband Steve Bradley and Peter Seabrook) said she has spotted the wedding cake viburnum: V.plicatum tormentusum ‘Mariesii’, used to great effect not only in the M&G Garden, but in eight other gardens. You heard it here first!