Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The Cotswolds go to town

The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.

Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.

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Floral arches will welcome visitors

Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.

Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.

Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.

chelsea flower show

She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.

“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”

After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.

Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.

chelsea flower show

Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.

“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.

“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”

Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.

“I just go and paint with my plants.”

Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.

A life-changing disease

Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.

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The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.

John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”

Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.

A garden for GOSH

There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

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Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.

There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.

“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.

More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.

Bringing France to Chelsea

A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.

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He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.

Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.

Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.

Forest plays its part

Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.

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Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.

The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.

“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.

The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.

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Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.

Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.

“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”

Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.

Inspired by pineapples

The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.

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Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”

More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.

Florists head for Chelsea

Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here

Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.

The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.

“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”

For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.

Peacocks, pots and watering cans

Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.

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Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.

Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.

He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.

chelsea flower show

Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.

It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.

In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.

chelsea flower show

For information about the show, visit the RHS

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RHS Malvern gets romantic

Weddings are preoccupying Jonathan Moseley when I call to chat about the Malvern spring festival. No particular wedding, you understand, but the whole paraphernalia surrounding them and in particular the flowers.

Forget traditional roses or lilies, the award-winning florist and judge on BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge believes brides should be choosing seasonal – and preferably British – flowers for the big day.

“There’s a whole host of things out there,” he says. “Every bride has got her own individual personality, so have flowers. Let’s marry those flowers to that bride’s quirky style.”

Malvern spring festival
Jonathan will be hosting floral workshops and demonstrations

It’s a message he will be promoting at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival where he is part of a move to reinvigorate the cut flower element – “I hate flower shows with competitive entries that look like they’re in a museum”.

It follows success at the autumn show where Jonathan hosted floristry workshops and demonstrations alongside the floral art displays.

“It had a real buzz, a real energy to it.”

‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ will have talks and demonstrations from florists, floristry colleges and British flower growers with advice on raising your own cut flowers, or sourcing something individual for bouquets and buttonholes.

To make sure it’s at the heart of the four-day event, it will all take place in one of the show gardens, ‘The Garden of Romance’, which will become a floral theatre. Designed by award-winning Jason Hales, of Villaggio Verde, it is based on an rustic Italian cloister garden.

It’s an unusual use of a space that is normally off-limits to the public and one that Jonathan believes will be a “real treat” for visitors and a natural setting for the floristry industry.

“A garden is the inspiration for any florist who is worth their salt. Certainly, for anybody who’s a supporter and user of natural material, a garden is the starting point for it all.”

And it’s these garden flowers that he believes should be used more in weddings: “I’m a great believer in bringing back some of the wonderful perennials.”

malvern spring
Jonathan believes brides should be adventurous when it comes to flowers

These include larkspar, and peonies, which he describes as “absolutely adorable, the most amazing flowers”.

Roses are not off the list, just the usual tight buds. Instead, he suggests opting for blousy, old-fashioned English roses to add a touch of romance and nostalgia.

Annuals, such as scabious and cornflowers, are another often overlooked area.

“They have that just picked look that’s so fresh, so energising and just like a wedding should be.”

And we shouldn’t be worried about them lasting, says Jonathan, who points out that the transience of flowers is part of their charm.

“If a wedding bouquet looks absolutely stunning for that day, does it matter if it’s going to be dead the following day? It’s done its job.”

More important is choosing flowers that fit with the season; an October wedding, he suggests, should make full use of dahlias, autumn foliage, seedheads, grasses and berries.

Indeed, flowers are only one part of a successful display.

malvern spring
Flowers don’t have to be exotic to make a striking arrangement

“It’s like watching a production. Flowers are the divas, they’re the star performers but no production exists with the orchestra, the choreographer and the make-up artist. All those things, like the grasses, the seed heads and the foliage, they’re all the back-up cast but they’re absolutely vital because they allow those few special flowers to really stand out.”

Among the experts on hand at the Malvern spring festival to offer advice on everything from successional sowing to flower combinations will be Georgie Newbury, author of ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’, South Gloucestershire-based Organic Blooms from South Gloucestershire, Far Hill Flowers, near Chepstow, Great British Florist, who raise cut flowers in Herefordshire, and Flowers from the Farm, a network of farmers and smallholders who together promote locally grown cut flowers.

“When I first started in floristry I could go down to my local wholesale market and there would be a whole load of British-grown flowers there and I think we should get that back,” says Jonathan, whose passion for plants began with the present of a greenhouse for his eleventh birthday.

malvern spring
The Malvern Hills make a spectacular backdrop to the show

“There is still a British flower market out there. It’s in its infancy but we want to see that grow from strength-to-strength.

“I want to see British flowers back in supermarkets, back on street corners, outside your local village shop. It makes people connect with nature and realise that sweetpeas are in summer, cornflowers are in summer, daffodils are this time of year. It’s bringing that seasonality back into people’s lives.”

And if the idea of growing your own is a step too far, Jonathan suggests asking a grower to produce them for you: “It can become a really personal experience where you’ve got a real bond, a real connection to those flowers.”

With a wedding often the first time some people really think about flowers, he’s hoping it could signal the start of more than one life-long relationship.

“What we are trying to do at Malvern is to make people realise that flowers are important, that they’re there for anybody to enjoy any age, any gender and that there’s no point in your life when you can’t get excited about flowers and get in touch with flowers.”

RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 5-8. For ticket details, visit http://www.threecounties.co.uk/rhsmalvern/

Jonathan will be taking questions about ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ via Twitter @jpmoseley

Vintage style is blooming

Growing flowers for picking is nothing new and many gardeners have a small cutting patch or a wigwam of sweet peas providing blooms for the house. Yet few go to the lengths of Sally Oates who has turned her Cotswold garden into one big cutting border. 

The driving force behind her garden near Tetbury is not the appearance of the beds, creating plant collections or the amassing of rare blooms. Instead, she plans and plants to provide year-round material for her floristry business. 

Sally is part of a recent surge of interest in the British flower industry, born out of concerns about the environmental impact of importing flowers. The use of home-grown blooms was championed at this year’s Malvern Autumn Show and Flowers From the Farm is just one group campaigning for their increased use. 

“It’s a lot of like-minded people all over the country and they are probably making a difference,” says Sally, who describes herself as an ‘artistan’ rather than a traditional florist. 

“It’s looser and more relaxed,” she explains. “It’s all about respecting the flowers and the foliage for what they are and the season they are in.” 

Dillycot
Sally’s arrangements have a soft feel

When we met, she was testing an arrangement for an autumn wedding using russet leaves and the psychedelic orange and red fruit of the spindle berry, a natural mix that is typical of her work. 

Dillycot Flowers was started three years ago with sales at local markets, such as Nailsworth Farmers’ Market. Today, Sally does much of her business online, with commissions for celebrations, such as birthday parties, christenings and weddings, providing table decorations and flower crowns. 

“I’ve done 70, 80 and 90th birthday parties this year,” she says, with a smile. “They don’t want a large flowering statement; they want really nice garden flowers in a low arrangement.” 

She grows her blooms organically in half-an-acre of ground, divided between her own garden and an allotment on a nearby farm. The borders are packed with rows of perennials underplanted with bulbs and any gaps plugged by annuals. 

Bulbs are most important in spring and she grows masses of tulips, narcissi and hyacinths, in a vast range of colours. 

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Low table arrangements are a popular request

“One of my favourites is ‘City of Bradford’ hyacinth, which is a very unusual pale blue.” 

She particular likes the hyacinth flowers that reappear in subsequent years, as they tend to be less compact: “They’ve got a slightly softer feel to the bloom. There’s more of a gentle elegance about them.” 

The summer offers rich pickings with annuals, including cornflowers in all shades of blue and pink, lots of iris, masses of peonies, roses, ranunculus and sunflowers before the autumn blooms of dahlias and chrysanthemums begin. 

Over the winter, evergreen shrubs form the backbone of her arrangements with viburnum and pittosporum particular favourites. Scented shrubs, such as Lonicera fragrans, bring an extra dimension to arrangements and she also uses dried seedheads, including nigella, poppy and achillea. If the weather is kind, there may even be late roses to add colour.

Dillycot
Achillea is used fresh and also dried for winter arrangements

 And that is the secret of her work: it is based upon what looks good at the time, rather than sticking to any pre-conceived plan, particularly as weather conditions can vastly alter flowering times. 

“It’s why I come from a colour direction rather than being flower specific,” she explains. 

Those flowers are displayed in vintage containers, sourced from antique shops and car boot sales, and include Art Deco and 1940s pieces, old ink bottles, silver, glass and brass. 

“For me it’s not pseudo vintage, it’s the real thing. I also grow older varieties of flowers. It evokes a past era.” 

It’s an era that appears to be making a comeback. 

For more information, visit www.dillycotflowers.co.uk and www.facebook.com/RosieOatesPhotography