When it comes to column inches and television air time often it’s the garden designers at RHS Chelsea that get the most attention. Yet, in the Great Pavilion the nursery stands demand just as much planning and attention to detail. So, it’s good to see the spotlight being put on their contribution in this new book by Rosy Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.
It charts the Hampshire nursery’s 25 years at Chelsea, including a show garden in 2016, and gives an insight into how it takes far more than just top class plants to make an award-winning display.
Seeing their success today, it’s hard to imagine the small-scale way in which Rosy and her husband, Rob, started. They came into the business “almost accidentally” when they bought some plants from a closing down nursery and sold them at a local car boot sale. Soon they had dug up their back garden to grow more and commandeered Rosy’s mum’s greenhouse for propagation before renting a walled garden for what Rosy describes as “a ‘grown up’ nursery”.
Their Chelsea debut in 1992 was similarly low-key: Rosy’s sister-in-law lifted plants from her own garden and brought them to Chelsea in carrier bags to plug gaps in the display. It’s a far cry from today’s highly organised preparations, which are described as “a military operation”.
Written in a conversational style, the book looks at each of their Chelsea years with snapshots of the displays and anecdotes, from the plants they have introduced to food poisoning and a blackbird that nearly scuppered one exhibit. There is also the background to the 2016 show garden, which looked at the chalk streams that have shaped their part of Hampshire.
As they have grown in experience and confidence, so the exhibits have become more complex with the turning point in 2004 with the first of their more ‘garden-like’ stands. They are also known for their ‘walk-through’ features, which allow visitors to get close-up to the plants, such as their exhibit at Chelsea this year, pictured at the top of this page.
The book is also a record of the changing nature of the industry with the ditching of peat and the rise of the internet; in 2012 Hardy’s stopped producing a printed catalogue.
But what makes this more than just a trip down memory lane is the inclusion of plant advice based on their years in the industry. Woven through the Chelsea stories are suggestions for plants for specific locations or soils and lessons in using colour effectively in the border.
Rosy admits that when they started, her beloved herbaceous perennials were unpopular with many and described as ‘weeds’ by her fellow exhibitors. Hardy’s must take some credit for changing minds.
• Rosy Hardy – 25 years of Chelsea is available from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, either at the nursery or any of the flower shows and plant sales they attend priced at £7. It can also be ordered by phone or email with a delivery charge of £1.95 per copy. Visit Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants for details.
• Review copy supplied by Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.