Gardening: Bringing green to grey at Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 - Credit: Archant

If you’re lucky enough to be attending the Chelsea Flower Show this week, or you’re watching it on the television coverage - you’ll see that as well as the large show gardens, which continue to be just as impressive every year; this year there are some really different concepts, which have really caught my eye.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 - Credit: Archant

Anyone who is familiar with my column, and my normal gardening style, will know that the cottage-garden style planting is my favourite, and it was evident in several of the large show gardens - the usual mixture of foxgloves, and long grasses, and poppies and wildflowers - so beguiling in the way that they move in the wind.

I am beginning to realise though, as I see these gardens year on year, that there is space for change. There are other ideas which I might have previously not considered, which are just as beautiful - even though they break from the norm.

Two gardens which really caught my eye this year, were the LG Smart Garden - designed by Hay Joung Hwang, and sponsored by LG Electronics. The planting was traditional - at first glance, there would have been nothing to mark it out from the rest - other than the stunning mixture of colours in the planting - which initially drew my attention.

The idea behind the garden was to bring technology to the garden - in the same way that we can now control so many elements of our homes remotely - such as heating, lighting, music - this garden demonstrates how we might be able to also control aspects of our garden in the future.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 - Credit: Archant

For me - this might be taking things a little too far - I like my garden to be natural in all respects - although the idea of being able to water the garden without having to traipse up and down with a watering can does seem somewhat appealing after having walked around the show all day!!

Another garden which forced me to rethink my preconceptions, was one of the exhibits in the Fresh Garden category.

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The Marble and Granite Centre - based right here in our very own Hertfordshire - just down the road in Rickmansworth, have sponsored a garden created by Martin Cook and Gary Breeze called “Antithesis of Sarcophagi” - a bit of a mouthful to say, but an incredibly interesting idea

To start with, I couldn’t understand why people were all standing around a huge granite block and looking through the holes drilled in the side of it.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 - Credit: Archant

I walked past this garden several times, shaking my head about how bizarre people’s idea of a garden could be, before finally curiosity got the better of me, and I went to look through the hole. Inside the block was a garden - a whole stunning, verdant garden.

I don’t know whether it was excellent planting, or whether it was because looking inside the block, it was impossible to be distracted by anything going on around it, but the garden totally captured my imagination - a real secret garden. I guess the lesson to be learnt for me, from this year’s show, is that it doesn’t hurt to challenge your ideas from time to time.

One important message that the RHS are hoping people will take home from their visit, or their viewing of the show, is that we need to be “Greening Grey Britain”.

Research has shown that a huge number of us no longer have front gardens. With residential space at such a premium these days, many people will have either extended their properties to gain the maximum amount of living accommodation, or they might have concreted over a front garden to enable them to have off-road parking - another valuable asset to any home.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 - Credit: Archant

If we were to look at our streets from a bird’s eye perspective, in comparison to how they would have looked even a decade or two ago, we would be surprised to see how much they have changed.

The difference is not only apparent to those driving or walking up and down your street, but it will also impact you, in what you are looking out onto from your home.

The RHS are trying to encourage people to reconsider their front gardens, and where possible, to bring back some garden into these spaces.

Whether it’s adding some plants in containers to your front driveway, or perhaps even doing something more dramatic - the RHS are keen for people to consider the benefits that can be found in gardening - not only for health, mental well-being, and of course the environment.

For more information about this campaign - click here.

Focus on... succulents

Succulents seem to be the current flavour of the month in not only horticultural circles - where they have long been appreciated, but they are generally becoming the on-trend plant to have.

At the show I was spotting them everywhere - they had inspired everything from sculptures, to table decorations, and in one of the large show gardens - a water feature. Tiny pots of succulents have even become fashionable to hand out as wedding favours! I’ve always been a fan of them, but seeing how popular they’ve become, I’ve been considering how easy they are to look after.

Succulents can be very tempting to keep as house-plants - they have such beautiful colours - muted hues of greys, greens, and pale blues. They look great in groups, or just on their own.

They do need plenty of sunlight though - originating from hot countries, and not needing a lot of water - they will need approximately six hours of sunlight a day, so make sure you don’t leave them somewhere which doesn’t get natural light.

As I said, they don’t like to be over-watered - like many house plants, it’s better to give them a soak, and then let them dry out - so use a well-draining soil.

Enjoy them! I’ve seen lots of really imaginative ways of displaying succulents at Chelsea - with glass balls, to tiny terracotta pots - use your imagination to best show off these wonderful plants!

Things to do in the garden this month...

* Plant out your summer bedding plants - although the summer flowering shrubs and roses will soon be in bloom, it’ll be a while yet before the summer colour comes into the gardens, so keep the garden full of interest by planting some bedding.

* Mow your lawn!! Your lawn will likely need mowing once a week. It’s amazing how all of a sudden the lawn can start growing so fast. Regularly mowing the lawn will keep the whole garden looking neat and tidy.

* Keep on top of the weeds in your flower borders. If you have a hoe, it might be worth keeping it o hand!!

* Be aware of water - you’ll be wanting to water plants in beds, as well as those in pots, now that the weather is heating up. Be water-aware, and try to reuse water wherever you can - not only to save money if you’re on a water meter - but also to hopefully avoid a hose-pipe ban later in the season.