To Chelsea, yesterday, to see what’s new, what’s different and what’s frankly implausible, in the wonderful world of British Horticulture. One thing that is in fact old – as it was helpful to be reminded by archive photographs in the Great Pavilion – is the crowds. As I get older, and my normally charitable impulses get smacked in the face by rucksacks, and trodden upon by walking boots (to say nothing of being slightly concussed by tablet devices being suddenly wafted aloft for use as cameras), I hark back to the days when, if you arrived at 8 a.m. sharp, you would have a quiet first thirty minutes or so; but it is clear that pressure on space round the popular exhibits was just as intense in the 1920s (when of course all the ladies and all the gents wore hats, to make the peering over people’s heads tactic that bit more difficult). There is one (mischievous?) photo of Queen Mary doing the rounds in a signature toque hat: she looks for all the world as though caught in the act of nipping off a surreptitious cutting (she was apparently a notorious predator of the gardens of country houses where she stayed).
Anyway, blue and purple fading through to palest pinks and whites were THE colours, as shown below: I’m not really a camera person, but you can also see what I mean from the pictures on the RHS Chelsea website.
And it is asserted that the show garden designers don’t have the time, even if they had the interest, to swap planting plans, so it must be just the Zeitgeist which caused so many gardens to display Orlaya (left) and (a new one on me) Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ (right)?
Last year’s ‘everywhere’ plant was Cornus canadensis (below) aka dwarf dogwood and bunchberry, and this year there were seeds on sale, so I’ll report back on progress. I’m not sure when it was introduced to Europe: there is an American catalogue of 1827 which lists it (viewable on the wonderful Biodiversity Heritage Library site, which is currently featuring the works of Alfred Russel Wallace, by the way), and which advertises the U.S. consuls in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Dublin who will act as its agents in forwarding orders – how very civilised!
Having become depressed at all the mildews and blights to which Cornus canadensis
is prone, I was cheered by the extraordinary information on Wikipedia that ‘Each flower has highly elastic petals that flip backward, releasing springy filaments that are cocked underneath the petals. The filaments snap upward flinging pollen out of containers hinged to the filaments. This motion takes place in less than half a millisecond and the pollen experiences two to three thousand times the force of gravity.’ Stand too close and you could be catapulted into a Black Hole?
Anyway, getting back to more CLC-related matters, Wardian cases featured again, with a modern take on the original technology (which, as was pointed out, changed the course of economic and agricultural history) in the Cave Pavilion (sponsored by the Garden History Museum, and planted up by Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones, who are true plant-hunters in the tradition of ‘Chinese’ Wilson, as well as superb plants-persons.
There was a Himalayan Rock Garden, which of course brought the great Joseph Dalton Hooker to mind, as well as Robert Fortune. And Kevock Garden Plants had a wonderful display of Meconopsis, the ‘blue poppy‘, as well as as its silken red and dusty pink relatives – a cogent reason for moving to Scotland or the northwest of England rather than in the alkaline flatlands of East Anglia … except, of course, for the (necessary) rain. And I must give a mention to the amazing Togenkyo garden of Kazuyuki Ishihara, which won a gold medal and ‘Best in Show’ for the artisan (i.e. small) garden section. This delightfully enthusiastic designer interprets the garden style and plants of Japan, so much admired by Reginald Farrer, for the twenty-first century West. What I want to know is, how on earth does he do the moss?