The grounds of Chatsworth House make a wonderful setting for the youngest of the major UK flower shows. I hope you’ll find something of interest in my personal picks from the show.
1. Seasonal Cut Flowers
Freddie’s Flowers had packed a breathtaking array of seasonal cut flowers in shades of lavender, cream and pink in the back of a truck to advertise their bouquet by post service.
An installation of British cut flowers was themed around the floral notes in perfumery: earthy, mossy base elements; floral heart notes of roses, larkspurs, sweet peas and peonies; then fresh top notes literally hanging above the visitors. A fairy encouraged me to enter and make a wish.
2. The Gardens
I enjoyed the mindfulness gardens and am pleased that the Elements of Sheffield Garden won a People’s Choice Award, having met the designer and admired the planting.
3. Variegated Leaves
The RHS Plant of the Year 2019, variegated succulent Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’, was on show in the Bee marquee. Found on the volcanic Korean island of Ulleungdo, it’s a hardy, low-maintenance form and, with an eye to the future, drought-tolerant.
In the Floral Marquee was a variegated Japanese Zelkova serrata tree, a slower growing form; variegated dogwoods; acers; and small-leaved hostas for plant collectors with limited space.
Variegated ferns included Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Burgundy Lace’ (the painted fern) shown below with Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’ (the wonderfully named tatting fern). Clivia ‘Akebono’ is unusual in that it has broad, creamy, transverse banding across the leaves, unlike the more commonly grown Clivia miniata ‘Variegata’ where the stripes go down the leaves.
4. Flowers, New Varieties And Classics
Classic garden plants such as dahlias, lupins, astrantias, irises, primulas, geraniums and foxgloves were all out in force. I saw many people carrying home Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘Jenny’ from the show: something about this double pink form of the wildflower had clearly hit the spot. Here are some of the flowers that caught my eye:
5. Well Dressings
The Peak District has a long history of dressing wells and the sources of springs with flowers in summer as a traditional way for communities to give thanks for fresh flowing water. Four large panels were on display at the show, their designs created by volunteers who layer petals above a framework of seeds, leaves, bark, stone chips and shells. I’m always amazed by the artistry, planning and painstakingly care that go into every square inch.
6. Long Borders
There were almost twice as many long borders this year as last, including the gold medal winning Bess of Hardwick Long Border by Victoria Philpott, inspired by Hardwick Hall’s herb garden (a detail is below, right). I like the way you can get up close to these raised borders, with full access on all four sides to see the plants.
7. Features Celebrating And Supporting Nature
This year’s Chatsworth Flower Show emphasised the idea of a garden as a nature reserve. The RHS Garden For Wildlife included plants, creature-friendly ponds, bird tables and insect hotels to encourage back wildlife that used to be common in British gardens, such as hedgehogs, house sparrows and starlings.
While the blue insect hotel design was elegant and I loved the heart shaped bug log, I was fascinated by the simple idea of coiling up offcuts left over after the turf has been laid and setting them aside in a ferny corner for creatures to make their homes in. A succulent had been tucked in the top of one coil to reassure us that the offcuts had been left for a purpose.
An area of the show ground was set aside to encourage families to celebrate the Power of Trees together, with stumperies, wishing trees, a virtual tree top canopy, a lecture theatre and wickerwork sculptures. Tree specimens were dotted around in huge pots. Alex Metcalf was encouraging visitors to put on one of several sets of headphones hanging from a tree so we could do some tree listening. I had a go, and was surprised to learn that, with amplification, we could hear not just the branches rumbling in the wind, but also the regular, deep pop of sap rising. Very weird.
8. Sheds And Greenhouses
Many of us dream of one of these greenhouses mysteriously appearing in our (magically extended) gardens. Those with the means to invest in the best will find plenty of inspiration at the show. Shepherd’s huts on display put into perspective any ideas I might have of enjoying a holiday in one. They are, shall we say, snug? Perhaps we’d be better off in a greenhouse.
9. Children’s Gardens
My pick of the show? The Mayflower Primary School’s Love Gardening – It All Makes Sense. This tiny but vibrant recycled garden included decorated pebbles and flower pots, quirky insects, a lady scarecrow, herbs, a water feature and a sound bar with shakers made from recycled plastic to bring our five senses alive.
Linger a while and you’ll find this school garden is packed full of the smiles every RHS show garden should bring to our faces.
RHS Chatsworth Flower Show is open until Sunday 9th June, so if you’re in the area, there’s still time to visit. Check out the website for details. During the final hour of the show, many exhibitors sell their display plants for knock down prices: street photographers and people-watchers will have a whale of a time seeing people hauling their treasures home.