We paid a visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the start of the week to see the latest gardening innovations and plants at the horticultural event of the year.
Yes, it rained but this didn’t dampen the spirits of garden designers and exhibitors and the sun soon came out which served to shine on the ‘rain-cleaned’ gardens. Beautiful.
There was plenty to see and lots of great ideas we were able to take on board. If you can get to the show, be sure to pay a visit to the central marquee, The Great Pavilion, where the colour and lovely scent will blow you away. So much to see, it’s great.
Here are some highlights that caught our eye when we were there.
Pennard Plants put on a wonderful display ‘The Glory of the Garden’ and picked up a Gold Award. Ornamentals grow side-by-side with edibles, like lettuces growing with flowering perennials.
You may be used to the gorgeous, almost meaty, texture of globe artichokes hearts. From Cynara scolymus, a fantastic plant that puts out big bold blooms in the flowerbed atop large architectural leaves. The insects love it and you’ll love the flower display from mid-summer to autumn.
It’s not just the heads you can harvest though for the succulent leaf scales – there’s more to this plant still. For every head that you harvest, harvest the stems too – they’re tender and perfectly edible.
On the ‘Pennard Plants’ display the ornamental artichokes are wrapped loosely in corrugated cardboard (right). Indulging our curiosity we asked about this and found out this was to blanch the stems, excluding them of light making them paler, tenderer and more tasty.
Try it for yourself – keep an eye on the weather though and replace the cardboard once it gets too wet.
On the same display, kiwis are growing strongly. If you have a greenhouse it might be worth giving this a go. You’ll notice this climber has lovely rounded leaves (right) with attractive edges, and some understated but pretty single white/ cream flowers.
If the kiwi variety is self-fertile, like kiwi 'Jenny', you’ll just need the one plant too for successful fruiting. Just provide the climbing kiwi plants with supports and grow in acid soil and you’ll be rewarded with full juicy fruits packed with vitamin C.
Chillies and sweet peppers (right) are great for the ornamental garden, just as much as they are great for the allotment. Look at these stand-out pepper varieties, shown by Robinsons Seeds and Plants, who collected a Silver-Gilt Award. Big, bold and brilliant.
At this time of year, growers can get caught out with a late-season frost on a particularly cold night. If it's forecasted and your chillies and sweet peppers are in pots outdoors, protect with horticultural fleece or a cloche.
Cloches and covers to covet
Pennard Plants showed some lovely crops but some attractive accessories too. A traditional cloche is both attractive and functional. You can bring on earlier harvests by providing vegetables with a protective climate like this.
Coldframes (right) are ornamental and useful structures too for bringing on earlier harvests. These courgette plants are ready to be planted outdoors after their initial stage of growing.
But it’s not just attractive glass jars you can use to offer a protective environment. To bring on an early harvest of vegetables invest in some horticultural fleece. A cheaper option.
Or why not have a mixture of the two? Fleece to protect a line of crops, and individual cloches for vegetable plants you’re growing in a container or in a flowerbed with ornamentals.
A rainbow of colours
Want to attract pollinating insects to your veg plot and add a splash of colour? There’s a whole host of plants you can choose from to do this job. What about a nearby decorative trug of nasturtiums, - attractive to bees, easy to sow and plant up and the flowers are great in salads for a sweet, zingy, peppery flavour.
We love chrysanthemums (right) in particular – for late-summer colour and the wealth of shapes and sizes you can choose from. They vary in form so much, that you can mix and match to suit you and create captivating colour contrasts. Here, Silver-Gilt Award winner Chrysanthemums Direct offers some ideas.
And want to grow for exhibiting? – do like the professionals and protect individual blooms with plastic bags and a loose clip to fix in place.
Celebrate the strawberry season
The strawberry season will soon be upon us, and it’s an exciting time to anticipate British-grown fresh strawberries that look good and taste divine. Get strawberries that have been specially chilled and you could have a crop by mid-July.
In the Great Pavilion we saw all the different ways you can grow strawberries (right) including growing in troughs or pots or growing vertically on pillars (like on the Ken Muir exhibit that won a Silver Award) – a fantastic method to use when you’re tight on space. Vertical planting is great, not just for saving on space but to bring the captivating scent of strawberry plants to head-height.
And what’s more is that you can harvest the juicy and luscious fruits without having to bend down to ground level. Consider growing strawberries in hanging baskets or trugs.
This is truly the most rewarding part of growing your own crops.
It’s coming up to the harvesting season of first-early potatoes so here’s a tip on knowing when your potatoes are ripe for the picking. If the flowers of the potato plants are fully open and/or are starting to drop, that’s your first indicator.
Lift the plants gently with a border fork to remove the soil and inspect the potatoes. Are they the size of hens’ eggs? This is the ideal size.
Morrice and Ann Innes showed their beautiful display of potatoes in the Great Pavilion, and picked up a coveted Gold Award. An array of different colours, different textures and different markings. If you’re at the show, take a look at the great display and read up on the history and cultivation of this great crop.