Thursday, 3 February 2011

Chelsea Plants

As far as plants are concerned, the Chelsea Flower Show is a little chicken and egg - by the time you have hurdled the commissioning rounds, it is mid November, and just as you're revving up to place plant orders, every plant countrywide has collapsed below ground for a well earned rest.

But, if you want the plants you've specified in tip-top condition, you need to place orders with growers before Christmas, detailing preferred pot sizes, height and girth of the final plants, and specifying the ridiculous quantities you'd like to order,  to ensure you have enough plants in peak condition, before another Chelsea hungry designer beats you to it.

Without the luxury of choosing plants earlier in the year before you know whether you're in or out,  choosing plants is a little like stabbing in the dark - the scheme may be planted in your head, but you don't have the luxury of visiting nurseries in the hope of making new finds, those ethereal lovelies previously unknown to your acquaintance. Leafing through old notebooks, photographs and nursery catalogues becomes a chaotic addiction in the quest for the must have plant which will bedazzle and beguile your clients (the British Heart Foundation, and Brewin Dolphin), the general public, and the judges. 

And choosing plants out of season, its sensible to have some back up plants, and then back up plants for your back up plants. Keeping all within budget is a logistical nightmare, as not only do you have to ensure you'll have enough plants at full tilt for that certain one week at the end of May, all of these plants have to be decided upon and decided within a budget. 

However, with their sudden elevation to super model status, those plants lucky enough to be selected suddenly have to be housed in the nursery equivalent of a serviced five star apartment on Mayfair. And believe you me, this kind of horticultural haute couture comes at a (perfectly justified) price. Plants will be pampered, fed, watered, primed, primped, given sun or shade, and even read a bedtime story if the grower feels it may just be beneficial to the prima donna demands of the plant. It's a tough job, and those that take on the challenge are real heroes, whose hours of devotion are still not truly reflected in the costs charged to the Chelsea designer.

However, after much wrangling with plant varieties, costs and seasonality, I think I'm almost there - trees have been tagged, perennials, grasses and ferns have been ordered, and whilst the marginals for our pond are still not quite finalised, we are well on our way. And I think there's a tiny sprinkling of cash available for some last minute buys.

And though you'd think this would bring relief, in reality the end of one concern makes room for another. Now sleepless nights and empty moments are spent worrying about whether I've ordered enough of a particular variety, if I should have chosen another Hosta, or whether my Angelica will be tall enough. It seems that the time spent between selection and delivering the garden on show week, is mostly spent biting one's nails; by the time Chelsea arrives, mine will be down to the quick.

As for the hard landscaping - well, that's still slightly in flux, but we'll get there.... meanwhile, has anyone got any finger nails they can lend to me?!


  1. I'll probably end up doing several dozen more tomato plants than I know what to do with. You can have them for emergency back-up gap stuffing if you want. Very good price too.

  2. Yep like Lia I will have some sweet peas and no doubt some broadbeans if you need them

  3. I'm so jealous because no-one would take on the responsibilty of growing our Chelsea plants when I was there. They ended up in my back garden which was more of a run-down Travelodge than a 5 star hotel.

    Also, not sure if this is the time to mention it, but depsite all our planning, we were short of plants for our garden. In the end I skulked around everyone else's gardens until I spotted someone with some spare plants that matched ours and begged some freebies.

    Sweet dreams! Dx

  4. I grow on a nursery that spends a lot of time growing and looking after plants for Chelsea and other such shows, and I have to say there is little better than seeing the plants you have fed, watered,loved and read bedtime stories to where necessary,in beautifully designed show gardens. Its a real thrill every time and one of my yearly highlights.

  5. last year i had a very last minute request to do a planting for another exhibitor - i could not believe that growers refused to sell me plants as they were going to be used at Chelsea - I learnt pretty quickly to keep my mouth firmly shut if I was to get any of the more obscure plants I was after - if only public landcapes were treated with the same fussiness

  6. You need to relax! You know how many Chelsea gardens' 'star' plants are actually those provided by a kind neighbour or nursery when you haven't got enough of your own or spot something else you like..... Calm calm calm. I totally agree about the growers - they do an amazing job almost for the love of it.

  7. I have some docks...they're very reliable, Im good at propagating them and they're only very expensive. I can throw in some nettles too but I will require proper crediting in the show

  8. You are tying girly pink ribbons on your trees: that has to be worth a few extra points.