The changing faces of garden show plants

The changing faces of garden show plants

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 14.38.20Gardening is as subject to changes of fashion as any other aspect of daily life. I have noticed at garden shows the changes in trends in hard landscaping are more immediately obvious. It takes only imagination, money and several phone calls to exploit the nature of material hitherto unseen in show gardens, and I am sure there will be gravity-defying structures in unusual materials to be seen at Chelsea this spring.

The innovation in planting at shows is less apparent. It takes years to develop and trial a new variety of perennial and even more years, even decades, to see whether a new tree can withstand the variability of all that the British weather can throw at it. (I have noticed that nearly all the golden Robinia pseudocacacia Frisia, planted in the 1980’s when it was all the rage, have quietly died)

“It takes year to develop and trial a new variety of perennial”

There is plenty of plant innovation to be seen in the Great Pavilion where new varieties of plants are launched on the market. Show garden designers must rely more on tried and tested plants that will have a certain chance of being on bloom in the third week in May, always tricky to predict exactly (see ‘British weather’ above.)

As far as the Chelsea show gardens are concerned, the race will be on as we speak to source the finest large specimen trees and shrubs that can be driven through the Bull Ring gates. Let no one tell you that size does not matter….

Garden shows both follow and lead trends in gardening. Few gardens in the 1950’s and 60’s were complete without borders of hybrid tea roses, with famous varieties such as ‘Peace’, ‘Mrs Sam McCready’ and ‘Harry Wheatcroft’ selling in their thousands. Now roses are as popular as ever, but the modern varieties of David Austin Roses suit modern tastes much better. They combine the romance and scent of old roses with repeat flowering and disease resistance.

Roses are regarded as the quintessential plant of the English garden but with so many old roses called Souvenier de this and Madame de that, it should be remembered that the French were jolly good at roses too.

“it should be remembered that the French were jolly good at roses too”

Plants fall in and out of favour. Lupins were to be seen in every 1960’s cottage garden, but few varieties will be offered in garden centres, and the work of West Country Lupins is doing much to revive the flagging fortunes of this lovely plant. The breeding of penstemons and agapanthus has increase the choice manifold from 30 years ago, now we know they are hardier than once was thought.

I mean to go through the list of the former RHS Plant of the Year to see which ones are still leading the field. The future of Geranium Rozanne is assured, having won Plant of the Decade and Plant of the Century, as it is well behaved, long in flower, not too fussy as to requirements of soil or position and nothing too hungry eats it.

For a late garden display I should be very happy with Rozanne, coupled with last year’s winner Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’, a long flowering combination of wine red and cobalt blue. Will I be still growing them in 20 years’ time I wonder?