• calendar 21 Jan, 2014
  • user-circleAuthor: Rossgardentours

Picked up at Chelsea

I’ve been making plans for sowing some deep purple sweet peas I picked up at Chelsea last year. I said no to this elegant version of a grass skirt (!) but I was helpless before the wave of sweet peas in the flower pavilion.  I’ll tell you my plan in a minute, but the sweet peas have had me thinking about the other highlights from last year’s show that have kept me buzzing all year.

The win

I turn into a cheering patriot whenever we beat the Brits, be it cricket or garden design, so the Best in Show win for Phillip Johnson’s Australian Garden got my heart beating faster. I just loved the garden- especially the wonderful ‘Waratah’ studio perched above the garden and offering all-round views through louvred windows and transparent flooring. Haven’t seen it? Here’s what we wrote at the time.

 Purple roses

While I was chatting with Michael Marriot from David Austin Roses I caught a glimpse of the most intense purple rose. It was ‘William Lobb’, a moss rose with dark crimson blooms that fade to shades of purple, mauve and violet-grey and which has those fabulous prickly mossy stems as you can see. Instant attraction! Sadly it won’t do for Sydney. So instead ‘William Lobb’ became the catalyst for research about purple roses that would grow in my coastal garden.  I fancy rambling them through lilac kangaroo paws. After much research (thanks Swanes!) I have gone with ‘Ebb Tide’, which has smoky purple flowers with a delicious clove scent;  ‘Bonnie Babes’, which has mauve-lavender blooms; ‘Thankyou’, with heaps of mauve petals crammed into every flower; and ‘Angel Face’, which has wavy purple petals and a lovely fragrance.

Fired fence

UK Garden designer Christopher Bradley-Hole made headlines when he criticised both the judges and the judging process at Chelsea 2013. His complaint that the judges didn’t ‘get’ his garden sounded a lot like sour grapes. This is his garden, and though the tabletops of clipped box didn’t do much for me I am a huge fan of that fire-blackened fence.


This stunning screen was made by Melbourne sculptors, Lump Sculpture Studio for the Australian Garden. The design, based on the ‘ringed’ appearance of the cross-section of a tree trunk, was laser cut into corten steel. The design appeared on the risers on the spiral staircase leading to the waratah studio and in these screens at the back of the garden.


London’s late late spring meant that the perennials usually relied upon at Chelsea to provide the jaw dropping displays of colour were few and far between. (David Austin Roses was forced to use a glasshouse to bloom its roses in the lead-up to the show!) The result of the late spring was that shrubs were trucked in to provide structure and colour in gardens that would otherwise have been bare: rhododendrons, lavender, buxus, maples and dogwood all made a change to the usual froth and bubble of wildflower meadows. It was done particularly well  by Roger Platts in the M&G Investments Garden, reminding us all of the value of shrubs in the garden.


I hate to leave Chelsea empty-handed and fortunately there are plenty of suitcase-sized items to choose from. My usual favourites: gardening boots from Dubarry; hand tools from Sneeboar; twine from Burgon and Ball; and pretty plant labels from Nutscene. And seeds, of course. Last year it was the deep purple sweet peas from Eagle Sweet Peas. I chose the inky depths of ‘Just jenny’ and indigo ‘Eclipse’. I was assured I can collect seeds from them every year, so that I will always have souvenirs of the 100th Chelsea flower show growing in my garden. (When buying seeds at Chelsea  – or anywhere else – ensure that the seed packet is correctly labelled with the botanic name of the plant, not just the common name.  Declare it to Customs and you should have no problems bringing it home.)

So about that sweet pea plan.  I’m thinking 1.5m high tripods of my dark purple sweet peas behind explosions of artichoke. I’m making the tripods from branch trimmings and will sow in a month or so. Fingers crossed for rain.

Linda is heading back to Chelsea this May when she leads our Gardens of England and Chelsea Flower Show tour. 

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