The displays at the Chelsea Flower Show have been demounted. Lumps of rock and slabs of slate paving are back on the lorries criss-crossing the motorway network and the medal winners are clutching their prizes, proudly. The Styrofoam cups have been corralled and the stray petals blow in the breeze across an empty park. Generally I dislike monolithic landscaping and roaring aquifers sprinkled with a smidgen of cowering herbage. Too many of the designers’ mission statements reminded me of artist’s twaddle in an upmarket gallery. I found Jekka McVicar’s “Modern Apothecary” a delight and Nick Bailey’s “Beauty of Mathematics” interesting. How was it for you? Does your soul sing with inspiration for your patch of heaven? Is your mind full of mouth watering ideas about how to treat that dodgy patch between the garage and next door’s wall? Me neither.
Crinodendron hookerianum (Chilean lantern tree)
I saw a lot of varieties that I fancied, that will not reach my sweaty grasp for a long time. Plant trade from supermarkets works on the “stack them high and sell ’em cheap” principle. Thus the garden centres are losing out and are diversifying into opening restaurants and hawking plastic ornaments of dubious taste. I read a lot about horticulture; the hardcore magazines will spend half an issue on plants of a very discreet sort. Indeed, Attila moans that I favour green blooms above all others. This contains enough truth to sting but not so much as to agree out loud. Many articles seem to have an unhealthy fixation with Brassicas and beans. I regard vegetables as the preserve of my nearest grocer but since I cannot grow them well, this may be sour grapes.
Aconitum napellus (monkshood), Iris sibirica & Geraneum phaeum
Instead of buying a tray full of tawdry marigolds from Tesco, take a trip to a nursery. Gardening friends will be happy to recommend a good one and may be delighted to join you for a day of fun. Staff will be happy to help you to make informed choices, provided that it’s not a busy Bank Holiday. My best advice to you whether expert or novice, is to purchase a small telephone diary. Maintain an alphabetical lust list; add names and a brief description of growing conditions for specimens that catch your eye from pieces that you read, programmes you watch and gardens that you visit. Keep the book with you at all times, since you can never tell when unholy hankering may get a grip. File Monty Don under “D” but try to stick to plants. If you don’t know the designation, ask someone. If nobody can identify it, take down a description; Google is great for providing images leading you to a label, given only “tiny white flowers, grass-like leaves”. Take a picture for future reference, since you will have a camera on your mobile phone. There is no point in all this technology, if it doesn’t further your passion.
Clematis montana “Marjorie”
The big flower shows can be useful for illustrating collections of colour, texture and form. You can admire the concept of nature’s reclamation of a war zone without feeling the need to source crumbling machine guns and tattered tanks. Once this gets a hook in you, remember to eat and sleep and of course, bear in mind that your nearest and dearest probably don’t give a stuff if this year’s plantings are a little top heavy with marigolds.