CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW 2012
Andrew McIndoe is Managing Director of Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centres and Designer of the Hillier Chelsea Exhibit for the past 23 years. He has helped to uphold the Company’s unprecedented record of 65 consecutive Gold Medals. He is an author, broadcaster, garden advisor and lectures widely on plants and gardens in the UK and abroad. He and his wife have a two acre garden, Sandhill Farm, near Romsey in Hampshire.
I consider myself very lucky: plants and gardens are both my job and my passion. Chelsea is at the heart of my gardening life. It influences my choice of plants, how I use them in my own garden, and how I recommend they are used in the gardens of those I advise. Creating a Chelsea exhibit is an inspiration. I have an idea of what I want to achieve, but it is not until those plants start arriving in the Great Pavilion in the days before the show that the real ideas materialise. Working with colour and texture is such a wonderful experience, and when that colour and texture is in the form of living plants it is all the more dynamic. When I am arranging plants at the Show I am imagining how they will grow and mature in a garden; how they will work in reality.
I think the biggest mistake we make in our gardens is to choose plants in isolation. We either see something we like, buy it, and then plant it in any available gap in the border, or we select a specific plant based on its ultimate size and spread. We rarely choose a combination of plants that work together to maintain a colour theme and provide interest through the seasons. We are also often drawn by those exciting new introductions, rather than concentrating on good reliable basics that are the foundation of the garden planting.
Most people think of a beautiful garden as a place for flowers, but in fact it is the foliage that holds a planting scheme together both in texture and in colour. If you want to create a green and white scheme, always a Chelsea favourite, start with green and white variegated foliage. My Chelsea and my garden plant palette always depend on plants such as Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Varioegata’, Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and Viburnum davidii for bold, green contrast. Spiky leaves from Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’ and Phormium ‘Cream Delight’ liven up the texture and make the lower layer of planting more dynamic. In my own garden I might add a sprinkling of white tulips and narcissi, maybe Rosa alba ‘Semi Plena’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Kyushu’ for good measure. My green and white schemes a Chelsea over the years have changed the opinion of many variegated foliage sceptics!
Deep wine-red foliage is another essential element in my plant palette. I would never be without plants like Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’, Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. These deep red-purple tones accentuate other colours used with them and they help to link colours together. Pink and orange scream alongside each other: add deep purple-red leaves and they become the foundation of something very exciting. In a real garden situation a lovely English rose like the apricot orange ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ has its moments of glory in summer, its glowing flowers are enhanced against the copper-red foliage of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diable d’Or’ and this wonderful foliage shrub maintains the colour interest from early spring to late autumn. I might add the reliable Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ for some deep pink excitement at the end of the season, or perhaps the vibrant purple Verbena bonariensis.
Of course a Chelsea garden is a dream; a picture at a moment in time. It never goes on to grow, mature, get old and need replanting and revitalising. After the show it only exists in pictures. In my own garden fragments of past Chelsea Flow Shows live on. The folly at the top of the garden is from ‘An Artist’s Garden’. Some of the deep red pots on the terrace are from ‘The Dove Garden’. The summerhouse and formal pool are a little piece of ‘Courtyard to Cloister’. All are happy memories of Chelsea past. The creation of the Chelsea illusion has taught me so much about putting gardens together: the importance of light height in the foreground to increase perspective. How gardens need the height provided by trees to increase the illusion of space, and how they also need empty space in order to appreciate the planting. Chelsea has given me so many ideas over the years; I hope that I pass a few on to those that visit the show.