The seed-grown hot shot of this year’s Chelsea Show is Orlaya grandiflora. There are few gardens and even trade stands without it on there somewhere. You can’t fault the Cretan annual wild flower in the garden – mini handkerchiefs on umbel frames, with flowers for many weeks from sowing now straight into the ground.
Right on its heels in terms of popularity here seems to be the opium poppies. The Australian Husqvarna garden has the single Black Papaver somniferum, and the shaggy-headed double ‘Blackcurrant fizz’, as well as the single purple, all of which add height and elegance to any planting. Their silver foliage and nodding heads with whopping, yet simple flowers mean everyone loves them.
Andy sturgeon’s garden for the Telegraph had another seed grown annual – Ridolfia segetum in a very prominent place, and the adorable, nodding Briza, or Quaking Grass is another star here. It was drifted through Cleve West’s and The Beauty of Mathematics garden in rivers of nodding heads.
I love this plant in the garden and in the vase, giving all-important movement to any bunch of flowers. We use it a lot in our church flowers too, as it acts almost like a disco ball in a dark corner. One word of warning, it does prolifically self-sow, so don’t go for it if you love an immaculate garden.
The black-leaved cow parsley is everywhere too — which I’ve written about in my blog this spring — so good for container foliage as a background to tulips, with a presence before them, filling a pot with elegant, filigree leaves. This is flowering now like the native cow parsley in May. ‘Ravenswing’ can be tricky to germinate. It’s best to do it as nature would, with no heat and even a bit of shade, but as a biennial, it’s one to sow now.
The other two biennials, everywhere here this year are the stalwart, Hesperis, (sweet rocket) which flowers well in sun or dappled shade, with a soft, sweet scent. And many gardens have used the apricot-peachy foxglove, Digitalis ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ as a filler, so lovely as a cut flower or garden plant.
May is also aquilegia time. There are plenty of single-flowered varieties like the simple alpina, and I love the Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha. Lots of gardens also include the ballerina’s-tutu doubles such as ‘Nora Barlow’ and ‘Blue Barlow’, which is all over Jo Thompson’s Chelsea Barracks garden, and in the Australian garden threaded through. This is also ideal for sowing now.
The champion on our stand was the Iceland poppy, ‘Party Fun’. It’s not the easiest plant to grow. For 100 seeds you sow, you may only end up with 30 or so plants. It hates root disturbance more than anything, so modular sowing into Jiffy’s is a good idea, or pricking them out when they are very young. It is worth the effort because it makes a supreme cut flower if you sear the stem ends in boiling water for 15 seconds. I picked ours in the Perch Hill garden on Sunday night and brought them up on the train to London and I’m impressed they’ve lasted so well on the top shelf of our Chelsea stand.
Come and find us on stand SW417, we look forward to seeing you there!