The Leftovers Garden

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While admiring some rough grass in a show garden at Hampton Court last month, I noticed a neat and dapper person, watering away. It was 7.30am at the beginning of a very hot Flower Show week and all the newly-planted gardens needed as much help as they could get.

Prickly Chris

I sidled up and saw that it was Chris Beardshaw behind the dark glasses. I was surprised that he was there, because he's been everywhere recently. A gold medal at Chelsea, followed by the Moscow Flower Show as well as numerous tv and radio appearances.

Purple candytuft

Why is he so calm? “Moscow was the most relaxed.” he says. “Muscovites have a Mediterranean attitude but they get things done with enormous teams of people.” So, how does he get things done? The answer could be here, in the rough grass. The planting, he claims, is mainly made up of leftovers from seed packets. Leftovers from clients, leftovers from shows.

Thistles and purple

“It's a mix of high fashion and Nigel Dunnett's meadow planting,” Chris explains. “There is groundsel here, as well as candy tuft” And the odd thistle, I can't help noticing. Good for him! Next to the curve of rough grass is a swathe of immaculate turf and beside that a formally planted border, with the hottest show plants around (dianthus cruentus as well as d. carthusianorum for starters). But what intrigues me about the outer rim, the garden of leftovers, is the height of the flowers, which are just coming out.

Shepherds purse

“The intention is that they stay quite low,” says Chris. The conditions are more tough than they would be in a traditional border. “There is an element of self-seeding, particularly when you take the grasses out,” he says. “You find annuals to fill in the gaps left by those that are over. In a flower meadow, grasses will slowly be replaced by perennials as well as different kinds of annuals.”

Ideally this kind of garden would be a mix of natives, exotics, perennials and annuals. A vibrant combo of high and low. And why not? Chris Beardshaw has already been doing this on the roof of his shed for years. It's a hard life up there, so plants come up strong and short. “Nigella is a stout little thing, when it grows on my roof.”

Thanks for reading!