Contents of the Winter 2010 Northants News

Cacti and Succulents at Chelsea                      Roland Tebbenham    

I made my annual visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May.  Fewer cacti and succulent plants were evident in the outdoor gardens than in past years, but there were some interesting displays for me to enjoy in the great pavilion.  The sunny weather and light breeze were much appreciated – it was an ideal day for visiting a spectacular show.

The larger outdoor gardens were quite restrained with greens and soft colours forming the backbone of many designs in contrast to many darker blues and violets used in recent years.  All prospective exhibitors must describe a theme that their garden will interpret.  The only garden to use a range of succulent plants was that sponsored by Foreign and Colonial Investments; it was inspired by Voltaire’s satire ‘Candide’.  The layout employed a Mediterranean Turkish theme, the hard landscaping and sculptures picking up events from the book.  The garden won a Silver-Gilt Medal.

The garden description included the statement ‘With the addition of furniture and pots, this garden becomes a practical design that could easily be a success in the warmer parts of the UK.’  I reckon that is a fair statement given the use of Aeonium, Aloe, Beschorneria, Echeveria and Yucca amongst other hardier trees, shrubs and herbaceous subjects.  Candide’s final words in the book are “… il faut cultivar nôtre jardin.”  They imply that the only way to reach fulfilment is through hard work: something with which we horticulturalists are very familiar!

The 'Candide' Garden at Chelsea

Craig House Gold Medal cactus display at Chelsea

Two C&S suppliers staged displays in the pavilion: Craig House Cacti won their second Gold Medal for a display (left) including a wide selection of both cacti and succulent plants.  Southfield Nurseries won their twenty-fourth consecutive Gold Medal for a stunning arrangement of flowering cacti, including some new hybrids (right).  Many visitors stopped to admire both displays and ask questions; so very well done to Stan Griffen, Bryan Goodey and their teams of helpers.

Southfields Gold Medal cactus display at Chelsea

By contrast Fernwood Nurseries showed pans of Sempervivum, quite restrained when comparing the subtle mixture of green, red and bronze foliage to the gaudy flowers on many other stands.  They are National Collection holders of Sempervivum and included both species and hybrids on a fine island site.  The large mixed bowls were particularly striking and the display won a Gold Medal.  The picture shows one mixed pan including three large rosettes of S ‘Lion King’ in the foreground.

A planting of Sempervivum in the Fernwood Display at Chelsea

One compulsory visit for me was to the Kirstenbosch stand.  The theme was the biodiversity of indigenous South African wildflowers and plants.  If you were following the BBC coverage of Chelsea, you may have heard that the plant material was held up in customs for many days.  Being imprisoned in a metal shipping container under hot sun is bad for plants, despite the succulence of some!  Despite those tribulations the team completed their display just in time for judging.  I think the customs delay was one reason that it won only a Silver Medal this year, in contrast to many Golds in past years.

Sansevierias in tha Kirstenbosch display at Chelsea An impressive Euphorbia in the Kirstenbosch Display

The large stand area featured many succulent subjects developing the theme of biodiversity.  This was expressed in particular areas showing fynbos, desert/succulent karoo and savannah biomes.  There were more detailed areas showing variation within genera (Euphorbia, Gasteria and Sansevieria), and also species, notably of Protea cultivars.  Some larger Aloe and Euphorbia species provided structure, bulbs and mesembs were used as ground cover with their colourful flowers.  Dried branches, fruits and seeds are always used, further enhancing the depiction of diversity within the overall arrangement.  This was a superb display and the people on hand were knowledgeable and helpful.

I have not mentioned the other floral displays, scientific section, and floristry in the great pavilion, also the other interesting gardens, both large and small.  You can see and buy greenhouses, fruit cages, fountains, furniture, machinery and sundries.  Furthermore if you wanted a sculpture and had £20k to spare you could order a massive bronze snail that would not graze on your Hostas and Echeverias!  There are so many things to see at RHS Chelsea, do visit the show at least once in your gardening career.



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