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Dan Riddleston RHS Chelsea Diary

Like many other Chelsea Flower Show designers and contractors faced with the news that the event would be moving from May to September, the first challenge we tackled was the creation of a new autumnal planting plan. It’s a rare opportunity to work with a different seasonal palette at Chelsea and one that the nurseries and designers have really thrown themselves into.

For The Florence Nightingale Garden, Robert Myers has chosen to replace the shady woodland garden planned for last year’s show with an autumn garden that has more open space and drifts of late-flowering perennials, grasses and bulbs. The planting will be calm, green and textured, with colour accents including white, cream and purple, while in the sunnier spots there will be flashes of vibrant colour from pink Asters and dark purple Dahlias.

The original garden design also used many medicinal plants that would have been used in Florence Nightingale’s time, as well as plants that feature in her childhood pressed flower collection. These will still appear throughout the garden, and will include Chinese Rhubarb, Witch Hazel and Ferns.  Robert has also included the Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) in his planting palette as it was Florence Nightingale’s favourite plant, and an important herbal medicine for treating heart conditions. By September, the Foxglove will have finished flowering but the seedheads will provide important vertical punctuation in the planting.

We have been working with Mark Straver at Hortus Loci on the herbaceous stock for the garden and he has developed an interesting strategy to ensure the garden will be flourishing for the Show. Most of the plants chosen for the Chelsea Garden would continue flowering well into September were they already planted and established in a garden setting. However, in nursery pots they are very likely to have finished flowering by this time. With this in mind, the team at Hortus Loci have potted up the herbaceous stock and then chopped it right back for regrowth in the firm belief that by the time Chelsea comes around the plants will be at their peak and flowering beautifully. It certainly takes nerves of steel, and great horticultural expertise, to have faith that a few emerging shoots will produce award-winning blooms, but we have great confidence in them and when I visited the nursery in late July everything was looking very promising.

For many visitors, a one-off autumnal Chelsea Flower Show is an exciting prospect. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see what the specialist growers will bring to the event and a chance to see how the professional garden designers have made use of the autumn plant palette. As Robert said: “It is so exciting to be part of what is likely to be a unique and memorable event in the Show’s history. The whole atmosphere will be different, and I am thrilled that we’ll be contributing to that.”  I couldn’t agree more, and I’m delighted our sponsor, The Burdett Trust for Nursing, feels the same way.

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