The flowers are dazzling, the designs immaculate and the stories behind the show gardens engaging, but sooner or later my path always leads into the Great Pavilion – to check out the newcomers on the fruit and vegetable displays.
As usual the Pennard Plants display was fascinating with its Writer’s Retreat Garden inspired by Mark Diacono’s work – particularly A Year At Otter Farm and The New Kitchen Garden. The edible growing space includes a Riverside shepherd’s hut – a place where a writer can feel creative – surrounded by vegetables, fruit, herbs and a summer meadow full of nectar-rich ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). The use of naturalistic planting to bring in wildlife within a productive garden creates a warm, inviting atmosphere – I could happily sit here for hours writing about plants, listening to the bees buzzing around me.
The Alitex greenhouse is surrounded by cordons of ripe tomatoes including the new varieties that Burpee (who have partnered with Pennard Plants in the Writer’s Retreat Garden) are launching at this year’s show. I loved the delicate gold sheen on Tomato ‘Shimmer’ with its green stripes and sweet succulent flavour. Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ lives up to its name – not only is it a blight resistant variety, it also has a good flavour, mingling sweetness with acidic notes. It has performed well in trials across the UK from Yorkshire to Somerset, and like all the varieties in this display, it has been grown at leading horticultural research station, Stockbridge Technology Centre in North Yorkshire.
Tomatoes ‘Shimmer’ and ‘Oh Happy Day’ (Credit: Burpee)
Tomato ‘Honeycomb’ is another prolific cropper with 35 to 40 fruits on an average truss. I find the focus on flavour in all these varieties an encouraging sign as it is a quality which is often overlooked when breeding for disease resistance and heavy cropping. ‘Honeycomb’ has an exceptionally sweet flavour with an aftertaste, somewhat like honey. This is one variety I’ll definitely be trying next year.
Tomatoes ‘Honeycomb’ and ‘Rugby’ (Credit: Burpee)
Although I’ve found plum tomatoes rather tasteless in the past, Tomato ‘Rugby’ has prolific small pink fruits with a good flavour. Its fine sugar-acid balance makes it an ideal tomato for cooking, preserving and salads, so if you have a small greenhouse like I do, ‘Rugby’ would be a useful multi-purpose tomato.
Burpee are also launching two new peppers at the show: Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’ and Pepper ‘Afterglow’. I particularly liked the look of ‘Lemon Dream’ with such zingy fruits and a hint of spiciness even though it’s a sweet pepper. It is suitable for growing on a sunny patio which makes it an option for gardeners without a greenhouse.
Pepper ‘Afterglow’ has more traditional yellow fruits and crops well from July to October on a sunny patio or in a cold greenhouse. It has been bred with good disease resistance to Tobacco Etch Virus, Potato Virus Y and Tomato Mosaic Virus, so if these diseases have been an issue in the past, growing ‘Afterglow’ might be a good solution.
Not content with tomatoes and peppers, Burpee are also launching Watermelon ‘Little Darling’: a beautiful dark fruit with deep crimson flesh. I was interested to hear that it has performed well in unheated greenhouses across the UK, including Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland. Having spent a decade in Durham, I know how cold the growing conditions can be, so I’m impressed by the trials which have conquered my usual cynicism about the practicality of growing melons in the UK.
While I browsed through the seed packets on the stand and admired the Writer’s Retreat Garden, the gospel chords of ‘Oh Happy Day’ drifted across the garden as a group of singers from Brighton School of Music began to serenade us. While the quintet sang, Mark Diacono mixed me a cocktail with homemade orange and limoncello, and I drank in the sights, smells and sounds of the serene Writer’s Retreat Garden – a joyous haven in the busy Great Pavilion. Oh Happy Day!
What fruit, vegetable or herb from RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 would you most like to grow next year? I’m after new ideas for my list 🙂
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