In Praise of the Humble Pea: The Seedlip Garden

In 2013, in a North Lincolnshire kitchen, pea farmer Ben Branson began experimenting with a copper still after reading about the non-alcoholic remedies distilled by apothecaries in the 1600s. Ben’s family have been farming for 300 years and their peas are picked by hand by Ben and his team. His kitchen experimentation led to the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit, the Seedlip drink, which was launched in 2015. This is the second Seedlip Chelsea Garden and it views the humble pea from an unusual angle as every plant in the garden, designed by Dr Catherine MacDonald, is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae.

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Ben serving his non-alcoholic cocktails at the show

Bringing together diverse plants in the same family on one garden highlights their similarities – many have papilionaceous flowers (shaped like a butterfly) with a central standard or banner petal raised above the smaller pair of wing petals, with the two keel petals forming a boat shape below. The most obvious example of this in the garden are the lupins which draw the eye across the planting as they blend from the soft yellow of Lupinus ‘Desert Sun’ to the bright purple Lupinus ‘Masterpiece’.

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Lupin ‘Desert Sun’

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Caesalpinia gilliesii (Credit: By Krzysztof Golik [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)

The plants in the garden are fascinating because of the vast diversity in the family, from the ground cover clovers like Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’ (one of my favourite plants) and the other nine clover species in the garden, to the larger specimens like the Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum), Laburnum anagyroides ‘Sunspire’ and the striking crimson threadflower (Caesalpinia gilliesii) which was attracting much admiration when I looked round the garden on Monday. A large evergreen shrub from northwest Argentina and Uruguay, the crimson threadflower is unfortunately only hardy down to about -5, so only an option in colder areas of the UK if winter protection is available as it can be grown in a large pot.

 

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Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’ may be small but it has big impact with red-veined patches on the leaves

The garden is filled with circular structures, from the pea panels underfoot acting as grills over split pea shingle to the pools which are filled with deep blue-green water, coloured with a pea-dye.

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Circles are everywhere in this garden

Even the peavilion at the back of the garden is a shrine housing a collection of articles relevant to the pea, topped with a pea-shoot green roof.

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Lupins floating in the foreground and the Peavilion behind

The Seedlip Garden celebrates the work of three pea pioneers: Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who discovered the basic principles of heredity through his work with peas, Dr Calvin Lamborn (1933-2017), the breeder of the first sugar snap pea, and Seedlip creator, Ben Branson. Many of the edible peas (Pisum sativum) in the garden are varieties bred by Dr Lamborn and there are also two of his new varieties released for the first time on the garden.

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Split pea shingle

After admiring the plant diversity on the garden I was persuaded to try the non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden 108 drink (the average number of days it takes to sow, grow & hand-pick the peas), mixed by Ben himself. It’s a floral blend of hand-picked peas, homegrown hay, spearmint, rosemary and thyme, with no sugar or additives. I liked the absence of saccharine sweetness; it has a minty refreshing taste with a slightly sour tang in the background, reminiscent of gin. Well, it would have been rude to say no – and it is gluten-free too!

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My Seedlip cocktail

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Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

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The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

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The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

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The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

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Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

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Mellow paving to match the planting

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Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

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The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

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The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

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Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

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These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

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Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

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RHS Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

The attention to detail in the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show gardens surpasses anything I’ve seen before; I love the way the planting maintains a sophisticated and elegant feel, yet is more grounded than in previous years. Many gardens focus on naturalistic forms and soft planting with coppery tones, highlights of deep purples and pinks, and fresh green foliage alongside white and ivory flowers.

After an busy and truly inspiring day I’m finally home. I’ve taken off my sandals and had a cup of tea; so now it’s time to look through my photographs at some of the highlights of the day:

Pearlfisher Perfection

The Pearlfisher Garden combines a big idea – the plastic crisis in our oceans – with immaculate planting to create a garden which draws the visitor down into its watery recesses. The use of cacti, succulents and air plants mimics the underwater environment and my initial impression of the garden was of waves washing over me – from the curved steps, the tillandsia fronds undulating on the ceiling, the circular motion of the fish to the spiral cobbles at the heart of the garden. I’ll be writing more on the exquisite planting in this sub-marine garden later in the week.

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Pearlfisher Garden

As I walked into the central area the water from above sent shadow ripples across the paving and the detail of the planting – down to individual lithops in the paving and wall gaps – was revealed. I lost myself taking photographs of the planting until a commotion ensued and I was ushered to one side while Theresa May came to look round the underwater scene.

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Theresa May admires the planting in the Urban Flow Garden

Oh Happy Day

Sooner or later I always find myself at the Pennard Plants stand, marvelling at the latest salad crops, or new varieties of chillies. It’s a dangerous move for a vegetable obsessive like myself. Today Pennard Plants were launching a new tomato called ‘Oh Happy Day’ to the accompanying voices of the singers from the Brighton School of Music.

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Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’, Burpee images

‘Oh Happy Day’ is a new beefsteak tomato with blight resistance and a sweet taste with acidic tones. For those of us growing outdoors, blight resistance is key to the success of tomato plants, so this looks like a tasty and interesting variety to try.

Wormhole

Alice might have fallen down a rabbit hole, but I fell through a wormhole on the David Harber and Savills Garden. 

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Through the wormhole…

The design showcases sculpture in a garden setting and the large sculptural pieces create energy as you pass through and see the space from different angles. The planting is airy without being insubstantial and the final view reveals a wormhole through which Aeon, a nucleus of energy can be seen in a state of equilibrium.

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…and relaxing on the other side

Tea Break

Halfway through the afternoon, feeling rather parched, I arrived at the Wedgwood Garden. Not only has Jo Thompson designed a sumptuous, modern tea garden for relaxation, in which Iris ‘Kent Pride’ lives up to its name and takes pride of place, but it opens onto the Wedgwood tea pavilion. 

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Wedgwood Garden

After sampling a light Darjeeling and an aromatic Ceylon it was back to the gardens with renewed vigour.

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Tea drinking, Wedgwood style

Feel Good Gardens

It’s great to see such a focus on relocating the gardens after the show this year so that many other people can continue to enjoy them for the future and one garden due to be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust is the RHS Feel Good Garden designed by Matt Keightley. This beautiful garden with its cantilevered stone terraces and aromatic planting will give patients, staff and their families the opportunity to enjoy the relaxation and also the stimulation that the garden creates. I’m looking forward to writing more about the planting in the garden and the ideas behind it later in the week.

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RHS Feel Good Garden

Cocktails and Dancing Box

At the Pennard Plant stand I was lucky enough to have a garden cocktail mixed for me by Mark Diacono from Otter Farm. It was a delicious mix of homemade orange and limoncello with sparkling water, but afterwards strange things began to happen – as I passed the Space to Grow gardens, the box balls started waving at me – then they were still. Just another day at the most inspiring garden show in the world…

What has caught your eye so far? What gardens do you think will win gold?

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Planting Palettes: Reflections on RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Returning home from Chelsea yesterday and on waking this morning my main recollections of the show were all infused with colour, my brain still awash with the contrasts and blends which lent a particular character to each garden and plant exhibit. I’ve been entertained, surprised and soothed by the colours of Chelsea in the past and there’s no doubt that hues, tints and shades are a key part of designing gardens that engage the observer. But this year the use of colour spoke to me more directly, both the broad brush strokes across the show and the details of specific gardens.

Purple Predilections

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Purple, yellow, orange and white flowers and foliage in The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary

I could be accused of being a purpleaholic. I love purple flowers in all their guises – whether it be blending the soft purple of Verbena bonariensis or Allium ‘Purple Rain’ in gentle pastel colour schemes, using purple Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ to contrast with the zingy orange of a geum like ‘Prinses Juliana’ or using the deep purple centres of flowers like Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’ or Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ against their white petals for delicate accents in the border. Purple foliage also has many uses aesthetically and for cutting. I’m particularly fond of Sambucus nigra Black Lace and even purple Pak Choi (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis ‘Purple Choy Sum’), Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea subsp. gongylodes ‘Azur Star’) and Kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’). All of these plants can be used to bring interest and beauty to a cottage or potager garden, whilst also supplying the table with vibrant vegetables and pink elderflower cordial.

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Calendula officinalis ‘Long Flowering’, Viola tricolor, Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’, Amaranthus ‘Red Army’, and Allium schoenoprasum create a vibrant purple/red and orange mix

So I enjoyed the mix of purples in the flowers and foliage of The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary. Whilst appreciating the calm atmosphere evoked by the cobbled path, trickling water feature and gentle planting, I could also imagine a light salad eaten on one of the oak benches consisting of red/purple beetroot and brassica leaves (high in healthy anthocyanidins) and sprinkled with edible petals from the viola, chives and calendula.

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Surrounding the ‘Wellness’ water feature, the flowering thymes (‘Iden’, ‘Peter Davis’, ‘Porlock’ and ‘Fragrantissimus’) create a purple patchwork of texture and colour

The next study in purple I encountered was The LG Smart Garden, where purple combined with pale pinks and white results in an elegantly exuberant planting scheme.

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The gentle purples of the Hesperis matronalis, Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, Phlox divaricate subsp. laphamii ‘Chattahoochee’, the soft blue of the Iris ‘Jane Philips’ and the white spires of Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora and Eremurus robustus create a soft celebratory atmosphere in this garden

 

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The soft blend of pastels in The LG Smart Garden contrast with the minimalist black and white hard landscaping

In The Chelsea Barracks Garden, Jo Thompson uses bronze foliage and sculpture as a background to the soft planting. However, unlike The LG Smart Garden, this garden takes the eye on a colour-based journey around the bronze-edged elliptical lawn.

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The pink and blue end of The Chelsea Barracks Garden

Beginning with blues and pinks alongside the purple foliage of Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, the sightline travels past the Basaltite stone wall with bronze fins echoed in the handsome foliage of the Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea, which looks stunning next to the Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’.

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Darker purples and pinks adjacent to the bronze sculpted seating

 

When your gaze finally reaches the other end of the garden, the striking colours of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Amistad’, Rosa ‘Nuits de Young’, ‘Chianti’ and ‘Reine des Violettes’ and the purple stems of the Angelica archangelica contrast with the gentle colours at the beginning of the visual journey.

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Finally my purple preoccupation was almost sated in the Great Pavilion when I came across this wall of Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ (one of my favourite heucheras) and Echeveria ‘Pollux’. An impractical, but arresting and absorbing diversion.

Colour Blocks

In The Modern Slavery Garden, Juliet Sargeant uses striking blocks of colour to represent the bright social exterior which conceals the reality that people are still being held in captivity in the UK and forced to work without pay. Lupins, peonies, foxgloves and irises form a strong architectural framework in this garden. The message is bold and important and so is the planting.

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The Brewin Dolphin Garden – Forever Freefolk

Rosy Hardy’s garden is another space where colour dances for the spectator from the bright pathway to the wonderful daubs of unresolved planting. The vibrant contrasts serve to accentuate each plant, showcasing individual features that might get lost in more subtle colour schemes. Particular highlights include Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Geum ‘Red Wings’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ and Salvia ‘Eveline’.

Not to be outdone, the Grand Pavilion has stepped up to the colour challenge and delivered an engaging floral exhibit which showcases white and green flowers and foliage on one side and the Queen’s head resplendent in floral technicolor on the other. The exhibit was designed by Ming Veevers Carter for the New Covent Garden Flower Market to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It is bold and striking, and I thought it might be rather strident, but up close the flowers have a beauty which I found softened the whole effect.

Filigree Colour

The use of strong colour blocks to showcase individual plants and their features is effective, but nothing at the show drew me into the gardens like the latticework effects of the lacy umbellifers and other intricate flowers hiding in between the frothy grasses. Such planting combinations are a study in the subtle use of colour, none more so than in my favourite garden – The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, designed by Nick Bailey.

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The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden uses delicately smudged purples and oranges

I found the planting in the gravel borders absolutely riveting. Spires of Resda alba rise gently from the speckled Briza mediaGeum ‘Mai Tai’, Iris ‘Kent Pride’, Allium atropurpureaCentaurea montana ‘Jordy’, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ and Calendula officinalis ‘Sherbert Fizz’ (which I first used in a design earlier this year and which I’m growing from seed in my own garden). The colour of this calendula attracted me because of its coppery, almost muddy tone – a characteristic shared at Chelsea this year with other subtle orange flowers such as Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and Verbascum x hybridum ‘Copper Rose’ in The Chelsea Barracks Garden. I also grow Allium atropurpurea, a favourite allium which I noticed was just beginning to flower this morning in the espalier/herb border. The deep purple rigid structure of this allium echoes another treasure in this scheme – the almost black Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ with its delicately feathered petals. The flowers can get lost when combined with green foliage, but here it forms small velvety black holes in front of the orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’.

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The soft planting looks stunning in front of the copper band symbolising the germination and growth of a seedling which sweeps around the centre of the garden

The use of umbellifers is popular once again at this year’s show. Their lacy beauty acts as a foil for other plants and creates a shimmering backdrop against which to exhibit stronger colours. I loved the umbellifer combinations in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and the way they create a latticework of structure and colour. From the tall Angelica archangelica, to Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, a lovely dark-leaved form of our native cow parsley, which froths up behind another beautiful umbellifer, Orlaya grandiflora. The clear, white flowers of the Orlaya highlight the dusky reds of Verbascum ‘Firedance’, Lupinus ‘Towering Inferno’ and Rosa ‘Heidetraum’.

Then on the other side of the path the froth continues with this beautiful combination of strong orange Geum ‘Prinses Juliana’ and the lovely purple Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ both emerging from beneath Deschampsia cespitosa.

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Delicate colour contrasts through the wispy grasses

I found one final umbellifer delight at Pennard Plants in the Great Pavilion whilst exploring their unusual vegetable range in the modern allotment area. A new one on me, it’s called the earth chestnut, giant pignut or black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) and has a tuberous root which can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes like sweet chestnut. And so I end where I began – with a plant which is both beautiful and edible. I’m off to find some and plant it alongside soft orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Calendula officinale ‘Sherbert Fizz’, Briza media and my Allium atropurpurea and Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ in a pale recreation of a mathematical garden which will colour my memories of Chelsea for many years to come.

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Earth chestnuts at Pennard Plants