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RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gardens 2016: the nurseryman’s view

RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gardens 2016: the nurseryman’s view


Jodie Jones finds out how show garden prep is for those who source the plants


At RHS Chelsea 2015, Jamie Butterworth helped build Matt Keightley’s Sentebale garden. Since then, he has graduated from Wisley with Distinction, been appointed an RHS Ambassador and started work as joint show plant manager at Hortus Loci. This means that this year, instead of building one garden, he is helping to source the plants for four.

“On my first day in the office, Hugo Bugg walked in with a list of 150 Jordanian plants for his RBC garden. We’d never heard of most of them!” It became clear that no one could provide these plants. “Even tracking down seed and arranging the import certificates was a massive job,” says Jamie. “Marina Christopher, our propagator, raised the plants to cotyledon stage then sent them over. I’m now living in fear of surprise frosts, because there’s nowhere to go for replacements.”

It’s not the only garden causing headaches. Cultivating ‘weeds’ for Cleve West’s woodland-inspired M&G garden has proved tricky. “These are plants that just want to grow quickly, set seed and keel over. They don’t like hanging around waiting for Chelsea,” says Jamie. “At the moment I’m grubbing Geranium robertianum out around the nursery while tending pots of it for Cleve.”

In contrast, Ann-Marie Powell’s brief was beguilingly simple – to present the most colourful scheme ever seen at Chelsea. “It’s going to be full of beautiful plants, including Geum ‘Alabama Slammer’. The challenge here was the timescale – we only began lining things up in December.”

Time was also against the sourcing of plants for Sam Ovens’ evocation of a small landscape and Jamie had trouble tracking down heather. “The biggest we found were in three-litre pots,” says Jamie. “We haven’t given up looking for big heathers, but one thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to Chelsea, it’s not good enough to work on Plan A. You have to have Plan B, C and D in place as well.”


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