A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing



Storm Hector and Joe Pye weed

6AM and I run downstairs to perform Storm Hector plant rescue (not sure the drama outcompetes Bondi Rescue or Seaside Rescue!) – and I find there is an extra 30 minutes work to be done as well as the usual morning chaos today. The bronze fennel were touching their toes and the Deschampsia doing a limbo under an invisible bar. ‘Let’s get you inside’ I soothe as I lug the tall wispy plants up the garden in my pyjamas. They are all at least one metre (1m) tall by now and look stately on the kitchen table. ‘How will I get you to the show in one piece?’ I ask them. I return down the garden to inspect the Nicotiana Sylvestris I grew from seed – ‘not sure you need assistance in a hurricane’ I sigh as I look at the 30cm tall specimens that are meant to be at least 1m tall. The staunch Santolina ‘cushions’ hunker down like giant silvery corals, weather proof and delicately structured all rolled in one.

Above: Stately Deschampsia and fennel plants shelter from Hector but my garden is still taken over! Below: the Santolinas hunker down in bed.

The Tatton Show awakens

This week I have received half a dozen emails from the RHS, each requiring an action with an accompanied deadline. Consequently almost every evening is taken up with a task and/or a person to chase up for plants, logos, photo IDs or delivery dates. Sounds like a whinge? Not at all – I spend almost all day at work in the lab looking forward to my alternative occupation as garden designer by night! I am loving every minute of it!
The sudden flurry is as a result of RHS Chelsea and RHS Chatsworth finishing- and RHS Tatton is next!
Watching and worrying

‘How can something so perfect get a bronze?’ I declare as I watch Chelsea medal day. ‘I’ll be lucky to get a medal’ I shout. ‘Well that’s Chelsea – the standards are the highest’, my supportive husband yells from the other room, escaping the back to back Chelsea recordings I am playing over and over. I can understand how show gardens get marked down over horticulturally incorrect plant associations, but even so, those gardens on the screen were amazing! Some of the comments made by the presenters give me a little boost – a straw to clutch. ‘Judges are looking for theatre in a garden- it is a show after all’, they’ve got ‘theatre’ in spades with my garden! A double bed with canopy and quilt- as Janet Haigh said ‘It’ll look quite a number’. I’m pretty sure my plant combinations are sound too, but I fret about the quality of it all – the planting, the finish…..
I watch some coverage of the Chatsworth show and the show gardens look awesome too – so it’s not just Chelsea with the highest standards……
Disguising fences, rethinking planting plans, and a possible solution!

The B2B gardens are arranged in grids of four with each garden sharing a boundary with two others, a screen wall divides the gardens. Each screen is 4m wide and 2m high and at the application stage there is an option to have brushwood fencing erected (for £120) by the RHS. I opted for this thinking it would be a job less to do, plus brushwood is very natural looking and in keeping with my plants. Once my design was accepted I was alerted to the fact that the brushwood looks very rough and I would probably want to disguise it. I assured the judging panel that there would be some height in the planting and that I may use a willow trellis to cover the brushwood. Now here I am weeks before the show and the problem has not been ‘magicked’ away.

I have considered climbers such a Passiflora caerulea, and found some beautiful mature specimens, but even they only cover an 80cm width, so they would be a very expensive fix as I would need more than £500 worth of plants. I contacted Sophie at Screen with Envy [link] about their wonderful ornate screening panels. Sophie proposed they provide the screens for the garden and the screens could be given away as a prize in a draw which could be entered by ‘liking’ the garden and the screens at the show. Genius! However, upon reflection (and conferring with Janet Haigh and my husband) we decided the screens would actually draw the eye too much, detracting from the planting and the bed. I will certainly be considering their screens in any future designs. Little did I know there was a solution around the corner- but disguised as a problem!

Plant problems – and solutions

‘Please come and see your plants ASAP – you need to make a decision’ came the instant reply to my email about when I could see my plants at the nursery. Concerned there is a crisis, I immediately phone the nursery. ‘No need to worry – I just need you to decide what to do, the Achilleas are in full flower now. You might need to find an alternative?’ Well I am worried and arrange to have the car the following day so I can visit the nursery after work.

The Achilleas are indeed in full flow and will be burnt out by the show! We walk around the nursery looking at alternatives There is a different Achillea that is about to flower, but it looks like it’s going to have a very bright red flower – even though its name ‘Apricot Dream’ would suggest apricot! The purple Loosestrife has flowers resembling spires so is not ideal but the Eupatorium (AKA Joe Pye weed) is a possible. ‘They would need to be a lot straighter’ says the ace nursery owner as we peruse the specimens in the poly tunnel, ‘You’ll get marked down for plants that aren’t straight’ – ‘But I only want a garden in which to fall asleep in ‘ I say to myself, ‘What have I let myself in for?’.

The best thing is, you’ve guessed it, is Joe Pye weed – already a stately 1m + tall, and will be taller still once it’s standing to attention! A readymade brushwood disguise!
I spend another couple of hours tending my show plants at the Nursery. Strong winds have blown over a lot of them, some have started to bend over a bit too much and some have dead leaves to pick off. I arrange to return Saturday morning to confirm final plant choices, anything I don’t use will be put out for sale.
‘I’ll come a see the plants with you’ husband is not busy visiting his mother this Saturday. We arrive at 11AM – and leave at 2PM! Something tells me he won’t offer to come again! Armed with a list of jobs to do I repot the Salvia ‘Amistad’, which need more space for their roots, we move purple sage and Artemisia into the poly tunnel to grow more, move all the flowering plants into the cooler tunnel to hold them back from flowering too soon, and give everything a good drink in the scorching sun. My husband is instructed to tie the Joe Pye weed to tall canes and offered some insect repellent for his legs, which he declines and regrets two horsefly bites later.
‘I’ve just been asked whether they had any Jasmine’ says my bewildered husband, whose gardening expertise extends to mowing a lawn or using the strimmer on the allotment. He looks a proper nursery expert with his low loader packed with Echinacea plants – I wish I’d had a camera – maybe I do need to succumb and get a smartphone?
‘No pressure, but every time I’ve supplied show plants the gardens have got Gold!’ was the parting comment from the nursery owner. ‘Wait ‘till they see the plants she’s grown at home’ says my husband, ‘mmm, that’ll bring the record down’. He’s had enough, needs his Racing Post and Royal Ascot starts in half an hour! Or are my plants really not good enough?


Thanks for reading – I hope it was fun?


Next time: dress rehearsal for the bed and canopy, and last minute updates before the build begins………



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