he bell on closing day at Chelsea Flower Show has long been the moment that sharp-elbowed plantaholics await with bated breath, when the plants exhibited on the show stands are sold off, often for a song. This year is, unsurprisingly, different.
RHS Chelsea has gone virtual this week with online content only — and the gates to the Royal Hospital Chelsea stay locked.
This means thousands of plants that were grown to fill the Great Pavilion and receive medals won’t get their place in the limelight.
Many could go to waste. But you can give them a home. Order online from the nurseries that would have been exhibiting and you can snap up some show-perfect specimens.
From dahlias and delphiniums to gladioli and irises, these are expert-grown specimens ready to be planted out for spectacular colour, right now.
So why not brighten up your back garden, or plant them out front to cheer up the neighbours as well as yourself — and support the UK’s independent nurseries, often small family-run businesses, at the same time?
Todd’s Botanics was growing thousands of irises, dahlias and cannas for its stand as well as for show gardens.
“The RHS shows are 70 per cent of our income,” says owner Mark Macdonald. “If we don’t sell these, we won’t survive in the business.”
He cites iris Sable and Carnival Time as particular favourites, both in flower right now and available within two days’ despatch.
Fashionable dahlias will flower within a month, from Crème de Cassis to Bishop of Llandaff and Rip City.
And cannas, so great for adding instant tropical va-va-voom to any front garden or large pot can be snapped up, too. “Eric Neubert is looking fantastic,” says Macdonald.
Down in Devon, the 10,000sq ft polytunnels of Blackmore and Langdon’s are stuffed with towering delphiniums in blues, turquoise, pink and white. All were destined for the nursery’s prize-winning stand and have been coaxed into glory with heat, light and care for 18 months.
“We take about 120 up to the show,” says owner Simon Langdon, “but we actually grow about 600. It’s heartbreaking after all the work and expense to see them just sitting there.”
The big problem with a six-foot delphinium is they’re too big to send mail order, says Langdon, so for these it’s collection only.
“I’ve seen cars going out with the sun roof open and one sticking out the top,” he laughs. But, for mail order, he can send younger plants out that will be in flower by August.
Why not add some gladioli, too? Dame Edna Everage’s favourite flower is one of a wave of flamboyant, hot-coloured blooms that fashion-conscious gardeners are loving right now.
Pheasant Acre Plants was growing 500 pots of glorious magenta byzantinus gladioli for one of the show gardens.
In flower now, you can snap these up online via the website along with bagged collections of dry corms, including a Chelsea Collection (£22.50 for 50 corms).
“If you plant them now they’ll be in flower for early September,” says owner Rob Evans. “They die away in winter and reappear every year.”
Succulents are perfect for Londoners, crammable into window boxes or pots, low-maintenance and exotic looking.
Surreal Succulents has lots of plants grown specially for its stand at Chelsea this year that it would love to sell.
Looking particularly good right now, says the company’s Dan Michael, are aeoniums Velour, Sunburst and Pomegranate, available as The Chelsea Look Collection — enter The Chelsea Look voucher code for a 10 per cent discount.
If you want a window box to cheer up passers-by on their daily walk, it doesn’t get much more spectacular than this.
More plants you can buy grown for this year's show
The Kitchen Garden Plant Centre specialises in all of the herbs you want to have on your windowsill and they are ready to go right now, in glorious condition. Choose from several varieties of mint, thyme, oregano, fennel and tarragon.
These pesticide-free herbs, priced at £3 each, have been grown in peat-free compost and have already reached an established nine-centimetre height, so they can be transferred to planters, garden beds - or can simply brighten up your windowsill.
This small, family nursery, run by husband-and-wife team Neil & Niamh Jones, had secured a spot for the first time in the coveted floral marquee at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.
While their larger show plants have been donated to charities, you can still buy 45 different varieties of herbs and edibles from their hastily set-up website.
"Back in March, we didn't think we would still have a business. We went online five weeks ago and are so grateful for every single order we receive. We've learnt a lot through the process," says Neil, who is hand-packing every order himself.
Allow seven to 10 days for delivery and £8 for packing and handling. Visit kitchengardenplantcentre.co.uk.
With two Chelsea Flower Show medals to its name, Daisy Roots nursery in East Anglia specialises in drought-tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses. Owners Annie Godfrey and Steve Machin have exhibited in the floral marquee since 2012.
At this time of year, the nursery is well stocked with geraniums, irises and alliums.
Bright showstoppers also include Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’, priced £5.50. Its fiery-scarlet flowers with bright yellow stamens bloom from late spring to midsummer.
Achilleas are a popular choice, too, with Achillea ‘Pomegranate’ (£5.50) producing bright magenta flowers from summer onwards.
To order, visit daisyroots.com and allow about 10 days for delivery.
Westdale Nurseries in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, specialises in the cultivation of bougainvilleas in a myriad of colours from all over the world.
Run by husband and wife Charles and Patricia Clarke and their children, this Chelsea Flower Show medal-winning nursery has built up more than 200 varieties of bougainvillea - and counting.
Fiesta (red) Orange Glow, Los Banos Beauty (double soft pink) and Princess Mahara (double dark pink /purple) are ready now and will remind you of glorious holidays abroad.
Visit wesetdalenurseries.co.uk to see the full, extensive collection. Allow 10 days for delivery.
Palms and Exotics
A Chelsea Gold winner in 2017, Palms & Exotics specialises in palm trees, banana trees, agaves, yucca, cacti, bamboo and gingers grown right here in the UK.
If you are looking to add a tropical feel to your garden, owner Michelle recommends Trachycarpus palms.
Trachycarpus Wagnerianus is a small-leaf variety, also known as a Miniature Chusan palm. But despite its common name it is far from miniature – given enough time it’s capable of growing up to 30ft tall.
Visit palms-exotics.co.uk to order.
- To buy plants direct from nurseries that would have been exhibiting at Chelsea this year, check out a full list at rhs.org.uk/supportournurseries