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Crocus at the Chelsea Flower Show 2023

Growing plants at our Crocus nursery

Helen Derrin

Written by: Crocus Plant Doctor, Helen

Last updated: 11th May 2023

Of all the plants Sarah has chosen for the garden, we suspect that the 11 varieties of Benton Iris will be a highlight. Bred by Cedric Morris at Benton End, and selected from the thousands of seedlings that he grew for their natural poise and complexity of colour, these iris are integral to the planting scheme. Set amongst a stand of formatively-pruned Elaeagnus, and with Morris' smokey-toned poppies scattered at their feet, they'll add height, definition and dollops of rich colour.

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Sadly, after his death, many of the plants from Morris' garden were dug up and scattered near and far, so many Morris-bred iris are now extremely rare - and tracking them down has given Pete Clay (one of the Crocus co-founders) a few sleepless nights. Once they have been tracked down, these plants will often arrive on our nursery in Windlesham a year or so before the show, so then it's up to our team to take care of them - and make sure they're looking their absolute best for that crucial week at the end of May.

The Mind Garden by Andy Sturgeon

This is not always without its challenges, because it's not unusual for a late snowfall, a sudden deluge or gale-force winds to make life a bit more interesting. This year, we've had an unusually cold spring, which has meant that the plants were slow into growth, and could be late into flower. Some of the plants may need a bit of a nudge in the right direction, but thankfully, after growing plants for over 31 Chelsea gardens, our growers have learnt a few tricks of the trade and everything is looking pretty good.

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Plant-hunting begins early for a Chelsea garden. While working closely with the designer, Pete will start gathering plants from all over the country, delving deeply into the plant lists of specialist growers and hunting down those rare and elusive plants which are often so hard to find. Some plants we have found closer to home this year, growing quite a few ourselves from seed. Including seed we collected from last year's Chelsea garden of Eschscholzia californica 'Ivory Castle'. We're pleased to know that after the show, all the grasses and perennials we use in this year's garden will make their way back to Benton End.

ADD A PIECE OF SARAH'S GARDEN TO YOUR OWN

Here are eight key plants we think you'll love

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Elaeagnus 'Quicksilver'

Elegant and fast-growing, they'll quickly add height and volume. I love the ethereal quality the metallic foliage creates, and as they can be clipped to reveal their sinewy stems, they can be structural but not overpowering.

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Allium 'Silver Spring'

I'm a big fan of the alliums and use them a lot to add colour and structure to borders or pots - and this is one of my favourites. Forming an ever-increasing cluster that comes back year after year, the pink-flushed flowers, each studded with a rich purple eye, are excellent for cutting and are loved by pollinators.

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Angelica archangelica

I use this magnificent biennial to add height and drama towards the back of borders, where its big, blousy flowerheads look sublime in late spring. The seed heads that follow are also handsome and can be cut for fresh or dried arrangements. The leaves and stems can be used in the kitchen as a natural sweetener, and although short-lived, if you allow it to set seed, more will follow.

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Melica altissima 'Alba'

Adding movement, light, and a soft ethereal feel to the planting scheme, this grass is also incredibly tactile, which is something I really value. Place it near border edges, or if you have the space, plant it in generous drifts where the wind can gently rustle its lush green foliage and rice-like flowerheads.

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Polypodium vulgare

For me, this native British fern is a mainstay for shadier gardeners, and once established it will quietly meander through the borders, forming low, naturalised clumps of attractive, rich green foliage.

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Clematis 'Frances Rivis'

Smothered in nodding, bell-shaped flowers in spring, and followed by decorative silvery seedheads, this tough and reliable climber will flourish in most settings, where it can quickly cover an ugly wall or fence, or scramble through an established shrub or small tree. No pruning required.

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Erigeron karvinskianus 'Lavender Lady'

Just as versatile, long flowering and easy to care for as the species (E. karvinskianus), this lavender flowering form looks wonderful spilling over the edges of a pot, forming soft mounding drifts at the front of sunny borders, or self seeding into stone walls and paving cracks.

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Papaver rhoeas 'Mother of Pearl'

A strain of our common field poppy selected by Morris for its beautiful variations on lilacs, pinks, apricot and creamy, smoky greys.

Top tips for growing iris

If you've fallen in love with the luscious colours of the Benton Iris and want to add a few to your garden, you'll need to find a sun-drenched spot with freely draining soil. Hungry to feel the sun on their rhizomatous roots, and with good air circulation, they perform best where they're not overshadowed or overcrowded. This makes them perfect for narrow borders at the base of a sunny, south-facing wall. Plant them shallowly so their rhizomes sit at soil level, and lift and divide every 5 or 6 years to keep the clumps fresh.

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