Garden guru Chris Beardshaw transports a little bit of England down under

PUBLISHED: 14:51 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013

Garden guru Chris Beardshaw transports a little bit of England down under

Garden guru Chris Beardshaw transports a little bit of England down under

Traditonal English garden wins a gold medal in New Zealand

You cant escape the mounting anticipation this month and its not just the promise of the flowering blooms in your own garden that Im referring to but to the annual Chelsea Flower Show which sets out to inspire us all with new plant introductions and design ideas.

I will be there with my scholarship project and reporting on the show for the BBC but as far as my own show gardens go after several years of composing gardens for Chelsea and winning Gold Medals in the World Garden Competition in Japan in 2009, I decided to embark on new challenges further afield, and that involved travelling to the other side of the world to Christchurch in New Zealand.

The garden city of Christchurch is the host for the Ellerslie International Flower Show the Chelsea of the southern hemisphere and the setting is an outstanding public park in the heart of the city, called Hagley Park. Set out over 150 years ago when the English settlers laid out their new town the desire for English gardens and passion for horticulture has remained high ever since. To fit with the context and bring a little of English perfection to proceedings I was invited to take part in the show as long as I provided a slice of traditional design and plentiful blooms. The result was An Englishmans Retreat which was uniquely orientated to maximise the potential of the parkland setting, employing that oldest of design tools, borrowing from the surroundings. In this case a strong central axis led the eye to the grand vision of the sun setting over Victoria Lake behind our exhibit providing a limitless horizon convincing the viewer that the garden was boundless. Grand vistas aside, this garden was set to be one of the largest show gardens ever, at over 64 metres in length and 12 metres wide; all contained it would consume over 3000 herbaceous perennials and over 4000 annuals, not to mention the hedgerows, mature trees and specimen plants.

To enchant the eye and frame the garden conifer hedging and traditional rendered walling were employed, these also formed the perfect backdrop to the bountiful parallel herbaceous borders measuring at over 3.4m in width and these running for 24m into the core of the site. Central to the design was a classically inspired portico to house statues and exotic plant specimens. Progress through the building and the rear of the garden revealed a more informal face with topiarised trees punctuating meadow grass and wildflowers wrapping a classical urn. The mown paths here leading the intrepid down to the shore of Victoria Lake.

There is no doubt that exhibiting so far from home and maintaining the quality demanded in international exhibitions isnt the easiest way to do produce a garden but everyone involved from the growers to the landscape builders threw themselves at the project and ensured that their own part of the tapestry was performing to perfection. With only three weeks to build the exhibit I went out in the latter half of February and early March to oversee the construction and to weave the plants together into the tapestry of colour we desired and they (and we) revelled in the glorious warm sunshine of their late summer.

The garden, like many, assumed a personality of its own, by the time the last plants were nestled in it was a confident and assured picture, reminiscent of those glorious gardens this country was famed for. To our delight we were awarded a Gold medal for our efforts and to top it all the coveted Peoples Choice award voted for by all the show visitors.

It only leaves the question where next can we inspire to adopt the beauty of a traditional English garden?

Jobs for May

Beware the late frosts

The cold weather has dominated the first part of this year and although we hope by May that weather forecasts will sound a little more optimistic, beware of late frosts. Most areas of Britain can experience a light frost till the end of this month resulting in scorching of foliage. As these low temperatures tend to occur in the early hours of the morning they can go unnoticed so, to protect young shoots of herbaceous perennials and vegetables use a layer of fleece to clothe them during the night.

Prune Clematis montana

Early flowering clematis such as C.montana can be a little too eager, becoming boisterous and invasive. Dont be afraid to prune the plants hard once the flowers have faded. On young plants prune out half of the oldest shoots to within 60cm of ground; older and invasive specimens can be entirely removed to the same height. Tie in fresh shoots as they grow later in the month.

Sow Borage

Borage is a wonderful herb of striking clear blue flowers that can be harvested for use in salads where they contribute a subtle cucumber flavour. Sow seed of Borago officinalis in any reasonable well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade, and then allow the 60cm high towers of branching stems to flower all summer long.

Plant in Crevices

In the gaps, cracks and crevices of paving, walls and gravel plant drifts and cushions of plants such as the Heartsease, Viola tricolour; Thymus vulgaris Chamomile. Jekyll used these plants to create mounds of foliage and flowers that soften the appearance of pathways and they will drift and roam free, often setting seed with the result being a natural in flowing appearance.

Sow biennial plants

Sow biennial plants now to ensure handsome blooms next season. Start with the early spring flowering plants such as Wall Flowers, Sweet William and Forget-me-not. Sow also the summer biennials such as Foxgloves, Verbascum and Campanula. All these plants are best started in well cultivated ground in a sheltered and protected site. Sow seeds shallowly and thinly in a row, and keep the ground free of weeds. After germination keep a close eye out for slugs, especially if growing winter flowering pansies and Wall-flowers, and if your garden suffers with slug damage try starting these susceptible plants off in trays before transplanting to individual pots.


May is a good month for sowing many of your vegetables outdoors - amongst others, get planting French and runner beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, kale, lettuce, spring onions and spinach. If you stagger the sowings you will enjoy crops over a long sustained period.

My Diary:

At the beginning of the month Ill be on stage at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show where we showcase the gardens of those bidding to become the next scholar. Towards the end of the month see me at Chelsea where I will be supporting our current scholar Paul Hervey-Brookes with his first ever Chelsea garden and celebrating the end of his scholarship year. Look out for coverage on the BBC during Chelsea week. Look out for further details on all these projects on If you want to ask gardening questions then Im frequently found on so do visit and meet our other members.

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