|(c) Thompson & Morgan|
The Plant of the Year stand is a funny one: a motley collection of plants out of context, drawn from all over the Pavilion. It’s a bit like the ‘remainders’ trolley in the garden centre, only with good-quality plants.
Anyway, almost everyone who brings a new plant to Chelsea nominates it for the award: but only the very best make it onto the white podiums for the public to look at.
Among this year’s 20 finalists were a massive pitcher plant (Nepenthes ‘Linda’) from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants, rubbing shoulders with one of Peter Beales’s roses (‘Queen’s Jubilee’ – of course), a ridiculously vivid blue hyacinth (‘Royal Navy’, from J S Pennings de Bilt) and two new aeoniums from Trewidden in Cornwall – ‘Cornish Tribute’ is compact and has extraordinary purple rosettes with a glowing lime green centre: and ‘Logan Rock’, which turns purple in summer.
My own tip for the top was a foxglove, Digitalis ‘Silver Cub’ – a fabulous silver-foliage perennial white foxglove which just shone out from the stand and made you want to stroke its leaves. It flowers in its first year from sowing and has multiple stems – seriously lovely thing.
But the winner was another foxglove altogether, D. ‘Illumination Pink’, bred by Thompson & Morgan. Though on appearance I still prefer the ‘Silver Cub’ you’ve got to take your hat off to them for achieving what was thought impossible: a cross between Digitalis purpurea and the evergreen Canary Island foxglove, variously referred to as D. canariensis or Isoplexis canariensis depending on whether you think it’s botanically a foxglove or not. T&M’s achievement would suggest that it is.
Its exotic origins have given it a very un-foxglove like colouring of candy pink with butter yellow centres. On the plus side, it’s perennial, semi-evergreen, flowers for absolutely ages, and is nice and sturdy so it doesn’t need staking. On the minus side, it’s sterile – clever marketing ploy, but disappointing for gardeners who like to raise their own plants from seed.