The RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year competition, launched in 2010, brings new and genuinely different plants into the light each year, these days attracting dozens of entries from growers all over the Pavilion. Here are the ones that caught my eye this year.
Morus rotundiloba ‘Charlotte Russe’
Winner, RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2017
Not the most spectacular of pictures to start with, but then May isn’t the best time to be showing off a new mulberry either. I spotted this one at the Garden Press Event back in February where it was attracting much interest: it is the first genuinely dwarf mulberry bush, small enough to grow in a container and a real breakthrough in small-scale fruit production. It’s even said to fruit in its first year (unlike tree mulberries, which take at least seven).
Rosa ‘Dame Judi Dench’ (‘Ausquaker’)
Meet Judi Dench: one of the five or six new roses which has made it through the rigorous 10-year selection process at David Austin Roses this year. Peachy-apricot, sweetly fragrant, and a little louche in habit: Michael Marriott at David Austin’s says they could be amenable to training as a climber, too.
Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Snowberry’
A truly lovely lewisia from alpine specialists D’Arcy & Everest, delicate, pretty, dainty, and carefully selected for the purity of colour of its flowers and for its robustness.
Lilium ‘Sunset Joy’
I found this one bursting from containers on the Horticultural Trades Association stand – actually, you couldn’t miss it. Asiatic lilies are usually single colours but this one is a bicolour: it’s also a compact and vigorous little thing, great for summer patios.
Another chance discovery among foxgloves in the National Collection at the Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire: yellow foxgloves are rare, and this is a particularly interesting shade of lemony, limey yellow which looks lovely among brighter shades. It’s also quite compact, so could be a good one for containers.
Corydalis ‘Porcelain Blue’
There were mixed reactions to this little plant, tucked into the side of the Hilliers exhibit. But I liked it, especially that pretty bicoloured effect as flowers open blue and fade to white with age.
I am usually a little wary of brightly-coloured clematis, but this one had something. The flower matures from spiky to rosette, then opens fully into a full double, each purple petal tipped with white like a little icicle.
Sweet pepper ‘Popti’
I am possibly a little biased here as I’m always on the lookout for new veg varieties coming onto the market. But this little bell pepper on the Pennard Plants stand did turn my head: it’s a bushy plant but still compact, and covered with peppers, unusually for a pot-grown plant. It’s disease-resistant and early-ripening, too.
Pelargonium ‘Rushmoor Amazon’
Well, who knew. A yellow pelargonium. And what a pretty one, too. This is the result of 30 years of breeding in Australia, the first in a series to be known as the Rushmoor River Series. Its habit is so different it’s even invented a new type of pelargonium, the Zonartic pelargonium, with big, open flowers and that delicate yellow colouring, this one just brushed with a smidge of pale pink. I loved it.