The Chelsea Flower Show: New plants and the not-so-new

The Chelsea Flower Show is perhaps the world’s brightest stage on which to launch new plants. It’s great opportunity to tell gardeners about new plants, and blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines are full of the news. The Chelsea Plant of The Year award, launched last year, has ratcheted up the interest.

But some nurseries announce plants as new when they’ve been around for years. Others fail to mention really good new plants that they’re exhibiting and have to have the information coaxed out of them. And can a plant first publicised last summer really be “launched” at the show?

Hillier Nurseries have a very attractive new ruby-red leaved maple, Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ (pictured above), a lovely plant, which they say is “Available exclusively through Hillier Garden Centres and online at in 2011”. But in fact it’s been available since the 1990s, the RHS themselves say it’s listed by 24 other nurseries and garden centres all over the country have it. Despite three or four attempts I have been unable to get hold of Hillier to ask why they’re promoting the plant in this way.
Clematis ‘Celebration’ Clematis ‘Celebration’. Photograph: Fred Godfrey/Sussex Plants

Clematis ‘Celebration’ is certainly a breakthrough clematis – the first ever large-flowered type with yellow foliage – and Thorncroft Clematis are lucky to have it. But it was written up in the gardening press last summer, and I blogged about it on my RHS New Plants blog last August. So I’m not sure “launch” is quite the word for it when we’ve known about it for almost a year. And no plants will be available until summer.

OK… it’s only a “new” courgette but still, vegetable specialists W Robinson & Son emailed me about their new courgette ‘Black Forest’ … Trouble is that ‘Black Forest’ was introduced by the leading mail order vegetable seed specialist DT Brown in 1999 and they tell me that this year they’ve replaced it with ‘Black Hawk’. The RHS press office list actually says: “‘Black Forest’ has been available in mainland Europe but has not been widely available in the UK. It is the first time it will have been seen at Chelsea. First time widely commercially available in the UK”. I’d say being listed by DT Brown for more than 10 years certainly makes it “widely commercially available”.
Physocarpus Little Devil Physocarpus Little Devil. Photograph: John Woods Nurseries

New, and really good – but not mentioned on their display at Chelsea, wholesale grower John Woods has a range of shrubs and perennials which they simply describe as “key plants”. Among them I noticed a brand new burgundy leaved shrub called Physocarpus Little Devil (‘Donna May’). This may be the best new shrub in the show – yet they don’t even mention that it’s new.

What a missed opportunity. And they’re not the only ones: why no mention at all of the lovely new ‘Natasha Richardson’ rose until the day before the show opens?

OK, you’re wondering, does all this really matter? Gardeners should be able to rely on information from at the greatest flower show in the world. And we shouldn’t overlook the smaller nurseries who get it right – like Bowden Hostas introducing Hosta ‘Hands Up’ and Kelways with their new peony ‘Moonstone’ to mention just two.

And if a nursery has a great new plant at the show, why not tell us all about it? We want to know!

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