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Kent garden designer Jo Thompson strikes gold at RHS 2014 Chelsea Flower Show

By Lesley Bellew

Kent garden designer Jo Thompson’s London Square Fresh Garden scooped gold at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The elegant garden with a feature stainless steel bench on cream-coloured porcelain steps was so inviting that visitors could not resist stepping into the garden and trying it out.

Fresh Gardens champion innovation and cutting-edge design and Jo said: “As the garden represents a communal space I knew I needed to incorporate a bespoke bench as a centrepiece.

Jo Thompson relaxes at Chelsea ... in 2014 after winning gold. Picture by Ian West

“It is made of stainless steel and took a big part of the budget. I liked the idea of it winding down the steps but it was difficult to explain to Toby, the bench-maker, so he had to almost guess from the design plan. It was all done within a month but it hit the mark.”

Jo, from Cranbrook, created her vision of a corner of a London Square by using silver birch trees to provide boundary structure, height and dappled shade, edged by viburnum opulus and a single cornus kousa which provided a foil for white foxgloves and cream Macmillan Nurse standard and low-growing roses.

Jo avoided grasses and cow parsley. She said: “I suspected there would be a lot of grasses and ravenswing this year so I went a bit more 'shrubby'. I used a limited palette of colours and plant varieties in creams and whites.

Full bloom, the Macmillan Nurse rose

"The underplanting includes euronymous and aquilegas which work well and are easy to grow.”

There was due to be a hint of apricot from Happenstance iris but these were dropped at the last minute.

Jo said: "I was trying to be clever, thinking a hint of apricot would lift the planting but sometimes you have to accept it when an idea does not work. I listened to my gut and left them out. I am, though, really pleased with the final result.”

Apricot does show up in her second Chelsea design, a garden for the horticultural charity Perennial, in the Great Pavilion. This comes in form of geum Princess Juliana and foxglove Sutton’s Apricot.

Perennial plants from Coblands

The whole display is made up from donations by industry stalwarts including Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, CED Natural Stone and Coblands Nurseries, of Tonbridge and Sevenoaks.

The garden, which celebrates the charity’s 175 anniversary of working with gardeners who have fallen on hard times, caught the eye of The Queen on her tour of the show and she stopped to talk to Jo about Perennial.

Jo said: “She was lovely and seemed so happy to be at Chelsea. She talked about the charity’s work - and how gardening makes you feel better. I was so excited to meet her!”

Coblands also provided plants for designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ bronze medal-winning BrandAlley Renaissance Garden which was his first major venture in the Main Avenue.

Paul Harris with his gold medal and Andy Murray hosta

Paul Harris, of Brookfield Plants, Ashford, grabbed gold again after his first top medal in 2013 where he displayed 100 varieties to mark the Chelsea centenary. This year he took the opportunity to display the new Andy Murray hosta which was chosen by the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society (BHHS) to honour the tennis player’s achievements.

BHHS member Paul, of Sandyhurst Lane, Ashford, said: "The society has a link with Andy’s home town of Dunblane and we approached Judy, his mother, about our idea to name a hosta after her son."

Hosta Andy Murray was bred by nurseryman Bob Solberg, in North Carolina, USA, and although it is still in short supply, Paul says ‘the plants are coming through’.

He said: “The plant now sells at £30 but they will reduce in price once there is a plentiful supply.”

Dr Simon Charlesworth of Downderry Lavender

Dr Simon Charlesworth, of Downderry Lavender, Hadlow, near Tonbridge, took gold again with his extraordinary display of purple, pink and white plants. The swirl of lavenders, he said, looked almost like a spacecraft. “I should have kept some of the darker pink ones for the back to make it look like it was a spaceship being fired up!

Dr Charlesworth, looking co-ordinated in purple velvet trousers, said 2014 had been a much easier year for him as the weather had been so mild. He said: “Last year was a nightmare but we had no problems with getting everything into bloom this year."

The Chelsea Flower Show runs until Saturday, May 23. For a full list of winners click here.

A splash of colour from Kent's Downderry Lavender
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