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Designing a Flower Bed for RHS Show Tatton Park

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Chris Evans Chris Evans | 17:20 UK time, Thursday, 21 July 2011

It's interesting to see how a bedding display can change the whole feel of the place it's in. It can add drama, colour, create another dimension or just lift its surroundings. A good bedding design can stop people in their tracks, some enjoy the whole experience and others pick it apart plant by plant (not literally!).

When I took over the design of the flower beds in Bournemouth, in 2002 planting was very traditional and regimented. There's nothing wrong with that, in certain circumstances it's the best solution. I was asked to reduce the amount of beds and consider other ways of more sustainable planting. It's quite a challenge.

Bournemouth Borough Council Flower Bed at RHS Show Tatton Park

Bournemouth Borough Council's Flower Bed at RHS Show Tatton Park

I have a great passion for plants and wanted change. One of my biggest influences is Christopher Lloyd. His skilful, flamboyant and daring style appealed to me. I threw out convention, and created fewer but larger flower beds. I expanded the range of plants used from around 40 to at least 250.

I wanted drama not only from the colour of the flowers but also the foliage, the structure, form and height. I was rebelling against bedding that was getting smaller and more compact every season. No plant was overlooked, I have tried many and not always with success!

Bournemouth Borough Council Flower Bed


That's the fun of designing ephemeral planting, if it doesn't work you've always got next year! My informal style brings its advantages. If plants do fail or are vandalised, I can always find something else to fill its place without it looking out of place. You can't do that in a formal design.

Height in the centre of the bed is important too, not only for effect but it often stops people walking through it, don't ask me why but it works.

The interest in gardening as a leisure activity has sky-rocketed over the last 20 years and people take a genuine interest in a flower bed that has much to offer.

The gardeners in Bournemouth Gardens are constantly asked 'what plant is that' or 'where can I get this'. Over 5 million people walk through the gardens every year, which is a lot of questions. I must admit though as one of the top seaside resorts we can justify having these beds because they are counted as a tourist attraction.


Bournemouth Borough Council Flower Bed

This is not an excuse to be frivolous, many plants in the beds are brought back in to the nursery to be used the following year or sold on. I use a great deal of hardy annuals not only for their show but they are incredibly cheap to grow. It's a balance of using the more expensive planting such as coleus, Dahlias, Musa, Arundos, Colcasia, Salvias against the cheaper seed grown annuals.

This year Bournemouth is off to the RHS Show Tatton Park to take part in the National Flower Bed Competition. We have taken part before but always with conventional bedding plants set in a quirky design. This year for the first time I'm using plants we really use.

Bedding displays have been in for a tough time lately. Unfortunately many have disappeared, often the first thing to go when times are hard. If they create civic pride, give pleasure to people, keep horticultural skills alive and enhance our green spaces, surely there is a space for them.

Chris Evan's flower bed was awarded the Best Exhibit at this year's RHS Show Tatton Park.



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