I’ve been talking to Mark Straver of Hortus Loci about plant trends in 2019.
Hortus Loci supply more plants to the show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show than any other plant grower. So he’s in a good position to see what plants and trends designers are working on for this summer.
They supply plants to top garden designers and they also have a plant shop in Hook (which has very good cake).
Shrubs are back
Mark says that there isn’t a strong direction in plant colour this year – ‘you’d be scratching about a bit to say that there’s a plant trend towards a particular colour. But shrubs are coming back with a vengeance, thank goodness.’
‘People have realised that if you do a bed entirely of perennials, it’s absolutely marvellous from about April until July. And there’s the winter interest with grasses. But there’s a midsummer lull. And without some form of permanent structure, it can all look a bit flat and a complete mess.’
Mark believes that plant trends have come full circle in the last 50 years. ‘If you looked at the most popular plant lists of fifty years ago, and then you look at them now, you’d find most of the same plants on the list. There are new varieties of shrubs like viburnum, philadelphus, hydrangea and so on, but the old varieties are still going strong.’
Mark’s top 2019 shrub list:
- Magnolia ‘Genie’
- Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’
- Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’
- Viburnum ‘Watanabe’
- Philadelphus ‘Starbright’
‘Naturalistic’ planting still a major plant trend
One of the strongest plant trends of the past few years has been ‘naturalistic’ planting. I feel I have to put that in inverted commas, as it involves just as much plotting and planning as a traditional mixed border.
Mark says that it’s a trend that’s still going strong amongst garden designers. ‘Umbellifers…’ he waves a hand in the direction of the tunnels growing plants for Chelsea, but is then constrained by confidentiality.
So I checked the definitions of ‘naturalistic’ planting when I got home. I discovered the rather useful fact that it is dependent on the shapes of the plant rather than the colours of the flowers. It’s a mix of spires, daisy-shapes, umbellifers and grasses. More like a meadow than a border. Think the New York High Line and Piet Oudolf.
Mark’s point about perennials is very much proven as it was difficult to find ‘naturalistic’ plants looking good enough to photograph in April, while shrubs are cracking on. So I’ve had to raid my photo album from last year to illustrate this point.
The biggest of the plant trends, however, is…
‘Veg, veg and more veg,’ says Mark.
If you are a garden-lover on Instagram or Twitter, you might think that everyone grows their own veg. But, according to some plant experts I talk to, grow-your-own burst into popularity a few years ago, but has faded a little recently.
2019 will change all that. Hortus Loci is supplying plants to the IKEA garden which will major on grow-your-own, whether you have a big garden or just a small window box. And the Welcome to Yorkshire garden will also feature a vegetable patch.
‘I started with trees and shrubs,’ says Mark, speaking of his early years in the plant growing industry. ‘And now here we are, back in a full circle, with trees and shrubs.’
Almost every press release I’ve had about the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has featured gardens with trees. Personally, I think trees give a garden more character and a better sense of place than any other plant. And they improve our air quality and support a huge range of flora and fauna. I find the way mature trees are being cut down for development quite terrifying.
Hortus Loci has two show gardens on site, each designed to show how to put together plants in a small garden.
One is a soft, curvy romantic garden with a multi-stemmed crab apple tree and a low-growing acer.
The other is more geometric with one main bed for shrubs and perennials, a pleached hornbeam hedge for privacy and a betula hedge on the other side. There’s also a yew in the border to give some vertical interest. And in one corner is a red-barked strawberry tree (Arbutus x andrachnoides) in a pot. That shows you how many trees – and how much evergreen interest – you can get into a small space.
And a trend in how you plant your purchases
‘Twenty years ago, if we bought a new house, we’d go down to B&Q and decorate it ourselves, however badly,’ says Mark. ‘Now everyone is so time-starved, they realise they don’t have to do that. So they pay someone to decorate it properly. The same is happening in the garden – people are buying plants and then they want them planted up professionally.
Most good plant nurseries and garden centres will either be able to organise this for you or put you in touch with someone who can plant properly.
It is, however, important to have an experienced and/or properly trained gardener to do this. There is no point in engaging someone who does odd jobs or your friend’s teenage offspring, because they’re not likely to know any more about planting than you do. A knowledgeable gardener will cost more, but properly planted trees, shrubs and perennials will look better and grow well.
Plant trends – find out more
My favourite book on ‘naturalistic’ planting is Ian Hodgson’s New Wild Garden. And I know that people really rate Nigel Dunnett’s Naturalistic Planting Design, The Essential Guide. I haven’t read it myself but his credentials are impeccable – his planting designs were a major feature of the 2012 Olympic park, and his work in city parks and gardens is innovative.
I also bought Alan Titchmarsh’s How To Garden – Small Trees book a while ago, and have found it a very practical guide to choosing and caring for trees.