Claire Austin, the award-winning nurserywoman and garden writer, has returned to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show after a 7-year break, marking her 40-year career in horticulture and the 40th anniversary of her first visit to the show.
Celebrating the specialisms of her acclaimed plant nursery at White Hopton Farm in the Welsh Marches, Claire and her team at Claire Austin Hardy Plants are staging two judged exhibits in the Great Pavilion (GPF 92 A and 92B). One of the 4.5m x 4.5m courtyard gardens shines a spotlight exclusively on Irises, and the other showcases hardy perennials and peonies.
"We are thrilled to be back at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibiting alongside our fellow nurserymen and sharing our passion for peonies, irises, and perennials with visitors," said Claire Austin. "This has been a particularly challenging spring to prepare perennials for Chelsea. Peonies love strong light levels, and irises need warm temperatures to come into bloom, and in the Welsh Borders, we have had two months of cold weather and low-light levels."
Iris Courtyard Garden exhibit
The Iris Courtyard Garden exhibit is planted with over 50 varieties of bearded irises in a spectacular range of colors, from pure white and pale pink to cerise, blue, purple, yellow-orange, brown, and deepest black, and the striking two-tone varieties.
At the center of the Iris Courtyard Garden, local farmer-florist Emma Cox of Luna Bloom has created a magnificent urn arrangement using bearded irises and the more delicate iris sibirica varieties as cut flowers. Popular with flower farmers for their flamboyant, ruffled blooms and sword-like foliage, irises make beautiful cut blooms and last well in the vase.
Claire holds the National Collection of Bearded Irises and has successfully grown fields of bearded irises in four different locations and soil conditions during her career. Claire wants to share how easy they are to grow in a garden setting.
Two iris varieties making their Chelsea debut are:
Iris' Executive Order' bears luxurious, sweetly scented flowers on strong stems. The soft blue-white standards are tightly ruffled and flushed with soft violet. The plush velvet, purple-black falls pale along to a fine line along the edges, and as the petals curl upwards along the ruffles, the paler underside becomes visible.
Iris' Table For Two': The flowers on this handsome plant have velvety dark brown falls with short rivers of white radiating from the yellow beard. The copper standards are heavily flushed with purple from the base upwards.
Perennial Courtyard Garden exhibit
The adjacent Perennial Courtyard exhibit offers a contemporary twist on the cottage garden, inspired in part by the front garden at White Hopton Farm. The soft textural planting has created a gentle tapestry of late spring flowering perennials punctuated by the pop of early
season peonies such as 'Garden Peace,' 'Raspberry Charm,' and 'Cytherea.'
Aquilegia, bergenia, brunnera, centaurea, geranium, geum, lamprocapnos, pulmonaria, stachys byzantina, veronica and blousy, striking peonies feature amongst the soft perennial planting. At the heart of the exhibit is an urn arrangement by Luna Bloom brimming with late spring perennials and peonies, favorites of artisan flower farmers and flower arrangers alike.
Claire's modern take on the cottage garden is extremely low maintenance. In early spring, Ric Kenwood, Claire's husband and business partner, simply strims the foliage and seedheads in the front garden at White Hopton Farm back to ground level.
Two of Claire Austin's plant introductions are making their Chelsea debut this year:
Alchemilla mollis' Cream Dream': Found some years ago in the garden at White Hopton Farm, this stable variegated version of the well-known 'Lady's mantle' has round, scallop-edged, soft green leaves liberally splashed with cream. The leaves create a neat mound that is less vigorous than the normal green version, and a froth of tiny, lime-green flowers cover the mound for much of the spring and summer.
Geranium x oxonianum 'Patricia Josephine': Selected from the many hardy geraniums that were seeded around my mother's garden in Albrighton years ago, this variety has proved to be an enduring plant; robust, free-flowering, and pretty. The very pale pink, wide-trumpet-like flowers are scattered above a mound of round, notched, mid-green leaves that have dark maroon dots at the base.
Open Days Thursday 8th June & Friday June 9th 2023
Hot on the heels of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Claire Austin and her team will be opening their site at White Hopton Farm in Sarn near Newtown SY16 4EN on Thursday, June 8, and Friday, June 9, between 10 am and 4 pm.
Visitors will be able to explore the Claire Austin Hardy Plants peat-free nursery, the National Collections of Bearded Irises and Hybrid Herbaceous Peonies, and the gardens at White Hopton Farm. There will be refreshments and plants for sale. The entrance fee will be £7.00.
For more information:
Claire Austin Hardy Plants