Joe Swift speaks about his preparations for Chelsea Flower Show competition in May this year- plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson.
For a man making his debut at the illustrious Chelsea Flower Show this year, TV gardener Joe Swift seems remarkably relaxed, even though advice is being thrown at him from all directions.
"Titchmarsh has been asking me for years when I was going to do a garden. Andy Sturgeon (a Chelsea gold medal winner and competitor at this year's event), who's a good friend of mine, has given me
some good advice about the approach and organising yourself, how to deal with things on site and how to keep focused, because there are a lot of distractions."
He hasn't so far encountered any of the feuding which can come with such a competitive show.
Remember the bitter row a few years ago between Sturgeon and rival Diarmuid Gavin, who accused him of plagiarism? Or the time when Gavin fell out with Gardeners' Question Time panellist Bunny
Guinness over the height of a wall?
Swift remains unperturbed, although he is aware of the high level of competition which will ensue as the event draws nearer.
"My landscaper said, 'The closer you get to the show, the more competitive others become'. But everyone's been unbelievably supportive."
It has taken a year for his Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden to come to fruition. The inspiration for it comes from his vision of combining natural elements with city living.
"Living in a city, you notice beautiful natural materials and are physically drawn to them. I have boulders, a huge wooden frame and running water in the show garden.
"The idea is to connect the city and suburban dweller to those natural materials that might not be so prevalent in the city, where you get a lot of concrete and tarmac and other hard elements.
"It's incredibly relevant. City-cooling in the summer and creating more green space in the city is extremely important.
"In a city space you want to keep the focus within the garden because you don't have the rolling hills beyond to tie in the extended landscape.
"It's all about creating key views within a garden, and you can do that in a small garden by placing key sculpture, plants and water here and there.
"People need to think big in a small space. Don't put loads of little things in a small garden. Put one or two big things in there to make a real impact."
Plants in his show garden will include trees such as stemmed Cornus Mas and Prunus 'Amber Beauty' alongside a London plane tree, all selected for their sculptural forms and the interesting colour
and texture of their bark.
He wants the garden to be aspirational, but recognises that visitors may want to take some aspect of the garden home with them.
With this in mind, Homebase has launched The Chelsea Collection, a range of plants inspired by Swift's design.
"It's important to be able to take elements of Chelsea home with you but it is the catwalk of design. Very few people are going to create a garden that's on the level of Chelsea but I think there
are loads of ideas for planting areas and ways of using sculpture and furniture that people should be inspired by."
Oranges, acid yellows, burgundies and rust-coloured flowers combine to create a warm colour palette in his garden.
Many are currently under glass and will be in and out of the greenhouse on a daily basis to ensure they are perfect for May.
Iris, geums, potentillas, roses, libertia and grevilleas all feature, some of which can be easily grown in this country.
"There has to be an element of sustainability but some of these plants aren't hardy," he admits.
"But it is a climate change garden to a degree. Four cedarwood frames will be coming from Germany, while the stone, boulders, walling and gravel mulch are from Yorkshire and the perennials are
The RHS has extremely high criteria of entry, demanding details of design, landscaping, material sourcing and budget.
"It's interesting being on the other side of the ropes," he says.
"The scariest thing for me is getting my planting right. I feel quite confident about the garden design. There's a lot of hard structure and it's trying to counterbalance that with some really
lovely, original planting."
He says he's not too worried about being awarded any medals.
"It's not like I've got two or three Chelsea golds in the past so there's not something to live up to. I just want to build a garden I'm happy with. A medal isn't the most important thing to me."
:: The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 22 to 26. For details, phone 0844 338 0338 or visit www.rhs.org.uk/chelsea Best of the bunch - Viola If you want some pretty, dainty plants for your
spring patio pots or to put at the front of borders or to add to a courtyard setting, violas are now widely available in garden centres in a myriad of colours.
They are more subtle and fragile-looking than the larger pansies which so often fill baskets at this time of year, yet they are tougher and more weather-resistant.
They thrive in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Team them in pots with small vertical evergreens, heather and dwarf narcissi for an eye-catching display.
Viola can be annuals, biennials or deciduous or evergreen perennials. Good varieties include V. cornuta 'Penny', and 'Spring Sherbets'.
Good enough to eat - Radishes If you're just starting to experiment with vegetable gardening, then radishes are among the easiest starter veg to try.
Sow them from March onwards, sowing in succession so you have a continuous crop rather than a glut. You can't leave them too long in the ground as the roots will go woody or the plants will bolt.
Radishes should be sown in rich, well-drained soil in rows, thinning them to 2.5cm (1in) apart and keep plants well watered and the area well weeded.
They are a fast-producing crop which are best eaten straight away. Summer radishes can be sown up until August and harvested from May onwards, while winter radishes should be sown in July and
harvested from August through to November. Good varieties include 'Scarlet Globe' and 'French Breakfast'.
Three ways to... Use trees for wildlife 1. Make a log pile out of pruned trees and tree stumps in a quiet corner of the garden to encourage insects, invertebrates and beneficial wildlife such as
frogs and hedgehogs to shelter there.
2. Include some native evergreen trees such as holly and yew in your garden to offer winter cover and tasty red berries for birds to eat.
3. Secure nest boxes to the trunks of trees, facing away from hot sun and strong winds, to give birds a haven for their young.
What to do this week :: Top-dress permanent containers with fresh compost.
:: Start feeding fish and using the pond fountain and remove pond heaters.
:: Open the greenhouse or conservatory doors and vents on warm days.
:: Sow summer bedding plants in a heated propagator or under glass.
:: When space becomes available in the greenhouse, pot up cuttings of tender perennials taken last summer and at the beginning of this year.
:: Cut back ornamental grasses and other perennials left for winter interest to make way for new growth.
:: Divide hostas before they come into leaf.
:: Continue to deadhead winter-flowering pansies to prolong their flowering period.
:: Clear up weedy beds before mulching.
:: Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots.
:: Remove early infestations of aphids by hand to prevent the problem getting out of control.
:: Continue to plant onions, garlic and shallots.