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Pumpkins, grasses and seedheads:

RHS reveals unfamiliar sights and trends to look out for at the first ever Autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show
by RHS
September 19, 2021

Late flowering plants, grasses and edibles will take centre stage at this year’s Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show, sponsored by M&G. Taking place from 21 – 26 September this year for the first time in autumn, the historic show will welcome many unfamiliar sights to the show as it showcases the very best in autumn horticulture.

Here are some of the highlights and unusual sights visitors wouldn’t usually see at the spring show to look out for:

Displays making the most of autumn’s harvest

With autumn being the season of harvest, the show will celebrate fruit and vegetables. A brand new Italian inspired feature - ‘The Great Pavilion Piazza’ - will showcase a selection of seasonal plants and produce at the Monument in the centre created by Villaggio Verde. The display will feature a seasonal palette of asters and dahlias alongside a selection of squashes and pumpkins.

Other harvest highlights include Brighter Blooms who will switch their usual Zantedeschia for a selection of salad crops and Pennard Plants with a display of tomatoes and other tender vegetables. Many of the gardens too will be full of edibles as designers make the most of the autumn bounty, with trees full of fruit and berries, such as The M&G Garden featuring the bright orange berries of Hippophae rhamnoides and rosehips to add to the autumnal charm, not to mention their benefit to wildlife.

Grasses stealing the limelight Ferns and hostas usually deliver the fresh greenery that has been so prominent in designers’ spring palettes in recent years but grasses will be at their very best in September. For the first time in a long time, there will be a sole display of ornamental grasses in the Great Pavilion created by first time exhibitors Ashcroft’s Perennials. With the spring show being too early in the season, they have not been seen in there for a number of years and the autumn show will ensure they are in flower and looking their best.

The Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden, The Yeo Valley Organic Garden and The Boodles Secret Garden are also incorporating an array of grasses into their gardens.

Topiary and Trees

Recent years have seen more naturalistic styles come to the fore at RHS Chelsea however this year we will see a resurgence in the art of shaping plants. With autumn being one of the best times for trees and shrubs, topiary will be a popular display in the Great Pavilion with Agrumi Topiary Art who are exhibiting for the first time with a range of topiary animals as well as Form Plants who are making their debut with Torc Pots. They will create a walk-through display of large specimen topiary up to 5m in height.

Blooms swapped for seedheads

Late summer and early autumn sees many flowers fade however seedheads offer plenty of interest and structure. The foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) was Florence Nightingale’s favourite plant however as the flowers will be over in September, designer Robert Myers will be incorporating it into The Florence Nightingale Garden in the form of seedheads instead. Seedheads such as teasels and sanguisorbas will also be spotted in the Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden while The M&G Garden will embrace the season with some senesced plants.

Colour palettes heat up

Attractive coloured leaves and foliage will add autumn and winter interest. Arit Anderson will celebrate foliage in different colours in The BBC One Show and RHS Garden of Hope, alongside flowers such as dahlias with tones of warm pinks and oranges. Meanwhile, although peonies are much-loved for their spring flowers, Primrose Hall Peonies and The Botanic Nursery will also be showing off their year-round interest and beautiful foliage in different shades of gold and burgundy.

Late summer and autumn flowers

Lupins, irises and foxgloves are usually some of the most iconic sights at RHS Chelsea. However this year visitors can expect to see late summer flowers such as asters and dahlias among the stars of the show. The new season also welcomes new growers joining the line-up, including the International Camellia Society who will highlight autumn flowering varieties and Parigo Alstroemeria bringing back Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily) which have not been seen in the Great Pavilion for a number of years. Penstemon, another late summer and autumn flowering favourite will be on display with first time exhibitors GreenJJam while Middleton Nurseries, specialists in salvias, will make their debut with a colourful collection of late-flowering varieties.

Tropical plants will come into their own

Autumn ensures many tropical plants are looking their best with lush foliage and flowers. Exotic plant specialists Plantbase who last appeared at RHS Chelsea in 2017 will return with a display of weird and wonderful tropical, jungle-style plants. Visitors can discover Vachellia karroo and their relationship with giraffes, a rare Ptilotus exaltatus and Adansonia madagascariensis. Tropical planting will also bring garden designs to life in The Calm of Bangkok and Trailfinders’ 50th Anniversary Garden with a selection of Hedychium, Cautleya and Brugmansia.

Spring flowering bulbs will be replaced with autumn bulbs

Autumn flowering bulbs are a rare sight at RHS Chelsea. However in celebration of the season, flowering bulb specialists Jacques Amand International will display a vibrant collection of Nerine, Colchicum and Eucomis. While flowering spring bulbs will be greatly missed, those looking for their fix will not be disappointed. With autumn being a key time to plant them for the next year, there will be more opportunities than ever for visitors to buy plants from exhibitors in the Great Pavilion, including a bumper selection of bulbs from W.S. Warmenhoven, Hoyland Plant Centre and Hare Spring Cottage Plants among others.

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