This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the English gardener who moved mountains, dammed rivers to make lakes and generally shifted the landscape to create naturalistic parks and gardens that still delight and thrill.
His rich legacy, including the gardens at TV’s Downton Abbey — in reality Highclere Castle in Berkshire — and at Bowood, Stowe, Blenheim and Chatsworth will be celebrated throughout the year with talks, performances, exhibitions and Capabili-Teas, an 18th-century take on afternoon tea, at sites he created up and down the country, including at easy-to-reach Hampton Court. See capabilitybrown.org/events to join the festivities.
CHELSEA MARKS STEAM’S GLAMOROUS GOLDEN AGE: there are few signs that Brown’s sweeping hills and grassy ha-has will shape the landscapes at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, from May 24 to 28, but you can expect plenty of pomp and theatre — notably, in the Great Pavilion, an 80ft carriage from the Belmond British Pullman train of the Twenties, complete with liveried stewards and, of course, plants, such as hostas on Platform 1 and rare jungle ferns on Platform 2.
Novelty will also be thick on the ground with an acoustic garden inspired by percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, while the Harrods British Eccentrics Garden will feature gadgetry that springs to life on the quarter-hour, including bobbing box balls and twirling conical bay trees, all courtesy of showman Diarmuid Gavin.
BE INSPIRED BY THE SHOW GARDENS: also at Chelsea, Cleve West, for M&G Investments, will haul in 30 tons of stone sourced from a quarry in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire for his vision of an ancient oak woodland, while Chris Beardshaw will create a restful haven to be rebuilt at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Sarah Eberle will reveal her interpretation of the floating gardens of the Mekong River and Jo Thompson’s show garden will be inspired by Chelsea Barracks. Book your discounted early bird ticket now at rhs.org.uk/shows.
NO-SWEAT GARDENING: meanwhile, you can give your plot a designer touch in an instant with a hedge-in-a-handbag. Think neatly clipped hedge lengths transported in holdalls (readyhedgeltd.com), or perhaps a fully grown tunnel of hornbeam arches (pracbrown.co.uk). Gardening has never been so easy.
If you are butter-fingered instead of green-fingered, or simply forgetful, welcome revolutionary indoor bulbs that need no water or feeding because they are sealed in wax that acts as a waterproof coat as well as container.
Amaryllis are first in line (crocus.co.uk), with more promised. As well as bulbs that need no pots, you might like to suspend hanging plants that need no baskets by trying a touch of kokedama, the craze that has swung over from Japan. They are basically mud pies shaped around a rootball, tied up in moss and string. Londoners Lucy Anna Scott and Lucy Conochie show how in a new book, My Tiny Garden (Pavilion), out early next month, which is packed with ideas for small-space gardening.
SMALL BUT FRUITFUL: a bright idea for urban gardeners with limited land comes from Suttons the seed company, which introduces for this year the sweetcorn on a stick — shoots of vibrant yellow that carry the same sweet flavour of space-guzzling corn on the cob. And Lubera, the online fruit grower that breeds new varieties in the tough conditions of the Swiss Alps, has unveiled for sale this year a short-stemmed rhubarb just 20cm high, a compact blueberry that it claims has more fruit than foliage, and the world’s first climbing strawberry.
MIRACLE HOSE: a welcome revolution awaits dry borders and possible drought this summer — the totally unstoppable garden hose, available at waterirrigation.co.uk. Endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society after being tested for a year by staff at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Chelmsford, Essex, the Everflow can be twisted, tangled up, trampled on and even knotted, but somehow the water keeps flowing. Now that’s what I call smart gardening.