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VM inspiration: Chelsea Fringe at Leeds Castle

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea show has long escaped the confines of London’s Chelsea, and now the Chelsea Fringe is celebrated in various locations in the UK and overseas. One such participant, set in lovely parkland, is Kent’s Leeds Castle.

Printed with images of Leeds Castle or reproductions of castle textiles on the side, these shopping bags hold an array of pink or white Armeria plants, that is Thrift, and seem humorously positioned just outside one of the castle gift-shops. Notice the opportune use of green-painted kick-steps too, to add a little height.

In the stable yard, now the main restaurant and café space, each table is topped with a Leeds Castle tea tray, teapot, and mug, each happily supporting varieties of thyme.

Patiently waiting at the door of one of the estate cottages beside the cottage garden is a family of rubber Wellington boots awaiting their owners. While the larger boots are happily growing a selection of Diascias, the little pink-wellies are engagingly staged with the toes turned in, each sporting a vigorous-looking Aeonium. Known as the Tree Houseleek, this tender plant from the Canary Islands requires little water and, like the Sempervivum with which it is often confused, makes a great VM window prop.

The walking boots here are carefully positioned to suggest their absent original owners are walking up the brick steps. Diascias, originally from South Africa, are floriferous summer bedding plants in the UK, and perfectly fill the tops again.

These Cath Kidston-style flowered wellies, filled with flowering pelargoniums, are placed in front of the garden bench as though their owners had just removed them. There is a little recycling taking place here, as inspection of the boots reveals they have been badly damaged but are being effectively repurposed.

In the brilliant Mediterranean garden, totally redolent of the South of France and well worth a visit to Leeds Castle on its own, a lovely, grizzled olive tree sports an old suitcase with its luggage label at its feet.

Filled with Mediterranean plants - French lavender (Lavandula stoechas), Ballota (horehound), and a white-flowering thyme - it perfectly evokes the sunshine and perfumed oils for which the Mediterranean region is famous. As these need relatively little water, using a suitably lined suitcase filled with similar plants would make a great window or in-store display for a high-summer theme and provide a welcome alternative to the many pool-themed displays we saw last summer.

It would have been wonderful for the extensive grounds of Leeds Castle to have been turned in to a ‘Chelsea Two,’ and that this is not the case is a little disappointing. But these little tableaux have clearly been carefully considered and have given the gardening staff an opportunity to showcase their creativity. They certainly add to the enjoyment of this amazing castle. 

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