Chelsea Flower Show with Guy Barter from the RHS

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is just around the corner, and we wanted to catch up with Guy Barter, Chief Hortifulturist at the RHS, about what is going on this year, how the community is getting involved, and the importance of community gardening.  Take a look at our interview with him below:

Our interview with Guy Barter on RHS Chelsea

1. You are involved with the RHS Chelsea show this May, what sort of things are you going to be doing?

I will be particularly involved with the RHS greening Grey Britain Garden which is scheduled to be reused after the show in a park in Brixton, a deprived area of south London. I will be supporting the residents in helping plant the Chelsea garden before the show and their attendance a press event on the Monday and after the show will help them replant the garden in Brixton. Then a launch event in Brixton with the Evening Standard who have sponsored the garden.

2. Being part of such a huge event, how important is it that gardeners get involved with events and their own communities?

I hope that individual gardeners will see things, plants and planting combinations, for example, that will inspire them to recreate in their gardens.  I would like to think that neighbours will be in turn encouraged to emulate this and for gardeners to help and support each other in adding greenery to their street. Many times this will encourage people to support or even initiate community gardening endeavours in their area.  The RHS ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ initiative supports voluntary groups and is widely taken up by community gardeners.

3. There are lots of community gardening projects happening across the UK now, but do you think that this a result of more and more people becoming involved in growing their own food?

Food production is particularly interesting to people who do not consider themselves potential gardeners and projects are often very well supported. From these beginnings, I think that interest and confidence expand into wider community greening, and also into ancillary activities such as bee-keeping, city farms and nature reserves. Interestingly it is the diversity of landscape in built-up areas that seems to be especially beneficial to the environment.

4. Do you think there needs to be more done to start making Britain a ‘greener’ place?

Urban Britain is in particular need of greening with much ground being taken up with necessary and understandable parking and extending of buildings. It is however within the ability of anyone with even a little land to enhance the benefit of remaining areas and indeed involve the parking and new building by fitting greenery especially trees into unused corners and clothing buildings in wall shrubs and climbers.

5. What advice could you give people who want to get started with growing their own food?

Choose things you like to eat, taste best fresh and cost most.  Typically these will be beans and peas, herbs, raspberries, salad leaves, strawberries, and tomatoes. You probably won’t replace the supermarket shop but you will get fresh produce with excellent taste and texture. We have published our advice on the RHS website where it is free to all.

6. Do you have any sworn-by growing techniques you could share?

Repot. Container plants are fun and valuable especially in smaller gardens but the potting media needs refreshing every year, so repotting into a bigger container or back into the original after removing about 25% of the old roots and media and replacing it with fresh potting media is very worthwhile.

7. Do you have any tips for gardening on a budget?

Many local allotment groups have a shop where gardening goods can be bought cheaply and you can often join these as ‘trading member’ for a small fee and use their shop even if you have no allotment. Some gardening clubs offer similar facilities and are also rich in advice and surplus seeds and plants.

8. Do you have any advice for gardening in small spaces? For example, using hanging baskets to make the most of the available space.

Hanging baskets are readily fitted into even the smallest space.  RHS research has found that they can be kept going with just a coffee mug of water per day. Although humble, hanging baskets intercept rain reducing flood risk, they absorb pollutants and they make everyone who sees them feel better. One hanging basket might not make a great environmental difference but the example and habit of greenery and flowers can be catching and neighbours often join in.

9. What advice do you have for those who want to plant seasonally?

Having flowers through all the seasons is possible by using bulbs.  A bulb is essentially pre-packed compressed plant. Autumn bulbs, daffodils, and tulips, for example, are relatively inexpensive and give amazing colour at little cost in late winter and all spring, summer flowers such as dahlias and gladioli are available at low cost in spring and give colour all summer and into autumn. For autumn hardy cyclamen are not cheap but well worth investing in. Winter is a bit of a dull spell but consider the Christmas Rose or Helleborus niger that flowers from mid-winter to keep the gardening spark alive.

10. Have you got any tips for quick-fixes to make your garden look tidier and more professional?

Trimming the lawn edges and regular sweeping up paths really does add a little gloss to a garden.  Mowing, of course, can be chore – buying as good and large a mower as you can afford helps a lot.  I find trimming hedges and shrubs is something I prefer to do in small steps and regularly go round every few days and just prune hither and thither, placing snippings in a sack rather than herculean pruning sessions with great masses of material to get rid of.

Be sure to check out some of our other interview posts!

Click here to find out more about RHS Chelsea