The Casual Gardener: Growing golden jubilee greats

In less than three weeks, Gardeners' World will reveal its ‘Golden Jubilee Plant'. John Manley casts an eye over the ten contenders

Carol Klein's choice was Geranium 'Rozanne'

IF YOU didn’t already know, BBC’s Gardeners’ World is 50 this year. As part of the celebrations, Monty Don and the team are out to find the plant which has had the biggest impact on gardens over the past 50 years, with the winner being crowned the ‘Golden Jubilee Plant’.

Unfortunately, voting closed last Sunday – the winner is due to be unveiled during a one-hour anniversary programme on Friday June 16. Despite being disenfranchised and no longer able to influence the outcome of the vote, I think it’s worthwhile looking at the shortlist of 10 plants, as those mentioned all have a certain merit. Additionally, they provide an insight not only a into the diversity of plant life but also gardeners’ changing tastes and influences across five decades.

It’s not necessarily the one we like the most, insists Monty, but the plant that’s had the biggest impact on gardens and gardening. Over recent weeks Gardeners’ World presenters and contributors have been making the case for their respective nominations.

Monty himself opted for (1) bedding plants, which in a way is cheating as it’s actually a category rather than a specific genus or variety. His testimony is part-sociology, part-horticulture, linking the growth from the 1960s onwards of cars and garden centres – open on Sundays when all else was closed – to a more instantly gratifying approach to gardening.

“And bedding is always bright, it’s colourful, it’s cheerful,” he adds.

Garden designer and author Nick Bailey plumps for the (2) Dahlia, which while a single genus is again diverse, ranging from tasteful and subtle blooms to outrageously garish pompoms that would make Julian Simmons feel nauseous.

“They’ve gone from being strictly the preserve of the allotmenteer growing them for cut flowers to being mainstream border plants,” said Nick.

Their appeal lies in that aforementioned diversity of form and colour, their ease to grow, and long flowering period.

“Some people might think of them as being retro – I think they’re absolutely now,” concludes Nick.

Rachel de Thame chose (3) Aquilegia vulgaris, also known as the columbine or granny’s bonnet.

This popular perennial emerges in spring with “beautiful fresh, rather frothy, foliage at the base” before sending up long stems with spurred flowers in soft pastel shades of pink and mauve with white and then darker purples as well. Rachel also loves its promiscuity which results in a variety of self-seeded colours.

Mark Lane nominated (4) Echinacea for it’s impact on the naturalistic prairie style of planting. His favourite is Echinacea pallida, with elongated petals that droop from the central cone.

Gardeners' World presenter Joe Swift bigged-up the majestic ornamentl grass (5) Stipa Gigantea, which would likely have been laughed at 50 years ago.

“For me it really represents all the ornamental grasses out there and how they’ve influenced and changed the looks of our gardens,” he says.

Frances Tophill opted for the (6) chilli as representing how tastes have developed

“In the last half century travel has not only expanded our horizons but has widened the range of food that we love to grow.

Flo Headlam put forward her case for (7) summer Jasmine wth its heady sents and versatility, while Alan Power sang the praises of the (8) Acer (Japanese maple) for its architectural foliage, colour and interest.

Adam Frost went for the (9) rose with Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ singled out for particular praise, while Carol Klein concluded the nominations with (10) Geranium ‘Rozanne’, a plant to which I dedicated an entire column just last year and a variety almost half as young as Gardeners’ World.

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