Centennial Chelsea Flower Show 2013

This year the School of Biological Sciences will be exhibiting my grass-free flower lawn research at the 100th Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Flower Show

We’ve been anticipating this for quite a while, but it was only the 18th February 2013 that the RHS advised us that they had accepted our exhibit proposal. The original location we applied for was not allocated to us and it’s become a bit of a rush to redesign the exhibit to suit and fit the new location we have been allocated. We are still in the re-design stage, although it seems to be coming together. We could do with knowing who our neighbours at the show will be so we can negotiate borders.

Stand Location

Stand Location

The Head of School and my academic supervisor – Dr Mark Fellowes, has brilliantly conceived a neologism that looks likely to be part of our exhibit title. Be prepared to discover – The New Millawnium: grass-free & full of flowers. I still grin every time I say it.

Avondale Park, Kensington & Chelsea.

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea will be the first borough in Britain to host a grass-free flower lawn.

Flowering Lawn Research Goes Public

Avondale Park is to have a trial 220m example of a flower lawn in place of a floral meadow that had previously existed on the same site. The floral meadow was well received by users of the park and added to the overall biodiversity. However there was a tendency for dogs and younger visitors to plough through the small meadow. Once trampled the plants did not recover well and continued trampling compounded the problem. An equally biodiverse, lower growing and trample tolerant replacement was required.

Avondale Park Meadow 2012

Avondale Park Meadow 2012

The borough’s Ecology Service Manager Saskie Laing contacted me after a talk I gave at the Natural History Museum in 2012 and planning began on a flower lawn to replace the floral meadow.

Fortunately Kensington & Chelsea are one of the few borough councils to still maintain a plant nursery and have the capacity to grow their own plants. Sourcing some of the species for the flower lawn was challenging to say the least. The horticultural industry is as yet not set up to provide all the plant species and none in the format we needed. Saskie’s hard work managed to source some of the species in plug form and the rest had to be sourced from seed merchants and from the experiments here at Reading. We never managed to fulfill the wish list of species and some of the plants supplied from Europe were extremely poor quality.

Following a method developed here at Reading the seeds and plugs have been grown on in a suitable format at the borough’s Holland Park nursery under the watchful eye of Leonie Castro the glasshouse manger and grower.

Flower lawn plants being propagated at the Holland Park nursery 2013.

Flower lawn plants being propagated at the Holland Park nursery February 2013.

One of the unexpected problems at Holland Park has been – would you believe it – Peacocks!

Pecking peacock!

Pecking peacock!

While it’s really nice to see such magnificent birds wandering freely around the park, they have become quite a nuisance in the hard standing outside the glasshouses. They take quite an interest in the species that are being over-wintered outside. A peck here, a tug there and more than a nibble or two have left some of the winter hardy plants looking, well – peacock pecked!

Another outdoor surprise has been the ‘Alpine’ plant Phyla nodiflora, sometimes known as ‘Frog fruit’ or ‘Turkey tangle’. It’s over-wintered outside well, despite its origins being the famous snowy alpine regions of Florida. Horticultural labeling of ‘Alpines’ seems to me to be in need of a rather serious review.

Winter 2013

This is the second winter that the main trial grass-free lawn has endured. In the first year the lawn disappeared under snow for a while and a temperature of -10.5°C was recorded on the plot. So far this year the snow has been back but the lowest temperature has been a balmy -6°C. The lawn is certainly getting a good climatic trial. Last year (2012) was also the wettest for 100 years after one of the driest years on record the year before. The British weather is being very – British!

January Lawn

January 2013


The seasons and the ever changing weather patterns seem to favour one or two species for a while and then a different group. The lawn is like a tapestry that gets slowly rewoven as first one species then another takes or looses its advantage. I had some concern that bare patches might be a problem during the winter months since some of the species used are truly herbaceous and disappear from sight entirely, but the bare patches are few and very small indeed. Certainly no worse than those in the traditional grass lawns that surround the trial grounds.

There are currently a few English daisies (Bellis perennis) in flower and the Cyclamen coum has put through some nodding pink flowers.

Cyclamen coum in the lawn

Cyclamen coum in the lawn

I wish I had planted snowdrops too!