As the RHS moves in to Tatton to prepare for this year’s Flower Show Tatton Park’s gardening team start work on their show garden. 

This year the team look to pay homage to China’s botanical wealth and to the plant collectors who risked life and limb to bring its horticultural wonders to the West.

Inspired by the results of French missionaries’ attempts to collect plants before them, pioneers such as Ernest Henry “Chinese” Wilson, were commissioned by establishments including the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew in the early 20th century to embark on lengthy expeditions travelling extensively throughout China.

Virtually every garden in Britain enjoys the results of these endeavours as the vast majority are furnished with Chinese originating plants from the ubiquitous Buddleia Cotoneasters at home in many back gardens to the Handkerchief Trees (Davidia involucrata) and Magnolias of great gardens like Tatton.

Over 1,000 varieties were identified by Wilson and his associates in the early 20th century during the heyday of plant collecting. 1910 saw Wilson’s last and most productive expedition having shattered his leg on an earlier trip in pursuit of the Royal Lily.

The garden team at Tatton has honoured the tremendous accomplishments of these 19th and 20th century explorers in the design of their show garden at this year’s RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. The garden takes the form of a traditional Chinese courtyard garden surrounded by a wild forest full of the most notable of the collector’s species. 

The courtyard represents China’s traditional love of horticulture intrinsically linked with its philosophy and religions, in contrast to the wild, rich history of its forested mountains only recently appreciated by the aforementioned Western horticulturalists.

The plants on show in the garden reflect those brought by Wilson and his contemporaries and include the Kiwi fruit (the Chinese gooseberry). Also included are examples of those that can be found in Tatton’s own 50 acre garden making it some of the most beautiful and visited in England. Plants include the Handkerchief Tree in Tatton’s formal gardens, and Acer Davidii, Snake Bark Maples, near the Leech pool.

Simon Tetlow, Tatton Park Head Gardener, said “The RHS show gives us a fantastic opportunity to showcase the great botanical gift China has given the world. Gardens would be very different places without this and Tatton’s is no expedtition. At every turn in our garden there is something beautiful from China and we wish to share this with our visitors to the show and to share with them the stories associated with their history and their journey to west.”


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