Top tips from Royal Chelsea gardeners

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Thousands of keen gardeners will be flocking to garden centres and nurseries this spring to stock up for the coming season.

Shelves will be bursting with colour and extra staff will be on hand to cope with the increase in garden business. The UK horticulture industry is worth over GBP3 billion pounds each year and retailers have learned to cope with demand.

But with so much choice, how do gardeners decide what plants to buy and where to put them in their gardens? And how do they keep plants flourishing throughout the season, avoiding return trips to replace lost plants? The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the UK’s leading gardening charity, suggests early planning and careful selection to ensure plants thrive throughout the summer.

Plan in advance for best results

For gardeners with internet access, the online RHS Plant Selector (www.rhs.org.uk/plantselector), provides an invaluable tool for planning before you buy and ensuring the plants you buy will be happy in your garden. The service is a searchable guide to choosing plants, designed to help all gardeners to pick plants for their particular requirements. The free service features a carefully selected assortment of 2,000 plants; each entry includes an image and description of the plant, information about cultivation, pests and diseases and whether the plant has the RHS AGM. Each entry links to the RHS Plant Finder to locate suppliers across the UK.

Choose plants you know will perform well

The next consideration is the plants themselves. You may have a choice of 10 suitable shrubs for a particular spot in the garden, all with the same foliage and flower colour. How do you decide which to purchase? The RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) scheme helps all gardeners make informed choices about plants. The award is a measure of excellence, usually given after a supervised trial period at an RHS garden. RHS AGM plants demonstrate excellent performance in the garden, they are commercially available, and they do not require any specialist growing conditions. These characteristics make them a perfect choice for gardeners who want instant success in the garden. Look out for the trophy symbol, which represents the RHS AGM, used extensively on plant labels to help you identify RHS AGM plants at a glance.

Use RHS experience to select plants to wow the neighbours

There are many plants that do not currently hold the RHS AGM but are still great garden plants. As part of its Bicentenary celebrations, the RHS has nominated 200 garden plants for 200 years of great gardening. Hundreds of top plantspeople, professional and amateur, who make up the renowned RHS Plant Committees have contributed their favourite plants to the list, which covers a large range of garden plants currently available to gardeners.

Among the 200 favourites is Astrantia major, the floral emblem of the Chelsea Flower Show 2004 and a top seller in nurseries and garden centres throughout 2003. Other favourites include lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis AGM*), iron cross begonia (Begonia masoniana AGM), common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis AGM) and the many-flowered jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum AGM).

Qview online at www.rhs.org.uk/bicentenary/200plants.asp. Alternatively, the list can be obtained by sending an SAE to: 200 Plants List, RHS Press Office, 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE.

Seek inspiration from RHS gardens and flower shows

The RHS manages four gardens and has over 100 partner gardens in the UK, which are open free of charge to RHS members and are recommended by the RHS as gardens of particular merit. Why not visit a garden to gather ideas for your own patch? Many gardens also hold seasonal events and activities to interest gardeners of all levels of expertise, e.g. RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey has organised Easter trails for children. For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk/gardens

There is plenty to do in the garden this month and a quick look at the calendar of April garden jobs on the RHS website ( www.rhs.org.uk/advice/months/april.asp) tells you priorities for each section of the garden. Tony Dickerson, Horticultural Advisor at the RHS, said, “Gardeners should take particular care with containerised plants this month to ensure a good display throughout the summer. Evergreen pot-bound plants from last season should be re-potted in early April with fresh compost and new plants purchased for pots should be well-watered until established. It may be worth investing in a drip-feed irrigation system for your pots for the summer months. This can keep them regularly watered without waste.”