Dorlay reveals plants set for Chelsea as he seeks 50th gold

Hillier plantsman Ricky Dorlay is targeting a 50th gold medal at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

Ricky Dorlay
Ricky Dorlay

Some 4,000 plants and more than 200 different varieties will be used as Hillier Nurseries & Garden Centres aims for its 70th consecutive RHS Chelsea gold medal.

This year's plants include birch trees, flowering cherries, scented garden roses, flowering cornus, agapanthus, astelias, viburnums, foxgloves and more.

Dorlay has prepared the plant material for the Hillier Chelsea exhibit for the last 50 years.

He said: "Mother Nature holds all the cards and every season is different. The acers are looking really good this year as is Calycalycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’ and, one of my favourites, Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’. My ambition is to get that 70th Chelsea Gold medal for Hillier. That would really be something, wouldn’t it?"









Ricky’s Year


November: Protection under glass


Ricky’s Chelsea preparations start as early as November. Ricky selects those plants from Hillier’s dedicated Chelsea stock, which will benefit from protection over winter under glass. Plants, such as the Japanese maples and certain evergreen varieties susceptible to harsh winter frosts are taken into the Chelsea greenhouse at the Braishfield site.


January: Flowering Cherries


As early as January, Ricky moves the flowering cherries into the cold store when they are very dormant "to go to sleep". He won’t "wake them up" until early May otherwise they will flower too early for Chelsea.


This April, a 10-hour power cut to the cold store was enough for some flowering cherries to emerge from dormancy and burst into flower as the temperature rose out of control.


DID YOU KNOW? Sir Harold Hillier pioneered the technique of cold-storing cherry trees back in the 1920s. He had the idea of storing the flowering cherries in the vast refrigerated meat stores at Southampton Docks. When the trees made their spectacular appearance in full bloom at Chelsea, they caused a sensation as a dramatic Chelsea first. 


Early March to mid-May:


All is then quiet until the end of February to early March when the "stock starts to move", that is when the plants start to come out of their winter dormancy and into leaf. From then until the show itself, Ricky constantly has one eye on the weather reports.


He has to assess the effects of weather and temperature on not just one type of flower but on over 200 different varieties of plant and trees. If a variety is a little slow to develop, it is moved from the glasshouse to the polytunnels. If it’s going to fast, it is moved to the glasshouse or perhaps to the coldstore.

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