Wimbledon: Plants of The Championships 2016. What makes up the outstanding garden display at the world’s most famous tennis tournament?
The slow-growing evergreen box plant, Buxus sempervirens, is the plant of choice for the topiary balls and cones at Wimbledon. Regular clipping of the foliage and twigs ensures a clearly defined geometric shape of dense, small leathery leaves, which creates a crisp, clean contrast for the herbaceous perennials and wispier show of colourful annuals.
Martyn Falconer, the AELTC Head Gardener, explains they use the box to add structure in the plantings around the tennis grounds. “Different plants offer different characteristics to a planting – structure, height, volume, texture, softness”. It was feared the hardy plant might be withdrawn for health reasons, but he adds “It’s escaped being knocked out by box blight and the box tree caterpillar [that has been decimating gardens throughout the United Kingdom]”.
Spherical ball-shaped box plants feature along the top of the roof of the Broadcast Centre overlooking Court 18, with neatly trimmed cones used in troughs in front of the Referee’s Office, the Umpires’ HQ, outside the Museum and underneath the main Order of Play board just inside the main gates.
Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidaca ‘Veitchii’, adorns walls of the All England Club’s Centre Court complex. The creeper-clad walls create the distinguishing visual feature of the grounds, symbolising the 130 years of tradition as a tournament venue. A flowering plant in the grape family and unrelated to true ivy, the signature creeper is green over summer turning a beautiful red and orange in the autumn.
The Boston ivy was stripped off during the 2006-2008 redevelopment of Centre Court, and was replanted from scratch. Seven years of growth has covered the masonry walls quite well, although not so well on the north side which gets less sun.
A strange-but-true fact about what Boston ivy and the grass courts have in common? The answer is chalk. The climber secretes calcium carbonate, or chalk, which acts as an adhesive pad that attaches to the wall, and the lines of the court are painted with a chalk-based substance.
More than 200 ornamental baskets brimful of petunias add splashes of dark purple, blue-veined purple and white blooms against the dark green masonry walls. The hanging basket is a quintessentially English garden feature – supplying a flourish of plant life and cheer where it would otherwise be impossible.
There are also a few red petunias gracing some of the baskets, their inclusion beginning in 2014, the centenary of the Second World War, and something the gardeners have kept going for a good pop of contrast colour.
More than 15,000 petunias are planted throughout the grounds. Some hang from baskets in spherical balls, some are mounted as semi-circular troughs. Others line beds with a soft touch and a flower-and-foliage combination that is an accurate nod to the purple, green and white colours of the club logo. All conjure a sense of natural abundance in tune with the English Country Garden feel.
They are the first plants to go in when the main planting starts in the first week of May. A team of 12 plant, maintain and water everything that comes to site, and are there every morning watering and deadheading from 6am until the gates open to the public.
Hydrangea ‘Magical Amethyst’ Blue is the hydrangea used at Wimbledon. It’s a compact, richly flowering mophead variety that produces clusters of multi-petalled blooms and boasts sensational colour-changing characteristics.
The English Country Garden is the ‘look’ for the backdrop for the prestigious tournament, and this hydrangea is perfect. Its robust flowerheads open in a pale lime green, change to a jewel-like blue, morph into a pinky-blue, before fading back to soft limey green – that’s four changes of colour.
“I saw it at a horticultural show and thought it was a perfect fit for the planting scheme here. The colour change didn’t go quite as planned last year, so it was great to be able to have a conversation with the grower and explain what colours we would like to see during The Championships,” says Martyn.
Yes, even Wimbledon’s horticultural stars have to conform to a strict dress code!
Other plants used for the English Country Garden include allium, white and blue agapanthus, climbing roses Madame Alfred Carrière and New Dawn, Euonymous fortunei ‘Harlequin’, Salvia ‘Amistad’, foxgloves and campanula.