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Hydrangeas miss the cut for seedings

Flowers are in full bloom for the beginning of the tournament.
by Sarah Edworthy
Wednesday 27 June 2012

It was goodbye yesterday to Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova and Jelena Jankovic. These long-term staples of the Wimbledon ladies singles draw are not the only notable absentees from the 2012 Championships. Ponder, if you will, the fate of The All England Club’s 2,000 hydrangeas. This year, they were not seeded. In fact, they did not even qualify.

For years the traditional purple and green hydrangea displays have been a symbol of the English summer at Wimbledon, but hydrangeas famously ‘like a drink’, and were deemed too thirsty during the drought that, er, gripped the country until very recently. International followers may not know that the British Isles managed to suffer an extreme drought, and low reservoir levels, without ever enjoying a surfeit of sunshine. The wettest April for 100 years still did not properly replenish underground reserves. Just at a critical time for planting at Wimbledon, Thames Water announced a hosepipe ban, which meant The AELTC was forced into emergency drought-resistant planting mode.

Hanging baskets adorning courts and nearby streets were slashed down from 260 to 115 inside the grounds and 362 to zero in surrounding streets. With discreet re-distribution, you would hardly notice that window boxes have been reduced by more than a third, down from 1,800 in 2011 to 1,100 in 2012.

Out went hydrangeas (though for a while fake ones were considered), weeping figs, surfinias and many ornamental evergreen shrubs. In came olive trees and ornamental grasses as well as arid-happy plants such as lavender, salvia, lily of the Nile, bellflower and silverbush to maintain the much-loved colour scheme of purple, green and white. According to Martyn Falconer, who as assistant manager of the landscape contractors Natural Green, helped oversee the makeover, the theme is still “Tennyson in an English country garden” with an introduction of prairie and Mediterranean accents.  

“It’s been a challenge to try to replace the hydrangea and get the same effect,” admitted Martyn. “We’ve had to redesign some of the more permanent beds leaning towards lavender and salvia, lots of ornamental grasses and a lot more olive trees than we've had previously. The hosepipe ban prevented the use of pop-up watering systems and sprays, but we are allowed to use a drip-feed irrigation system so we have extended that as much as we could and fixed leaks wherever possible.” The team also worked on the mulching of beds to prevent evaporation from the soil and added organic matter to flower beds to boost water retention.

And going forward? Will the hydrangeas stage a comeback? “That’s for The Club to decide,” Martyn said. “We’ve had a lot of comments about how it looks just as nice, if not better, than before.”

To update our essential guide to a DIY Wimbledon garden, here are Martyn’s 2012 specifications:

Wimbledon colours – Woodwork can be painted in the specific shade of green that characterises the All England Club: Permaglaze Spruce Green, code 14C39. Should you want to pick outthe colours of the logo, the pantone reference for the green is PMS 349 and for the purple PMS 268.

Lawn – For your Championship-standard garden lawn, you need 100 per cent rye grass, cut to 8mm in the summer and 14mm in the winter. 

Creepers – You can train Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidaca Veitchii) up the sides of your house, garage, garden shed or outbuildings to achieve the Centre Court look.

Tumbling foliage – Hanging baskets and window boxes need to be planted with surfinia (a trailing petunia) in sky blue, blue vein and blue.

For special 2012 replica planting – Think Provencal and Prairie with twisted stem olive trees, French and English lavender, blue festue grass, salvia, agapanthus, ivy-leaf geraniums, convolvulus.

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