RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Meet the young flower growers

Jack and Laura Wildegoss, the young Viola growers exhibiting at Chelsea for the first time, reveal what it takes to be ready to display at Chelsea

We’ve the largest collection of violas in the UK. I love them because they’re beautiful and make people smile. I’m going to display them in vintage containers and terracotta pots. I’m really excited and it’s an incredible feeling to know we’re going to exhibit. It’s utterly wonderful.

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Chelsea isn’t a place to be anonymous! But this was our dream when we first took over the nursery. Laura and I always wanted our own nursery so we took on one with violas. They just make me feel cheerful and they smell delicious. I’m addicted to them. They’re brilliant border flowers with varied colours and shapes. They’re considered old-fashioned flowers but they look as beautiful in a cottage garden as well as a mews house. They’re so charming they can fit in everywhere.

But this year it’s really nerve-racking. I need to have the violas looking perfect but the vagaries of the weather are making things quite hard. I started preparing the flowers in January. I selected the ones I thought would work well and then spent the next few weeks tidying up their leaves. In the beginning of March I planted them up in containers. 

The weather doesn’t help. It was very cold in the early spring and then the weather changed and it got hot then went cold again. This has an effect on the violas. We want them to be perfect for Chelsea – healthy and flowering – but it isn’t easy. I am getting about 80 violas prepared and am intending to take 60. I move them into polytunnels if they look as if they aren’t coming into flower in enough time. If I think they’re about to flower too early, I put them outside. We really have no more mod cons than that. I actually have a nightmare whereby I drive to Chelsea in my van and open it up and there are no violas in there. This makes me worry. I really want it to be a success.

I never really thought I’d end up specialising in one plant. I love all plants but this is what I’m doing now. I know people wonder what someone my age is doing running a nursery because to see someone under 40 doing this is rare, but I feel passionate about it. I don’t think most people my age really realise how important space is.

A career in gardening is undermined really. It does require skill and knowledge and it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. I find it an exciting career full of interesting and quirky people and I hope exhibiting at Chelsea will help people see that being young in this business is a good thing.

As told to Lucy Cavendish

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Coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show begins on BBC1 tonight (Sunday 17th May) at 5.35pm