Wimbledon’s head gardener shares his planting tips – and an easy hanging basket recipe

We can’t promise that Andy Murray will make it to the second week of this year’s Wimbledon, but with this advice, at least your flowers will.

Anyone for tennis? Well, whether you’re a fan of the game or not, there’s no denying the gardens at the world’s most famous tennis championship are always an inspiration.

The grounds of The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, are the pride and joy of head gardener Martyn Falconer and his team, who work tirelessly through the year to maintain the beds, baskets, hedges… and the famous ivy that covers the show courts.

flowers at The Championships, WimbledonCredit: AELTC/Thomas Lovelock

Shortly before the Championship started, we grabbed Falconer for a chat, to find out his planting secrets. With these Wimbledon garden tips, you can recreate your own little piece of Murray Mound in your back garden.

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1. You’ll need to put the work in all year

Overlay perennials with bedding plants in summer

One of the Horticulture team waters planters on the roof of one of the facilities building at The Championships 2021Credit: AELTC/Jed Leicester

Falconer has nine full-time gardeners working under his wing through the year, who look after everything but the famous grass courts. “There’s a very clear line between what we do and don’t do,” he explains.

“Tennis is played on the grass until September but then there are the indoor courts and clay courts, and tours through the museum, so there are always people around. The grounds have always got to look as good as possible for the whole year – not just for the two weeks of the Championships.”

That said, there’s a big build-up for the Wimbledon tournament proper, so from April through to September Falconer’s team doubles. “There’s a huge overlay of planting – we bring in around 28,000 plants from the UK and Europe. We dress all the temporary structures, we put hanging baskets up, install containers in restaurants inside and out… there’s a lot to do!

“After the champs, it’s very much about stripping out the areas that are no longer used – all of the hospitality marquees disappear, so we’ve got a lot of work to do clearing areas. There are smaller tennis competitions, so a lot of the displays stay until the end of the summer. And then the core team goes back to maintenance – hedge cutting and making the site tidy again.

“In the autumn, we’ll plant a scheme that will see us through the winter – we usually plant around 12,000 bulbs and dress the members’ areas and museum building. We’re always doing something!”

2. Go for an English country garden look

Try Wimbledon’s signature planting style

Flowers overlooking on Court 8 during The Championships 2021.Credit: AELTC/Ben Queenborough

“Our ethos is ‘Tennis in an English Garden’,” says Falconer. “That’s the theme, and we will predominantly be drawn towards purple flowers.” Indeed, Wimbledon is known for its purple and green club colours, introduced in 1909 and seen in everything from the club logo and the flowers to the players’ towels to the umpires’ ties. “But other colours aren’t off limits,” he assures us.

The English garden approach has seen the team move away from planting quite so many bedding plants, such as fuchsias and petunias, instead introducing more herbaceous perennials that they prune and then watch come back in time for the Championship. This gives them more time to focus on creating temporary show gardens around the grounds.

“We use a lot of grasses,” adds Falconer. “They don’t need so much watering. “The good thing about the perennial planting is that once it’s established, the watering is less, so we are taking a more sustainable approach.”

“We’ve got lots of digitalis, aka foxgloves; astrantias are well used for their beautiful flowers, and phloxes give you that splash of colour at the right time of year. In June and July, most of those herbaceous perennials are going to flower for you, so provided you’ve got a good variety, something’s going to work for you at the right time.”

Why are there so many hydrangeas at Wimbledon?

The eagle-eyed among you may spot a fair few hydrangeas at Wimbledon, so how do they fit into the theme?

“Since long before I started, hydrangeas and petunias have been key plants at Wimbledon,” says Falconer. “Admittedly, hydrangeas aren’t what you’d necessarily associate with an English garden, but they’re traditional to the grounds and the event, so we always have them.”

And if you’re wondering about the variety used… “Hydrangea paniculata gives us a nice show,” reveals Falconer.

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3. Keep hanging baskets simple

One variety of flower in three colours makes stunning baskets

Spectators watching the 14 and Under action on the southern outside courts at The Championships 2022Credit: AELTC/Jed Jacobsohn

Our next Wimbledon garden tip concerns a staple of the grounds and viewing platforms – hanging baskets.

“We only use petunias and we always use three different colours in our hanging baskets,” says Falconer. “My favourite combination is sky blue, blue and white for a classic Wimbledon hanging basket.”

Amazingly, Falconer’s team uses in excess of 30,000 petunias to fill baskets and window boxes. Looking after them is straightforward, but they need daily attention.

“With baskets, it’s just about feeding and plenty of watering – there’s not so much soil to hold the moisture and nutrients, so we water them once a day at least,” says Falconer. “Most of our baskets are on automated irrigation systems, so we can run them overnight, when it’s nice and cool.”

“Bedding plants can be quite hungry, so don’t be scared to give them a little bit of feed, either,” he adds. The experts at Groves Nurseries recommend using a nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser like Tomorite or Miracle Gro. “Follow instructions, but always feed when soil is moist and not if plants are wilting,” they recommend.

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Mind that plant!

If you’re visiting Wimbledon this year, remember the work that the team have put in and watch where you tread.

“We do have a lot of challenges with the spectators,” reveals Falconer. “Plants get sat on or stood on so that people can get a better view of a tennis match. We’re out every morning, fixing those small disasters, and we’ve always got back-up plants to do a little swap where we need to.

“We try to walk around with slight tunnel vision during the champs because we otherwise see a lot of ‘crimes against flowers’, but it’s part and parcel of the job.”

4. Leave some of your garden to grow wild

Flower meadows are in (not out) at Wimbledon this year

A view through the flowers behind Court 8 looking towards Centre Court ahead of The Championships 2022Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott

Aside from a potential Nick Kyrgios or Novak Djokovic temper tantrum, you may think there’s nothing particularly wild about Wimbledon. But this year, you’d be wrong.

“Wild flowers are on trend, but they’re also very good for the environment,” says Falconer. “We’ve taken areas that are harder to maintain and mow, the steeper banks, and turned them into wild flower meadows that can self-seed and evolve.

“One example is a really nice bank next to the new indoor tennis centre, which is part of the VIP entrance. It’s not too pristine – it’s showing that gardening isn’t always about nitpicking perfection, but that it can be a little bit wild. As they say, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place.

“Some people want a pristine garden, and that’s fine, but there are other options. If people can just leave small areas of their grass untouched, it’s great news for bees and other insects. You don’t have to mow the whole lawn. Leave an uncut strip down the side or in a corner – that’s enough.”

5. Ivy can make anything look beautiful

Beware, some climbers need a lot of maintenance

exterior of Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis ClubCredit: AELTC/Bob Martin

One planting feature that’s synonymous with Wimbledon is the green foliage that wraps itself around Centre Court. “It’s completely covered in Parthenocissus tricuspidata, which most people will know as Boston ivy,” reveals Falconer. And as beautiful as it may seem, the ivy (which is a close relative of Virginia creeper) comes with its challenges. “It’s not easy to look after – it grows very quickly,” he adds.

“One of the members of the team has just spent a week working around Centre Court on a scissor lift, cutting away ivy from windows and vents, trimming and tidying just to get us through the two weeks of the Championship. We’re already going back around again – within a week, it can grow a foot (30cm) or even more.”

It’s unlikely, however, that the ivy will disappear, despite the maintenance it requires, because it’s another part of the history of the venue and the event. “I believe it was used to soften the original concrete court structure, which was perhaps not as pretty as they can make buildings in this day and age,” says Falconer. “I’ve seen pictures in the archives from the 1920s where the ivy is on Centre Court, so it goes back a long way!”

6. Try to deal with weeds and pests naturally

Wimbledon gets unwanted visitors, just like any garden

Gardening staff trimming the hedges at WimbledonCredit: AELTC/Thomas Lovelock

As with any any other garden, there’s plenty of weeding to be done at Wimbledon. Falconer is realistic in that he and his team can’t keep on top of everything, so there will be weeds here and there. Happily, he has fewer pest problems, other than with his topiary…

“The only real pest issue we have is the buxus caterpillar [also known as box tree moth], which we keep on top of with pheromone traps. And we use buxus [box] slightly less than we used to, because infestations can become a bit of a problem.

“Otherwise we’re a site with lots of birds and wildlife that happily feed on the insects and keep on top of them for us. Only if it’s really necessary will we intervene with any sort of insecticide, but we try not to.

“If you’re clean and tidy with your maintenance you won’t introduce too many pests, and there’s enough wildlife to take care of what is there.”

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Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her

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Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover. You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life.

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