‘Growing for Gold – The Joys of Chelsea’
For five days in May, nestled in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, the world’s most prestigious gardening show opens its doors to the public. Welcome to the Gardening Oscars!
Set in just eleven acres of land, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show is one of the most important events in the gardening calendar and heralds the start of the social season; the place to see and be seen. This year the sun was out and so were the celebs, everyone from Professor Steven Hawking to Ringo Star and Jamie Oliver to Christopher Biggins, all enjoying what Chelsea has to offer; fabulous plants and lots of them.
As usual the standard of gardens was high; fifteen Show Gardens, twelve Urban Gardens and nine Courtyard Gardens all competing for attention and striving for that coveted gold medal. This year’s Show didn’t disappoint and if anything seemed more spectacular than last year.
Of course Tom Stuart Smith’s Garden for Laurent Perrier (Gold Medal) with its grove of birch trees and fresh white planting and Robert Meyers’ garden for Cancer Research (Gold Medal) with yet more birches but with vibrant planting (definitely a popular tree at Chelsea this year) were beautifully elegant and timeless. But amongst our personal favourites were the ‘Victorian Avery Garden’ (Silver Medal) with its serene and ornate rococo feel with Philippa Pearson’s trademark vibrant planting and the beautifully rustic L’Occitane Garden (Silver-Gilt Medal), set in Provence with its lavenders and olives. Being a fan of tropical gardens and complete ‘palm-aholics’ we also loved James Wong and David Cubero’s vision of the Malaysian Garden (Gold Medal), truly enchanting.
We are not sure what the horticultural trends were at Chelsea this year but as one gardening writer commented there were piles of logs everywhere in people’s gardens so that’s one easy trend everyone can take away! Alliums, a Chelsea favourite, were still in evidence but there were surprisingly fewer foxgloves.
A lot of talent was also on display in the small gardens. The Courtyard Gardens (to be renamed ‘Artisan Gardens for 2011), the section that we normally exhibit under, are always popular with the public and rightly so. In a lot of ways they are more relevant to people as it shows what can be achieved in a small space, after all not everyone has a garden the size of a small stately home. The attention to detail and sheer build quality made the ‘Music on the Moors’ garden stand out, well worth its gold medal and Best Courtyard in Show award. We also liked the charm of the ‘Christian Before Dior Garden’ (Bronze Medal), a simple and elegant garden reflecting a garden that Christian Dior designed as a small boy in France. It had Lily of the Valley which was his favourite flower and just one red ‘Dior’ rose symbolising that there was just one Christian Dior.
A visit to Chelsea is not the same without a stroll around the Great Pavilion. There is something for everyone here, whatever your tastes. Luscious lupins, delicious delphiniums and spectacular streptocarpus. The scent is incredible, a heady mix of roses and strawberries fill the air. Being fans of exotic plants we were drawn to the Ainsworth Displays stand as they had some really unusual hardy palms. We did get tempted to order a type of Chaemerops humilis ‘Stella’ especially as there are only 4 in the country, no idea where to put it but we usually find room somewhere. That’s the thing about Chelsea; everything is here, including the expertise. Everything from £20,000 giant bronze snails (wouldn’t it be ironic to stick it in amongst your hostas) to the smallest and rarest of plants.
This year we were at Chelsea as visitors rather than exhibitors, which felt a bit odd, but it did bring back the passion that having a garden at Chelsea gives you. When you exhibit at Chelsea you become very focused as your garden takes over your life, your social life completely disappears and every night you dream ‘Chelsea Dreams’. For months beforehand you are busy planning and nurturing your plants and when you start building the garden nothing else is important, even eating and going to the loo becomes a chore.
When we are exhibiting we always try to finish our gardens early so that we have plenty of time to ‘tweak’ and add that all important detail ready for the judging on the Monday. The pressures of early starts and late finishes fade away when the medals are awarded and you can relax and see the joy in the faces of the visitors as they wander past your garden. A gruelling twelve hours a day, standing by your garden, is worth it to hear people’s comments and see their faces. The worst feeling of all comes on the last day of the Show when the time has come to dismantle the garden. This is quite an emotional experience as you have lived with the design for the past ten months. We won’t miss that feeling this year, especially as this year the final day was wet and miserable; typical Chelsea breakdown weather in fact.
For us, Chelsea will always be a pleasure and a passion, whether you go as a visitor or as an exhibitor, it is always special. When you have had a garden there once it becomes addictive and you want to be there again and again. Fingers crossed we are hoping to be back there next year, and so far its looking promising.
Did You Know ? Last year at Chelsea 2,000 bottles of champagne were drunk, 46,500 glasses of Pimms and 65,000 cups of tea.
Saying of the Month: ‘A swarm of bees in May are worth a load of hay, a swarm of bees in June are worth a silver spoon but a swarm of bees in July aren’t worth a butterfly’.