WE’VE got to get down to some serious gardening in the week ahead in order to make up for lost time but that’s a small price to pay for the thrill of a Chelsea visit.
When this rather special event beckons everything has to be put on hold for a few days but for us, the benefits of such an experience reverberate throughout the gardening year and beyond.
Being a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) offers several positive returns; the brilliant monthly magazine, free gardening advice and entry to certain gardens, etc, but it is only when visiting Chelsea Show on a members’ day that the full impact of how many like-minded people there are hits home.
Crowds first home in on the eagerly-anticipated competitive gardens which differ in size according to category. Thankfully, they are outlined in the show catalogue, so it makes sense to have that to hand in advance of a visit. Each offering is the brainchild of a chosen designer, who is secured by the main sponsor and has a contractor at his/her disposal to help put it all together.
The Large Show Gardens always prove most popular and this year there were 17 in all, but that is only the beginning. Entrants in the Urban Garden section, which comprised eight entries, had a brief to ‘find clever solutions to the restrictions in space and conflicts of use found in urban environments.’
Smaller still was the space devoted to seven Artisan Gardens. These demanded an artisan approach in designing, building and choosing materials, and the use of materials from natural and sustainable sources in an artistic manner. Generation Gardens (4) demonstrated different ways of using a modest front garden plot.
Seeing each of these is a priority for this fellow, yet there are so many other things to experience at the show. The Great Pavilion, for example. It hosts stunning displays from many of the world’s leading nurseries, florists and plant societies.
So many that I stopped counting after one hundred! Where else could you find masses of tulips, narcissi, delphiniums, foxgloves, roses, chrysanthemums, clematis et al all blooming at the same time? The seasons seemed to have flown out of the window.
But this is Chelsea, and we’re savouring the work of some very resourceful growers.
In keeping with all the gardens sections, they too are vying for gold, silver gilt, silver and bronze medals so the standard is high and competition fierce. Reputations rest on the appearance of each entry which is judged once officially, then countless times afterwards by the world’s visitors as the week progresses.
It’s a pleasure to compare notes after the event with friends and acquaintances, some of whom have visited, others perhaps watched the television coverage. If past experience is anything to go by, that process will continue for many months as the smallest details are recalled.
Sometimes it’s a new plant cultivar spotted on a trade stand, occasionally an innovative gardening tool, or perhaps someone you’ve met or recognised. Visiting the Chelsea Show continues to be a memorable experience.
Arriving on site, the lady of the house and I headed straight for The Daily Telegraph Garden, the brainchild of top designer Cleve West. With two gold medals under his belt from successive Chelsea shows, he was going for third-in-a-row with a gem of an idea that really appealed. Combining the themes of timelessness and change, he would use both traditional and modern materials to create a garden in which they would be as one.
The crowd and television cameras suggested he had been successful and, sure enough, the award read ‘Gold Medal & Best Show Garden’. As people dispersed, following interviewer Alan Titchmarsh with their cameras, Cleve West came over to talk. I congratulated him, explained where we were from and requested a photograph for the Gazette. He obliged, smiled and shook hands.
We could empathise with the tall sculpted columns and classical element so evocative of Roman ruins abroad. The formality of yew set against total informality of knapweed, valerian and bronze fennel, each of which self sow with impunity. Top garden designer status aside, Cleve is also a keen allotment holder and it was a nice touch to see yellow parsnip flowers in this prize-winning garden.
One slight disappointment at the show, which was shared by young gardeners manning The Art of Yorkshire entry, was that it only received a silver medal. It was well-executed and such a lovely idea but perhaps required more than the allotted circa 5 x 4 metres space. Barbara Hepworth’s Ascending Form sculpture certainly looks more at home in the open woodland setting of The Alnwick Garden.
Although plants are not sold directly in the Great Pavilion, it is possible to order from nurserymen there and take delivery later. Reference the stunning display of blooms on the Chrysanthemums Direct stand and a notice which read: ‘Order today – delivery tomorrow’. Deciding to test them, we ordered a collection of 10 late-flowering types on Tuesday afternoon at 3.30 pm. They arrived by post on Thursday. Well done www.chrysanthemumsdirect.co.uk that was good service.