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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Press day at Chelsea Flower Show

I love the month of May and I love the Chelsea Flower Show. I love having a birthday too when Press Day and my birthday coincide - well, let's just say I was in seventh heaven.

There was an early start on the 6.54 am train to St Pancras, a mad scramble on the tube and a brisk walk to get to the Royal Hospital Grounds  early with my friends and colleagues Dave Andrews and Chris Gutteridge. First stop was coffee and a meet up with garden designer Karen Gimson who would be walking and talking around the gardens with us.

Here they are with the lovely Jenny Agutter.

But at Chelsea, there's so much to see and do, so we were given 45 minutes to have a quick squizz around and choose a garden each to discuss. I literally whizzed around the site, refusing to be diverted by all of the shopping opportunities. That's a first...
Gardens, gardens, gardens! Obviously, we couldn't talk about all of them, but these are the gardens we decided to feature...

In pole position was Diarmuid Gavin's The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden. I stopped, entranced by the octagonal folly, seduced by the topiary and terraces, those open gates which drew me in.

I loved the planting - the Duchesse de Nemours paeonies , the verbascum , the roses , the box and the angelica.

I loved the quirky little potting shed too, but then came the sheer theatre, and the surprise....the garden started to come alive. The topiary which twirled around, the box which rose up from the beds and then retreated, the border which danced around the folly. Inspired by  Heath Robinson's designs,
this attracted a lot of attention.

Speaking to Diarmuid later, he said that he had designed this for fun, not for a medal, and I believed him. But it turns out the judges like a bit of fun too, and he was awarded a silver gilt medal. Quite rightly so, as this garden lived up to it's British eccentric short, bonkers but brilliant!

A very striking garden was "God's own county - a garden for Yorkshire. It was designed by the rather dashing Matthew Wilson who now lives in Rutland, but who spent hours up in Yorkshire getting a feel for his brief..

 We were taken by the stained glass and stone inspired by York Minister using the same methods which were used back at the beginning of the 15th century. I loved the planting to reflect the jewel like colours of the glass.

Last year in May, I blogged about the RHS report on Greening Grey Britain and how  paving over our front gardens could be negatively affecting our wellbeing.

See here..

This year designer Ann- Marie Powell
has come up with the RHS Greening Grey Britain for health, happiness and  horticulture garden.

Wow, this packed a powerful punch packed with flowers, fruits and vegetables planted into every single inch. Beans and tomatoes  grown on a  rooftop, a water feature to sooth , a wildflower meadow, a pergola covered with roses and plenty of benches to sit and chat, to think.

 I loved it, a garden full of verve and brio, just like Ann-Marie Powell.  She's a brilliant funny, and honest...she was particularly grateful that her garden was the only show garden not being judged. I think though that she might have won something. Certainly there's some ideas here which I'll be using in the next few seasons .
Then it was onto my favourite garden of the show, The St John's Hospice - A modern Apothecary designed by Jekka McVicar. In the hurly burley of Chelsea, this exuded calm and tranquillity in both the planting and the landscaping.

The cooling trickle of water onto the raised cobbles, the densely packed thymes were so pleasing and the bees were loving the lavender and herbs. This was a perfect, living embodiment of the healing power of plants.



When talking to Jekka McVicar  the experience of creating this garden and growing all of the plants wasn't quite as stress free and relaxing as the final garden. In fact she told me that she won't do another one, that's it...which I think is rather a shame as many loved this quiet reflective spot, including the judges who gave her a silver gilt medal. Mary Berry sitting here with Jekka rather liked it too.


But for Karen and Chris , the garden which really took their fancy was Andy Sturgeon's Telegraph Garden. Reverential mutterings about perfect form and execution could be heard...and intakes of breath as they admired the geologically inspired garden.

Then a decisive "Best in Show" from Karen,with Chris agreeing...and they were right, as Andy Sturgeon was awarded the title of  yes, the Best in Show.


The most stunning exhibit though  was the 5000 Poppies project. Set up by two Australian women who wanted to crochet 120 poppies to lay at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne three years ago, in memory of their fathers, this has become an emotive, symbolic and stirring triumph
designed by Phillip Johnson .

Against the backdrop of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, we could only stand quietly, admire and inwardly weep at the stirring sight of 300,000 poppies individually crocheted.

There's more on Chelsea to come....


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