Normally I watch the Chelsea Flower Show coverage on the BBC, but this year my wife and I braved the crowds and attended the show. My impressions are mixed. It was interesting to be able to see the gardens up close; they actually appear quite different in the flesh, the TV cameras distorting their dimensions quite considerably, usually making the gardens seems bigger than they are.
One advantage of being there was that, whereas I can only wonder what a plant might be as the camera pans by during the TV coverage, it was possible to ask what certain flowers were and to get a really look close look at the planting. A downside was that in order to get up close one had to engage in a quite undignified scrum, deflecting incoming elbows that were determined to shove one out of the way. I soon realized that waiting patiently for a gap to appear, and expecting others to do the same, was naive as people ducked into the spaces that opened before me. My wife, who has been to previous shows, was more forthright and succeeded in getting in amongst things better than I.
The pavilion was equally busy, with certain stands particularly impossible to get a good look at. The David Austin stand was overflowing with people and was extremely difficult to navigate, so much so that we chose to exit it rather than try and make our way around it through the shoving hoards. One noticeable thing with many of the stands was that the flowers were already starting to look very tired; roses were wilting and browning and the red Meconopsis (Meconopsis cambrica?) that made an appearance on Tuesday night’s show had lost all its vigour, the petals drooping badly.
Of the various gardens I had some definite favourites. Of the show gardens I particularly enjoyed the Telegraph Garden designed by Cleve West and the Monaco Garden designed by Sarah Eberle. The Times Kew Garden designed by Marcus Barnett had some lovely planting but I wasn’t totally convinced by the pavillion, though the idea of echoing the cellular structure of plants was a novel and intriguing one.
Seen in the flesh, the Telegraph Garden was more impressive than when viewed on TV, which was not the case with all of the gardens. The planting had a great freedom and movement about it and a sense of wildness that worked well with the columns and conveyed a sense of nature reclaiming from humanity.
The Monaco Garden managed to seem both exotic and familiar and the colour combination of orange against purple was stunning. It would be easy to imagine oneself reclining by the pool!
Diarmuid Gavin’s Irish Sky Garden was very green and very architectural in the way that the plants had been used; the big box balls undulated away and gave a good rythm to the design. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to see as much of the garden as can be seen when viewing it on TV. That isn’t a bad thing as mystery in a garden encourages one to explore it, but with the rope barrier firmly in place I wasn’t going to get that opportunity. The ‘flying’ pod sat well in its environment but I’m not sure that it was so successful when hoisted; lifting it made it conspicuous and isolated rather than part of the mystery making it altogether less interesting.
Of the Urban Gardens, I think the judges were spot on, The Winds of Change Garden by Jamie Dunstan winning Best Urban Garden. The use of the wind turbines was certainly original but for me the contrast between the rich mahogany bark of the Prunus serrula tibetica and the rest of the planting was the real stand out feature. The Power of Nature garden by Olivia Kirk also had some interesting contrasts happening between slate and the planting.
The Artisan Gardens were all little pockets of pleasure but the star of the show for me was the Hae-woo-so Garden by Jihae Hwang. It was idyllic and tranquil and full of lush green and silver foliage. It felt solid and sincere, as though it had been growing there for ever rather than only recently constructed.
My favourite plant from the Pavillion was a new rose by Harkness Roses called Chandos Beauty which is a must for the autumn. And there were plenty of Allium varities which will also be finding their way on to the autumn shopping list.
Overall I enjoyed my visit but I don’t think I’ll be rushing back next year, it will be back to the TV coverage for me. Check out my wife’s blog for a few more pics and her thoughts on the day.