After many long months of waiting and counting down, the big day finally arrived last week: my very first trip to the Chelsea Flower Show!
Chelsea was as big, grand and inspiring as I was hoping it would be. One of the things I was really struck by was just how seriously this event is taken in the UK. The large grounds of the show were teeming with BBC camera crews doing spotlights on gardens, shows with celebrities (OK, “celebrities” in the gardening world) and interviewing visitors. Every other conversation I overheard was about how that garden looked smaller on TV, or what was said about this garden on a show. And the Chelsea buzz is not just at the show – even as we were visiting gardens outside of London for the long weekend, references to Chelsea were popping up everywhere. Overall, I was impressed with how prominent the show is and the exposure it gets.
Now to the show itself – I could probably do about fifty blogs on it. We arrived there 5 minutes after opening (although we’d planned to be there earlier!), and I couldn’t believe how many people were already there. For a standard show, it would be considered full. We immediately ran over to the “Main Avenue” where the large show gardens are, so we could have a peak without 10 people in front of us. The show gardens were really impressive. It’s remarkable how established and fully mature they can look after only being set in place in the last two weeks. This ain’t no Canada Blooms – no pots of the same hydrangeas or forced bulbs in every garden, poorly hidden in mulch. Plants included everything you can possibly think of, from gigantic trees to wildflower meadows, all perfectly planted with not a hint of artificiality. And of course the water features, hardscaping and other features were all very impressive. Granted, the timing of the show in late May makes this much easier. The gardens also benefit from a backdrop of beautiful, huge trees on the Chelsea Hospital grounds rather than a bleak indoor show hall.
The garden I was most impressed with was the “Wetland Garden” (sponsored by the Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust) pictured above. It had an incredibly natural feel, combined with original design elements. I think it achieved a perfect balance between the natural world and human touch, in a way that is pleasing and comfortable as a garden. It’s inspiring to think that with a little bit of effort, this could actually be in your backyard, to enjoy every day. Another garden that I think achieved this balance perfectly was a small urban garden designed by Angus Thompson & Jane Brockbank. The garden takes inspiration from "memories of forgotten corners in larger gardens". Ahh.. to have a forgotten corner like this one.
Other nice gardens were the Daily Telegraph Garden, which won Best in Show and was designed by Swedish landscape architect Ulf Nordfjell.
The Laurent-Perrier Garden done by first time Chelsea designer Luciano Giubbilei.
And the Marshalls "Living Street" garden showing four different front gardens.
Of course everyone talks about trends that were highlighted at Chelsea. I’m not sure what the official trends were, but I was struck by a few things. First, the very natural planting schemes in many gardens, using more common and natural, non-hybridized flowers was refreshing. Second, the use of colour was very good and clearly something that was paid close attention to in all gardens. I know we’re always told to do this, but it’s hard and it was nice to see it well done at Chelsea. I loved a lot of the gardens on a mostly green theme, but also some of the darker foliage gardens which were very well arranged.
Well, that was a long post and it only takes us through the large show gardens! I'll be back with more from Chelsea soon!