About a week ago today, I was in the early morning lineup to the one-and-only Chelsea Flower Show. Chelsea is a big deal around here, and having first attended last spring, this time around I knew that for the best viewing – sans enormous crowds – you must be there when the gates open. Any outsider seeing the early morning lineup could have easily confused the feisty old gardening ladies jostling for position for teenage girls waiting to see their latest pop idol. Security guards repeatedly warned us “not to surge” and “proceed slowly and calmly” once the gates opened.
Like most, the highlight of Chelsea for me is the large show gardens. Designing a Chelsea garden must be one of the most demanding artistic endeavors imaginable, not to mention a logistical nightmare. And of course it’s also a pricey undertaking - one exhibitor told us the average price tag of each large show garden is around 3.5 million pounds!
You can find all of the information about the show gardens (and more) on the Chelsea site, but here are some of my highlights from my 9 hour marathon visit.
M&G Garden by Roger Platts
A very traditional cottage garden with some of the most amazing planting I have ever seen. Given that cottage gardens have been done a lot, it's quite remarkable to still be able to wow an audience with one. If you were actually allowed into the garden, I could have spent hours sitting in this one.
Daily Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon
Many people’s (and my) favourite garden at the show, which is an impressive feat considering the unbelievable quality of gardens this year. The inspired mix of Mediterranean and English made for an innovative design which set this garden apart (and earned it ‘Best in Show’). I loved the colour scheme, plant choices and pairings, and well-integrated modern design elements. They don't get much better than this.
Laurent-Perrier Garden by Tom Stuart Smith
I really, really liked this garden. Again, planting was stunning (it seems that this year's theme was rich, loose, naturalistic plantings, which was nice to see). The contrast with modern design elements and shaped boxwood made for a well balanced composition.
Kebony – Naturally Norway by Darren Saines
This garden got mixed reviews from our group of visitors, but I really liked it. The combination of bold, clean modern elements against naturalistic plantings created a powerful visual contrast. The focal point was a gnarled pine, taken from a rock face in a Norwegian quarry along with about 4 tones of rock to preserve its roots. I don't really agree with taking such plants from the wild, but I’m telling myself that maybe it was actually saved from impending destruction. I asked if they were planning to put it back afterwards, but they didn't seem too impressed with that idea. It was going to be planted in a garden instead - hopefully it will survive.
The Tourism Malaysia Garden, by David Cubero & James Wong
This is one of the first times I have seen a well designed tropical garden. Often ‘tropical’ just means a whole lot of random, large-leaved plants. In this garden, however, plants actually appeared to be carefully chosen - predominantly dark green foliage contrasted with lighter ferns and rich burgundy and brown foliage and bark. Set against white stone and dark wood hardscaping, the overall effect was great.
I could go on and on about Chelsea, but it's really something that has to be experienced first hand. It's worth the treat. Just make sure to get there early to avoid the crowds!