Chelsea Flower Show guest post by AJLR
Last week we (self + husband) went to the annual Chelsea Flower Show, which is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital. For gardeners – and for anyone interested in plants, things to do with plants, nifty gifts of anything to do with plants, or just plain old growing things – this is the place to be. Organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, it is the ne plus ultra of such events. It even has a place in the London Season (although the types of hothouse flowers that attend as part of that particular series of events are not usually found in proximity to people with the odd fleck of mud under the fingernails at any other time of the year).
I usually go to Chelsea once every two or three years and spend the years in between visits trying to convince myself that I was wise not to go that particular year. Going to the show is exhausting, inspiring, productive of feelings both of inferiority (in relation to one’s own ability to grow things to their full potential) and superiority (for one’s obvious restraint in avoiding the more naff affectations of some designers). It is enormous fun as a day out, particularly in years when the weather is kind – as it was this year.
The plants of all types, the designs of the show gardens, the endless sales stands of anything conceivably to do with gardening, or being in a garden, are chosen by the RHS to be examples of their kind. The plants, in particular, are as good as it’s possible to get. The judging takes place on the day before the show opens and those who are recipients of bronze, silver, silver gilt or – the pinnacle – gold medals are truly admired by horticulturists of all kinds.
Not least of the things to be marvelled at is the sheer speed and dedication with which everything is constructed – the site is not a permanent one in the sense of the buildings and gardens remaining there throughout the year. Each year everything is brought in, put together and planted, from scratch, in the space of a couple of weeks. At the end of the show, everything is dismantled and put away, many of the plants (or entire gardens) sold on the last day, and the ground re-turfed and turned back into part of the Royal Hospital’s park. One of the great wonders of the Show is that the garden displays look as if they’ve been growing there for years, when in fact it’s only a few days. The skill involved is enormous.
And the plants – well, they’re just wonderful. There are so many plant species represented here, with exhibitors coming in from numerous countries, that it’s hard not to get totally boggled with the number of varieties on show.
One does need a certain amount of stamina – and very comfortable shoes – to ‘do’ the show properly. Towards the later part of the afternoon it is noticeable how many of the displays of garden furniture have clusters of show-goers ‘trying out’ the chairs and garden loungers for ten minutes or so, like tired birds settling on to perches at the end of a long migration. I’ve always thought that the staff of the furniture stands are singularly forebearing, rarely, if ever, turfing people off their displays. I suppose that just wouldn’t be good customer relations…
Anyway, enough talk – have some pictures:
This is one of the show gardens – everything here, with the exception of the big trees behind the stone wall, has been constructed for the show, including the wall itself. Wouldn’t that be a lovely place to have an early morning cup of tea?
I am not, really, a rose addict in the same way that a number of people round here are (looking nervously over my shoulder while admitting to this…) but this one was just so beautiful. If ever there was a rose to be cherished, this looks like a good candidate.
And if there are roses, there has to be lavender. The display from this grower (Downderry nursery, quite near us here in Kent) was stunning. I noticed several bees and other insects exploring the flowers here – though not from the beehive, that was just a prop – and I hope they enjoyed the feast. You can only see one tiny corner of it here but there were at least 60 different varieties on this stand.
One of the nicest displays to my mind was the magnificent show of delphiniums, set up in a corner of the grand pavilion. I wasn’t the only one to think so – there must have been 50 people in that corner, all with a ‘want, want’ sign flashing across their foreheads… The blues and other colours really glowed in the soft light. I did think of trampling those in front of me to get a clear photo of the whole thing…
After walking round the show ground for some time, the feeling of coolness and refreshment from this little water feature and associated planting was almost tangible. The water is actually swirling round the channel at the bowl’s edge.
It’s not just amenity horticulture at Chelsea. The RHS has a big focus nationally at the moment on helping people to ‘grow their own’ and the greatly increased numbers of people wanting to do this across the country has meant that, for the first time in decades, vegetable seeds are outselling flower seeds. I doubt we’ll all want to produce show vegetables but this display was beautifully done and won the President’s Award, a very prestigious prize.
That’s probably enough pictures for one post but if anyone would like to see more (and in bigger sizes) then you’re welcome to have a look at some more of the photos I took on the day. I hope you get some sense of the scale of the show and the many fascinating and beautiful plants (and other items) that come to the Chelsea Flower Show.
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