Saturday, 28 May 2011

2011: Chelsea highlights

Best in Show: Cleve West's take of old meets new in this spectacular feast of mixed planting sponsored by the Daily Telegraph
Every year I make sure I get some time at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and, despite the crowds and hype, I am never disappointed. In fact, I usually come back with my head buzzing with ideas, planting combos and the odd new technique and, weather aside, this year was no exception.

Hubbie and I always go on the Thursday evening. It's cheap, a little less crowded and we can get a day's work in beforehand. As we arrived this time, though, our thoughts of Pimm's on the lawn were washed away as we were met by Hurricane Chelsea. The heavens opened, hail issued forth and the winds whipped the bamboos to a horizontal posture. What happened next was a miracle: everyone went home and then the sun came out. So prepare yourself for a visual feast as for once I got some stunning photos because Joe Public wasn't getting in the way. We even managed some Pimm's, albeit it on a soggy lawn.

Following our usual routine, we took in the big show gardens first, which seemed more believable after the deluge. One of the things I love about plants is the way they visibly perk when treated well and similarly wilt when abused; much like people really. In the big gardens we had the Daily Telegraph's Best in Show, seen above, and dear old Diarmuid Gavin's Irish Sky Garden. Sadly the suspended pod thing was down as the winds might have transported it to the Thames, but it still looked spectacular, if you like that sort of thing. He was inspired by Avatar, apparently, which accounts for a lot as I thought the film was ridiculous. When you use a tin opener to expose human emotion, you negate the need for emotive translation and thought, which sums up this impressive but too demential garden. It was lucky to get a gold. But I am obviously in a minority as it was voted the People's Choice.
OK not a great shot of Diarmuid Gavin's garden but as all the flowers were in the pod it was hard to do much more than share the emeraldness of it all
The Laurent-Perrier show garden is always a class act and this year's garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei was no exception. The planting was superb with widespread use of orange to highlight the ubiquitous purples and whites. I do hate it when in the past the show gardens have had monochrome planting, I think it was three years ago every garden was purple as if flowers don't come in red, orange or yellow. I do think it's harder to pull off, but I prefer a mixture of colours, a riot, because gardens in my view should be a celebration for the senses and being greedy by nature, I want the lot.

Laurent-Perrier, always a class act
We then trotted off to the small or artisan gardens, which are always my favourite. Somehow the small space intensifies creativity and also inspires humour, which again I think can really work if it is done right. As I trotted along the boulevard of sweet-smelling canvases, each was more perfect than the last. I loved A Child's Garden in Wales by Ysgol Bryn Castell, the horticultural students of Heronsbridge School and Anthea Guthrie. It was toys and veg all laid out on a make-do-and-mend theme. It might have been designed by my favourite folk artist Julie Arkell.

The Child's Garden, daring to be shambolic, hence Silver not Gold, but I loved it

Next up was the Artisan Garden Best in Show, which was a jaw dropper. Emptying One's Mind (Hae-woo-so) by Jihae Hwang was the representation of essentially an outside loo where presumably you got to empty more than just your mind. Hae-woo-so is literally Korean for toilet where they believe going to the loo is a spiritual experience. I can see that. The attention to detail in this garden was astonishing, technical and aesthetic in equal measure. The space was awash with detail without looking at all staged. If the journey to the outside privy was that lovely, even I might be tempted.
A South Korean vision of mind over matter

Then just as I thought it couldn't get any better, we found A Postcard from Wales by Kati Crome and Maggie Hughes. I just loved it. Somehow the damp atmosphere suited it perfectly and with the rain-soaked, unkempt lawn and soggy shingle beach we were taken to Wales through a very lovely mind's eye. I particularly liked the way they had underplanted their alliums with Stachys byzantia. Alliums have great blooms but minimum foliage so giving them a bed of those silvery lamb's ears worked perfectly.
Welsh lamb's ears at their best

Next, with Pimm's in hand, we headed off to the Grand Marquee to find, under strict instructions from my Mother, the Plant of Show, Anenome Wild Swan, which has stunning large white flowers with pale blue stripes on the exterior of the petals. Unlike many anenomes, this one has large flowers but is on the short side so ideal for the front of a border.
Anemone, Wild Swan, nodding attractively 
It also, apparently, has an evening nodding habit, which is a good thing in anemones, perhaps less so in husbands. I was chuffed to see local nursery the Richmond Palm Centre had bagged Gold for its bamboo stand. Having been a huge fan of Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) I am now going to have to have some of their Phyllostachys bambusoides castillonis, which had huge honey-coloured stems and were underplanted by the dwarf variety Sasa veitchii, which I remember was used like lawn in Vietnam.
I like it big, I like it chunky (not a Madagascar fan? pity)
Finally as the evening closed in we looked at the Urban Gardens including Best in Show, Jamie Dunstan's Winds of Change. My photo doesn't do it justice but the metal garden room was wonderfully cosy. Again like the Child's Garden in Wales, the theme was reuse, which I would of course like, and the planting used one of my favourite shrubs, Sambucas nigra, which I have in my garden so I thought I'd finish with a shot of my own little bit of Chelsea, no prize winner but still a piece of heaven
Getting the Urban Garden right 
Struggling to see the resemblance? Oh well I'll just have to keep on trying. Maybe next year...

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