21 May 2013

Chelsea Girl: my visit to The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

It could only be Chelsea!
As my first year of garden design training draws to a close, I was determined to visit Chelsea Flower Show.  It was an extraordinary new experience - I'm as passionate about ornamental plants as the next person, even though I focus on growing edibles - and Chelsea is deservedly the flagship show of the RHS.

Comprehensive media coverage is fantastic for those that can't get to the show but the real thrill is to be there and experience the plants and gardens up close - and to have the time to linger and think, something a television show can't do.

The weather can make a huge difference to enjoyment of the show and I struck lucky with a dry day of mild temperatures. The designers must have been relieved as the gardens were shown to perfection and interviews in-situ were easier for not being rained on.  It would have been possible to dash into the Grand Marquee, should the need arise, but that area was humming with people who'd come to see the exuberant plant displays.

It was fun trying to match the designer to the show gardens; Christopher Bradley-Hole's style was very recognisable in his clever and subtle interpretation of the English countryside, as was Jinny Blom's innovative planting in the Sentebale Forget-Me-Not garden and Roger Platt's romantic cottage garden style. I wasn't expecting to see Homebase at the show (given their propensity for killing off plants in their garden centres) but Adam Frost had created a realistic and achievable edible garden for them; full of good ideas for incorporating edible plants into an ornamental garden, there was plenty to take away from here for the home gardener.  Chris Beardshaw's garden for Arthritis Research was beautifully layered in telling the journey of an arthritis sufferer and worthy of a longer look. It deservedly won the People's Choice award.

Top left, clockwise: Chris Beardshaw, Adam Frost, Christopher Bradley-Hole, Jinny Blom

Roger Platt for M+G

The garden that I would award 'Most thought-provoking' to would be Jo Thompson's Stop The Spread; with half the space allocated to an avenue of dead trees, it's been designed to highlight the spread of pests and diseases that are destroying plants and trees in the UK. The contrast between the two areas of the garden certainly provoked comment - and, hopefully, further thought.

'Stop The Spread' by Jo Thompson

Looking for somewhere to sit for lunch, I wandered on into the Artisan Gardens, tucked into the woodland area.  Each tiny garden told a story: a glimpse back into the magic of childhood for the NSPCC, a Hebridean weaver's cottage, the Yorkshire Tour de France, a physician's healing garden …

Clockwise from top left: Yorkshire garden, Hebridean weaver's garden, physic garden, NSPCC garden.

But out of all this extraordinarily beautiful and inspired planting, one garden that I had to see was 'Bird Columny', the Fresh Talent creation of three very talented students on my course at Capel Manor.  The 'Fresh' area is where cutting edge designers can be showcased.  The garden spaces are set around three laser cut columns and it was one of these that the Capel team were given to plant up.

Thankfully my allegiances weren't tested as 'Bird Columny' (their exhibit) was a brilliant naturalistic salute to UK hedgerow plants and their benefit to wildlife. At the end of Press Day judging, the RHS agreed and the team - JAM garden design - was awarded with a Fresh Talent Gold. I know that the team, and Capel Manor who trained them, were thrilled with this achievement.

As this was the first time of visiting the Chelsea Flower Show, I can't measure it against previous years, suffice to say that I found it enthralling. Talking afterwards to gardeners and media folk, I could tell that opinions were diverse. It was interesting to see how people's reactions to the show varied but I'm definitely good for a few more years of visiting this wonderful show.

… And I haven't even mentioned the retail therapy! 


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