Showing posts with label Chelsea Flower Show. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chelsea Flower Show. Show all posts

21 May 2015

The rain of weightless happiness - Press Day at RHS Chelsea flower show

If you're at all interested in gardening, you can't have failed to see coverage of this year's Chelsea Flower Show in all the media. I expect many readers will be almost as familiar with the gardens as those that were lucky enough to be there in person.  I was one of those fortunate folk on Press Day, the Monday before the show opens its gates to RHS members and the public.

It was raining; did I care? Not a bit, the persistent rain really did have a silver lining.  This time, it kept the crowds at bay (or at least in the Great Pavilion) giving unfettered views of the gardens to those in stout shoes and waterproof coats, including me.  And, actually, the rain presented a softer light for taking photographs than hot sunshine (although my hands wouldn't have been so cold in the sun!).

It's impossible to be restrained surrounded by acres of inspirations so I took nearly 300 photographs. I've been going through those over the past couple of days and can see how similar the plant choices were in the show gardens. Dan Pearson's garden for M+G was the beautiful naturalistic exception to this with some unusual plant choices. His design drew inspiration from the rockery and trout stream of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and included Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata), Primula japonica, Gunnera, Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Rocket), Martagon lilies and salsify (Tragopogon crucifolius). There were huge willow trees planted near giant boulders which had been transported from Chatsworth to Chelsea for the show - and which will be returned at the end of the week. His garden filled the triangle at the southern end of the site; a difficult spot to design for and yet Dan's garden looked as though it had been there for years. Less manicured, more natural; I loved it.

As someone who loves tramping the wilder parts of Hampstead Heath, and lived for a short while close to the Yorkshire Moors, this garden makes my heart sing and very deservedly won both a gold medal and Best in Show. I overheard a journalist asking Dan for a quote about the garden; he smiled gently and said "I'm very happy with it."  An understated response, surely.

Dan was happy to chat to anyone who approached, whether it was about the garden or dishing out advice about plants. When it was my turn for a chat I asked what he'd enjoyed most about being back at Chelsea. His response was to give credit to the whole of the Crocus team, adding how likeable they all are which made the build process very enjoyable. Nice. Good choice of coffee cup too, holding another warming brew.

From then on, I was on a bit of a roll.  Having been armed with a hi-vis jacket declaring me to be 'RHS Press', I wandered around chatting to the designers and taking their photos. (Yes, I did give the jacket back afterwards.)

The show gardens lived up to, and occasionally exceeded, expectations - but there's been ample coverage of those. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

Top: A Time Inbetween - designer Charlie Albone uses this space as an allegory of his life and feelings since his father died; Sean Murray of the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge uses Ajuga reptans, saxifrage and violas to green up a driveway
Middle: Andrew Wilson's Living Legacy garden commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo;
The Beauty of Islam garden - the minimal cool green planting in the simulated courtyard really appealed to me.
Bottom: A Perfumer's Garden in Grasse (James Basson) was a space I would dearly love to spend time in;
The Retreat - Jo Thompson's beautiful planting surrounded a natural pond with synchronised swimmers on the day.

An area that I thought was hugely improved from last year was the Fresh section.  These small conceptual gardens aim to convey a message and, in the past, haven't really done it for me but, excitingly, this year managed to be entertaining, interesting and beautiful as well. This Japanese garden attracted my attention,; there's a lot going on in a very small space: moss balls, water, pebbles and wonderful planting combined with a clean Japanese aesthetic.  The waterfall cascaded through a circle in the perspex roof.  Dramatic. I also now really want to know how to make moss balls.

'Beyond our Borders', another Fresh garden, gave food for thought with a very quirky representation of the way plant diseases can spread across continents - and illustrated the whole point of plant passports. Initially I wondered about those rainbow slinkies but it all made perfect sense once the concept of the garden - and the important message behind it - was explained.

And I was mesmerised by this garden. The artist was completely still as he carefully positioned one stone atop another in an unbelievably improbable balancing act.  I tried to video him but his movements were so slight and precise that it looked like a very long still photo. I took the liberty of asking how had he come to this chosen career?  The balancer had spent years balancing small pebbles on the beach before working up to the big stuff.  So there you have it: time spent loafing on the beach is merely preparation for greater things to come. Who'da thought it?

The show offers so much for each individual visitor, whether looking for design inspiration, advice on flowers and shrubs from the nurserymen, or just a jolly good day out, but I can't leave without a backwards glance at what, for me, is the highlight of the show ... the flowers.  Although the growers can work magic in bringing together a palette of plants that would otherwise be in bloom before or after Chelsea week, I'm always fascinated to see how these plants are used. It's breathtaking and beautiful.  So I regretfully turn my back on Chelsea until next year with a reminder of a few of my favourites ...

Aquilegia; orange Verbascum, Lysimachia, bronze fennel, Astrantia; Eremurus with Orlaya grandiflora.
Digitalis (foxglove), Geranium, pink Verbascum with Camassia leichtlinii.
Nectaroscordum allium , purple Aquilegia with lupins, flag Iris with ferns and Primula japonica.

12 Jun 2014

My RHS Chelsea (Day Two): Surely the last blog post on Chelsea!

On a practical, take-it-home-with you, level, the Telegraph garden was my first choice.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Here we are again. After a quick end-of-month interlude, I'm back to reviewing my Chelsea photos.  Visiting Chelsea Flower Show is a bit of a twelve course dinner: looks great, you want to eat it all but, my gosh, there's too much for one sitting! There's a bit of mental pressure to get the blog posts written and published in tune with the rest of the blogging world but it's much more relaxed to pop back later via photos and really think about what I've brought away with me in ideas and inspiration.

This year, there was colour

This rainbow of lupins was a startling sight! I admit this wouldn't be to everyone's taste but it was certainly eye-catching. Part of my teenage years were spent living in the countryside in Yorkshire. I loved it, apart from the nightly ritual of checking my bed for earwigs. In the summer, they were ever-present.  I heard that they were particularly drawn to lupins in the garden; although we didn't have any lupins, my dislike of earwigs latched onto that thought.  This summer, for the first time, I've planted lupins in the gardens here as they've been gradually creeping back into my thoughts; this display just sealed my admiration. Designers are taught to draw inspiration from all around and I could easily see this image as a textile - a Kaffe Fassett cushion or embroidered panel, perhaps.

Of course I had to search out the Interflora stand as they were the reason that I was able to be at the show on Saturday. The emphasis here, as with so much of this year's show, was on young talent and the company had chosen five of its finest young florists to decorate large hanging egg shapes, for which they were awarded a gold. Jolly well done - and it's great to see young people given the chance to shine.

There was inspiration:

A pretend cat slept in the Alitex/Thrive greenhouse - presumably to stop people getting too cosy in that lovely armchair. Most people did a double take, thinking that the cat was real! But what a great chair for sitting in while drinking tea and reading at the end of a gardening day. Bring me a kettle and I could live in that greenhouse.

More inspiration, seen in the Pennards garden: this little lookout perch for a bird waiting for grubs and worms. (A good use for old worn out tools.) I really liked their before and after staging of the effect of gardeners going off to war leaving nature to reclaim the land. The wildflower 'weeds' were most poignant.

The friend that I took with me to the Saturday show declared a loathing for garden artefacts inscribed with aspirational messages. I partly agree but not when confronted with this lovely bench… or is it a sculpture?  Not only is it a good solid chunk of wood but the words capture the mood of a summer's day perfectly. As does the song.  It would look gorgeous in a woodland setting, quite in the spirit of the place.

Onwards to tea and cakes at the Leeds Allotment society: What a lovely bunch of people they were to chat to! I asked why they exhibited at Chelsea and was told that the importance of preserving our allotment heritage was highlighted to the gardening public and, as a charity, their exhibit fees were waived. The cost, of course, was in transport. The enormous and perfect veg had been lovingly grown by their allotmenteers (with more than a few spares!) and the display put together by their members.  I loved it - even the little robot who had been cobbled together out of bits and pieces (his head is a biscuit tin!), an allotmenteer habit if ever there was one! And what about Mrs Scarecrow? She's turned up for Chelsea in her sunday best - I think she deserves to go back into pride of place at the allotments.

Finally, in 'the big tent', Peter Rabbit in the Beatrix Potter garden for Hooks Green Herbs caused a few nostalgic sighs.  Ignoring the big bunny for a moment, look at how cleverly the space has been used with so much packed in: beans, nasturtiums, lettuces, borage, alliums, lemon balm, thymes, sweet woodruff (peeking out under the gate), foxgloves, campions, sweet rocket, angelica, honeysuckle - even an espaliered apple tree!  Surely cottage garden inspiration for the tiniest space? And presumably there were no radishes because Peter had eaten them all. And I'm glad it's not only my veg garden where the nasturtiums take over!

After the excitement of the show gardens and the excellence of the pavilion trade exhibits, the sun had come out and it was time for a woodland walk past the Artisan Gardens on the way to lunch.  Last year this area excelled so I was anticipating a treat.  Several of the gardens were well up to the mark but it's an area best viewed early in the day before the crowds arrive! Squeezing in, I managed to see the Topiary garden (lovely green and white planting) and the Potter's garden (Dial a Flight) with its sensuous planting:

Brilliantly 'natural' planting in the Potter's garden:
geraniums, cirsium, iris, foxgloves, sweet rocket, Orlaya grandiflora, poppies., aquilegia.
The Viking garden was interesting. Of course, the garden was inspired by the sponsors, Viking River Cruises but how do you link Vikings and a flower show. The clue is in the word 'Artisan'; the longboat prow was custom made by master craftsmen in Falmouth, Cornwall and yours for only £18,600.  The design and build were authenticated by the British Museum. Even the rune stone steps are available for £3,250. (I did wonder if there was a hidden message in those symbols!) That seems to be the way with garden design - the landscaping and 'features' cost way more than the plants (unless you buy mature trees for your garden).  I did, however, really like the pools of water; these would be a brilliant way to safely introduce a water feature into even the smallest garden - especially if they can be programmed to suddenly shoot a jet of water skywards!

It seems that many people, including me, admired the Japanese garden and especially the moss balls.  I've recently read that a couple of days before the show opened, the waterworks sprung a leak which flooded the garden. With less than a day to put it right, the garden was deconstructed, repaired and put back again. Very impressive and in time to win a Gold. There was so much detail in that garden, no wonder it was called 'A touch of paradise'.  The garden was based on a mythical place of such beauty that all your troubles are forgotten but, once visited, can never be visited again. Very fitting considering it would all be gone at the end of the week.

And there was synchronicity:

The more I look at my photos of the gardens, the more I absolutely love the Telegraph garden. Yep, the one with the big lawn. (First photo, at top.) The shape of those big shrub 'pebbles' is just an invitation to bounce on them and I could see this as a family garden with kids loafing around on the grass in the sun.  Imagine the peacefulness of sitting in this garden at the end of the day, with the view (out over the countryside, of course! or perhaps the veg garden) framed by the pleached lime trees (Tilia x europaea). It would be a pleasure to maintain with just a bit of therapeutic pruning and shaping.

Those same box balls appeared in the Homebase garden, the Laurent-Perrier garden, the M+G garden and the topiary-opera garden.  It was the same story with the planting schemes.  Of all the thousands of plants to choose from,  the same ones appeared over and over.  Still, silver linings, at least I can now spot and name several previously unknown plants with confidence.

And so to Cleve West's garden for M+G. I thought it was beautiful.  All of it. I really liked the planting in the gravel and the way this drought area flowed towards the sunken courtyard fountain and the denser planting at the back. It would have been so easy to take inspiration from Beth Chatto's famous drought garden but I think Cleve took it a step further; roses and irises interplanted with dianthus, sedums, santolina, erigeron, succulents, nigella, cerinthe (hello old friend!) and artemisia at the front while the same drought planting (alliums, sedums, nepeta, salvias) were closely planted for lushness on the other side of the courtyard. Wonderfully inspirational. And it's so cool that he carved the 'Tree of Life' sculpture himself. Multi-talented.

And, finally, no-one could say that Chelsea takes itself too seriously! Fifty years in Bloom from the South West consisted of four gardens put together back to back.  This is the seaside garden with Punch and Judy and a succulent and sedge creature that was very reminiscent of, er, Dill the Dog. (Remember The Herbs on BBC tv?) Have I mentioned how much I loathe old wellies used as planters. At the risk of hurting feelings, it's unoriginal. Move on, people. (Sorry.)

Talking of bonkers, need I mention pianos and gorillas made of rosebuds or giant moth nets over trees? No?  Good.  As Kenny Everett used to say "It's all in the best possible taste."  Good old Chelsea, we love you.

Let's just leave quietly with a backwards glance at Patrick Collins' garden for the Neonatal unit at St. George's Hospital, Tooting.  All put together with bravado and luck, it worked on every single level. As a story, as a garden, as excellent design.

29 May 2014

My RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 (Day one)

(I think they were enjoying how excited I was to be there!)

If readers of this blog can possibly bear to read another post about the Chelsea Flower Show (there have been so many and such excellent coverage this year), I really do want to write about my day out.  It was a corker and my thanks go to Interflora yet again for my prize of two Saturday tickets.

As it happens, the RHS press office also stumped up an eleventh hour press pass but by this time I could only go in the afternoon on Tuesday so whizzed over to collect a show catalogue and have a quick look round. Tuesday is the first day that it's open to the public and the show was absolutely mobbed - and got worse in the evening slot. I dislike pushing (and being pushed!) so, at the back of a deep crowd, I decided to leave most of the show gardens until early Saturday morning … and be grateful that there wasn't an editor waiting for my copy before going to press!

It certainly wasn't a wasted afternoon though; as I knew I'd be returning, I was able to drift through the crowds making the most of any gaps that I spotted.  Thus, I got to chat with Paul Hervey-Brookes who designed the Brand Alley garden; drawn firmly from the early Italian Renaissance gardens, it was awarded a bronze but I thought there were many ideas in the space that could easily be taken forward into a domestic setting. (Don't be surprised if I come back to this topic.)  Just look at that gorgeous raspberry colour!

I'm suspecting a favourite colour theme going on here … 

Paul Hervey-Brookes.
A lovely chap who took the time to tell me about his garden and let me wander  round - yes! I went beyond the fence!

I stood next to designers Wayne Hemingway (remember avant-garde fashion house Red or Dead?) and his wife Gerardine as they discussed their thoughts on the Telegraph garden for the BBC cameras (they loved the structure and planting but thought the marble was overused. It should be noted they have a large pristine lawn in their own garden.).

I worked my way along one edge of the Cloudy Bay garden, listening to the comments all around me. My impression was that the grasses seemed to dominate the planting but there was a lovely airiness to the garden. I was able to name a few of the plants for a gaggle of ladies behind me as Andrew Wilson, one of the designers and head of the Society of Garden Designers, passed by which earned me one of his famous beaming smiles.  Seems like a nice chap.

We all wondered about this one which I was told was Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, or Gladioli byzantina if you prefer.  A truly gorgeous eye-catching colour that had been teamed beautifully with burgundy astrantias, purple salvias, red roses, lavender Baptisia australis and pink campions (Silene). It's a plant that needs to be the star of the show with a strong supporting cast!

Put that bed together with the larger Cloudy Bay planting that included purple Allium hollandicum, irises, verbascum, Ammi majus, bronze fennel, foxgloves, aquilegia and, of course, grasses (Deschampsia) and it all becomes rather beautiful - like one of Hannah McVicar's illustrations.

A proper brick-based greenhouse has long been on my wish list so the sight of the Alitex stand lured me over. Admiring the wonderful veg growing within and fabulous planting without, I was introduced to the charity Thrive who help disabled people towards a life of health and wellbeing through gardening.  The plants had all been grown by Thrive gardeners in Battersea.  Hearing about their work and subsequently reading their website, I feel a separate post about this marvellous charity is called for.

I was glad to glimpse the Homebase garden 'A Time to Reflect' for the Alzheimer's Society. Adam Frost had created a calm, peaceful space filled with memories and sounds. My much-loved dad has early Alzheimer's so this garden was especially poignant for me and reminded me of our childhood days on the beach and in the countryside as a very happy united family.

My plant highlight of Tuesday afternoon was this Chrysanthemum coronarium or chopsuey greens, mainly because I'm growing this for the first time!  This is a fast growing vegetable that can be on your plate 6 weeks after sowing, likes part shade and every bit of it can be eaten.  And rather pretty to boot!

I finished my Tuesday outing with an evening lecture at the Royal Geographical Society; the event was an 'in conversation' talk from garden designers Dan Pearson and Fergus Garrett, hosted by Anna Pavord. I came away with a deep respect for Dan Pearson whose gardening philosophies I thoroughly agree with. It was a splendid event where they talked about their childhood and adult influences, their horticultural backgrounds, gardening styles and what they thought of the Chelsea show. I particularly liked Dan's phrase that as a gardener he likes to "sit gently on the land, preferring to grow with a garden and be a part of it rather than to transpose yourself onto it.  I like that.

I went back to Chelsea on Saturday and will be writing up highlights of that day in my next post - the bold, the bonkers and the beautiful - including my thoughts on Cleve West's garden which, yes, I eventually got to see and thought utterly delightful.

12 May 2014

Let's talk flowers, Flower Shows, Pinterest and having a Cinderella complex

Strong winds funnelling between the flats yesterday were buffeting these aquilegias around so I picked a few for a vase and added purple heuchera leaves to the jam jar. There are seed pods on the aquilegias already?

I was late putting in my application for a Chelsea Flower Show press pass (yes, bloggers get to go too, sometimes) and didn't get round to buying tickets this year so it seems that I won't be going now, which I'm really gutted about as I really, really wanted to see Cleve West's garden. I love that he spends time growing veg on his allotment but slips out to 'do' a Chelsea garden every now and then. *hero*

I'd resigned myself to this sorry state of affairs when a glimmer of hope came my way. I received an email from Interflora's marketing department (who assure me that at least some of their flowers are sourced from the UK) with news of a competition.  The prize is a pair of Saturday Chelsea Flower Show tickets for 3 lucky winners. (Please, let it be me!) Five also rans will receive an Interflora bouquet.

The competition is very easy: simply create a Pinterest board called 'My Interflora Garden'.  As I already use Pinterest a little bit (48 boards, 1208 pins, all garden/design related), plus I really need no excuse to go off on an internet search that combines the words 'flowers' and 'garden' - and I would love to get to the show - I was completely up for it (although I didn't tell them that, natch.)

My Interflora Pinterest board was created last night  - see it here, if you're so inclined - and details of the competition are here if you fancy entering.  It's rather fun as you can gather up flowers for the garden of your dreams (and a shed or two), even if you don't get to visit the Chelsea gardens of your dreams.  On the other hand, I really hope that one of my garden fairies is paying attention as (have I mentioned this already?) I really want to go to the ball and my Cinderella complex may be out of control by Saturday 24th.

The deadline for the competiton is midday on Wednesday 14th May - that's this coming Wednesday.  You'll have to be quick but wouldn't it be marvellous if a few of us could meet up at Chelsea!

There's no obligation to blog about it, I just like to spread the word.

Here's a glimpse of my Pinterest entry:

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