What a splendid day we had at Chelsea! The sun shone, the flowers amazed, and even the surprisingly LONG QUEUE TO WASH YOUR HANDS after the loo (!) did not deter us from enjoying our day (there was some disgracefully sexist talk in the line about how long men would queue for, to wash their hands).
So what did I think? I was pretty disappointed with most of the Show Gardens. Too many had messy planting schemes, or very odd hard-landscaping. I cannot see why a garden in Jordan, or Provence, or wherever it was that Andy Sturgeon was showing, can’t be beautiful, as well as being ‘faithful to their brief’ (which was obviously where they were earning the judges’ points). When did we get a disconnect between arti-fartiness (‘the stones in the wall were steeped in the blood of virgins for three years and then rendered with unicorn dung’), and the quiet beauty of a lovely garden, carefully and thoughtfully planted?
There were definitely some heartening and gorgeous exceptions – the pastel planting at the front of the LG Smart Garden was heavenly, though of course very ephemeral, and Juliet Sargent’s Modern Slavery Garden combined both colours and message in an exciting and innovative way. I’m glad Monty Don could get unrestricted access to the woodland scene embedded a huge chunk of stone, but the rest of we mortals had to queue round the block (See what I did there?)
I loved Chris Beardshaw’s shady garden for Great Ormond Street very much, probably because it felt more complete and a lot less ‘up-itself’, but sister Laura was not of the same mind – insufficient unicorn dung?
The Great Pavilion was a joy, as always – such stories, such passion, such wonderful plants. Stands like Hardy’s and Cayeux and David Austin never disappoint, and there were treasures to be spotted on the stands of smaller nurseries, like Binny’s and Kevock.
We swore we wouldn’t go bananas this year at the sell-off, so just NINETEEN plants accompanied four of us on a rather raucous (maybe that was just us) and packed train back to Eastbourne, including seven roses (the wonderful ‘Hot Chocolate’ from our favourite guy on the Peter Beales stand was one of these), and two huge peonies (Kelways, of course). I was beguiled by a delightful white kashmeriana-type cranesbill – ‘Derek Cook’. The Daisy Roots nursery were selling it. Never mind unicorns, this stand was a veritable mermaid which also drew Laura onto the rocky shores of overspending….
Elaine is so impatient. The reason for the melee around the hand washing facilities at Chelsea is because they are so delectable (and should actually have been listed in the top five reasons I look forward to CFS each year) a giant communal fountain with a range of scented liquid soaps followed by hand creams from Heyland and Whittle – marketing magic going by the number of people who then go and buy a bottle as a souvenir of the day.
The thing that wound me up most about the show gardens this year was blocks of planting where designers had just stuffed everything they could lay their hands and packed them far too tightly into the (usually rectangular) allotted beds.This is not real life. An iris needs an open site when the sun can bake its rhizomes to flower effectively the following year, it will just sulk if it is buried in the middle of a mixed planting scheme.
Which is why I admired the integrity of Andy Sturgeon and Cleve West’s gardens as they allowed their carefully selected key plants the space to demonstrate their individual form and structure and I’m sorry but nearly every plant does look better planted in front of a LARGE ROCK – (and what if I am a sucker for the loving application of mythological excrement?)
I also loved Jekka Macvicar’s herb garden, you could hear the sound of bees buzzing around it before you even saw it, and it was a stroke of genius to have an arch of gorgeously scented climbing roses just at the point where everyone was craning their necks in to get a better view. Should have got a Gold.
The grand pavilion is an institution that just keeps giving. And this year there seemed to be much more space to get close up and really study the specimens on display. The Alpine Society had a superb collection of little gems and yes that Daisy Roots stand did test my budgetary resolve.
Having helpful friendly nurserymen and women on a stand makes a huge difference to your experience; Thorncroft Clematis scored highly on this.
And having told long suffering husband Tim that I wouldn’t be buying much this year (he actually refuses to come with me on the Saturday now) I ended up with so much I needed the help of Growbag #3 to physically get the booty onto the bus back to Battersea Park.
Yes it was a true act of sisterly love and by restricting myself to Diet Coke on Saturday – I managed to purchase the only Clematis ‘Princess Kate’ in the pavilion and get her back in said minibus to Laura’s car in one piece this year. I also managed to focus on reiterating my need for tough, seaside loving plants to nurserymen and got good advice (now seeking Celmisia densiflora for the gravel bed and Clematis ‘Forever Friends’ for the wall).
To be fair, I had already nailed ‘full-on’ socialising the day before when a good tour around with Mike culminated in a convivial reunion with a brilliant Growbag cousin (be ready to pay £101 for a bottle of pink champagne at Chelsea folks – I wasn’t).
Other more manageable ‘gosh’ moments included the optional approach to security – no compulsory inspection of handbags etc on either day and no visible law enforcement of any description. I’m not complaining – it’s heavenly, but given the rest of London is barricaded behind anti-terrorist concrete blocks, the ‘tea with mother’ approach at Chelsea Barracks (the clue’s in the same) attended by 30,000 visitors every day appears to be, at the very least, daringly eccentric.
In fact, Chelsea’s horticultural obsession has apparently afforded it a ‘hospital pass’ on political correctness generally. Amazing it’s taken until 2016 to include its first black female designer although personally I quite like its blithe confidence in fielding an all-male judging panel, sometimes it’s just the way things go. Fair’s fair, you can see from the picture – our Chelsea picnic is certainly no place for lads or other spoilsports…..
We’re planting seeds in our next blog – (I know, I know, it’s nearly June but we’re working in Growbag time here) and Laura’s getting ready to open her garden for the local hospice next Sunday…