Growbag Blog

Chelsea Flower Show – art or science?


Okay everyone – its 2019 and the Chelsea Flower Show is definitely  ‘back in the room’. After a couple of years of Maltese quarries and giant disco balls there had to be a swing back to proper intelligent gardening and this year we had four cracking Gold Medal Show Gardens to enjoy.

Top of the pile was Andy Sturgeon and it was on his stand that I was able to nominate the first of the customary 3growbags award for Best Overheard Comment. As Andy was being triumphantly feted by press and TV showing off his palette of green plants astride one of his masculine monoliths of charred wood, a polite gentleman beside me murmured to his wife ‘actually love, my rodgersias are a good deal  bigger than Andy’s ‘…

And Andy’s rodgersias were quite big!

Then on to Chris Beardshaw’s beautiful garden where the award for Plant I Most Wanted to Take Home was staring me in the face at the front of his plot – a small American horse chestnut  Aesculus x mutabilis ‘Penduliflora’ simply throbbing with bumble bees. It was patently obvious that I wouldn’t be able to fit this in the courtesy minibus at the end of the day, so I immediately went online and ordered one from the only nursery that seemed to stock it – the wonderful Larch Cottage Nursery in Cumbria.

It’s lovely isn’t it, but sadly for you, I’ve bought the very last one (probably not!)

Finally at Sarah Eberle’s Resilience Garden we had our ‘What Da?’ moment when we assimilated the message that when it all goes horribly wrong we’ll all be reduced to living in converted grain silos, although my farmer husband Tim seemed quite relaxed about this prospect.

‘Seems fine as long as my Labrador can manage the steps’

There were more thought provoking stands in the pavilion where Sparsholt College explored the science behind plant breeding, Ikea looked to the future of hydroponics and Plant Heritage had a spreadsheet to show how to systematically select the allium with the right characteristics for your garden.

Of course all this technical information will go straight over the heads of Elaine and Caroline who will be squealing over the latest clematis introduction whilst hoping the bag check at security won’t reveal the Prosecco they’ve smuggled in disguised as  lemonade.


Forget the science, I was just delighted to see that Chelsea has gone ‘real’ this year – it’s all beans and greens, bees and trees, restraining and sustaining……(I’ve temporarily run out of rhymes) and we had the final Gold Medal Show Garden, (and People’s Choice) in the romantic idyll of Mark Gregory’s Lock Keepers Cottage.

It will come as no surprise to our regulars that the plant Laura most wanted to lug home was an obscure and unpronounceable horse chestnut; my choice was the pretty foxglove which came second in Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 – Digitalis x valinii ‘Firebird’ presented by Hardy’s (who else?!) It’s a delectable shade of rusty pink with its flowers tastefully scattered along the stem.

Digitalis ‘Firebird’. Really, what is not to love?

But then there are the swooningly covetable new David Austin roses ‘Gabriel Oak’ and ‘Eustacia Vye’, and Cayeux have a gorgeous new yellow iris ‘Comme un Oeuf’ (dontcha LOVE  the name!),  Thorncroft Nurseries have a juicy new twice-flowering clematis ‘Meghan’……. Oh dear, I might need them all.

And so to the Artisan Gardens where the Donkey Sanctuary’s gently bubbling well was the soundtrack to my ‘ Best Overheard Coment’ when an onlooker peered at the Rambling Rector rose and knowledgeably informed her companions, ‘that’s a Rambling Rectum’ – (surely more appropriate in the IBS Garden?)


Well to be honest ‘bottoms up’ is one of my favourite phrases so I do understand her train of thought, and on that note one of my ‘What da?’ moments this year (I’d had a few as you can imagine) is why the Warners Gin show garden obscured what I thought was a very satisfactory centrepiece of nine bottles of gin, with a blooming great juniper tree. No wonder it didn’t get a gold, it was just frustrating.

This tree really needs to be removed so we can see the star of the show!?

So many gardens looked even better in reality than they did on TV. I’d include Facebook’s design and, for novelty value, Ikea’s immodestly named ‘Gardening will Save the World’ stand, where my Best Overheard Comment was an overseas visitor trying to direct her friends gaze to the kohlrabi ‘imagine a big purple bosom….’

Kohlrabi – big and busty!

Singing along to  the Mary Poppins numbers being belted out by a teenage theatre school made it hard to calculate  just how many glasses of bubbly one had had, which in turn made this morning rather supercally-fragile. It also allowed Laura, (the one who sneered at our love of new clematis introductions, remember) to craftily snap up the very last one of the Plant I Most Wanted to Take Home, during the great sell-off. A gorgeous new clematis called ‘Nubia’. It’s such a good colour, doesn’t get too big and flowers repeatedly all summer. So the scientist sister is really more of an artful dodger!

My sister scientifically pipped me to the post by snaffling the last one of this beautiful new clematis

NB. If all this colour is too much for you the antidote must be the cool customer that is Louise’s Plant of the Month
We normally publish our blog first thing on a Saturday, this week is just a Chelsea aberration. Speaking of which we published a review of our five favourite exhibitors every day this week. Hope they had as much fun at Chelsea as we did!

If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, please enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday!

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “Chelsea Flower Show – art or science?”

Thank you for the informative and humorous first-hand account of Chelsea. I’ve recorded the broadcasts but haven’t had time to watch yet but I’m sure no eavesdropped remarks will be included!

Oh thank you Linda, being part of a widened gardening community is absolutely the best aspect of writing our blog. Caroline here, and yes I think you’re right, people would by too star-struck by the proximity of Monty and a camera to think about the size of their rodgersias! Wishing you a lovely Bank Holiday weekend.

Thanks for your excellent coverage of Chelsea! I miss the real feel as I sit at home and watch every single programme on tv. The green theme is lost by the screen and it wasn’t til the end of the week that Andy ‘ s black wall was shown being produced by burning that I could appreciate it. I feel the need to brave the crowds again next year. As to the gin bottles, I recommend ‘the botanist’ from Isle of Islay which sits ,now sadly empty, in my mini greenhouse. Hey ho, off to count the flowers in my lawn.
Happy gardening! Carol

Hi Carol, Caroline here again, you are bang on the money with The Botanist, a lovely gin and smashing bottle. Also right about the crowds, you have to calibrate yourself for extreme busy-ness before you arrive don’t you, and most gardening people are very nice/a real hoot, which makes it all quite good fun. Flowers in your lawn: gardening is changing isn’t it. I knew if I waited long enough lackadaisical would come back into fashion and I’d be on trend! Very happy gardening to you too Carol! 🙂

Having watched, or sometimes it felt like wading through most of the Chelsea broadcasts, I have just enjoyed the best time reading this blog – full of information that I wanted marvelous overview of a day at Chelsea and, of course out-loud laughter at the overheard comments. Don’t think I’ll bother much next year with the broadcasts – just wait for this crazy trio’s musings! Many thanks for brightening my day.

Oh thank you, Monica! Elaine here. Well, the fact is that we just have a ball when we are together and the Chelsea atmosphere is intoxicating. I’m not sure that the Growbags will be replacing Monty and his populous crew any time soon, but we are very happy to have put our giggly stamp on the coverage in our own small way.

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