Whoa! Chelsea in the autumn! How are you feeling about it? A lot has happened in the last 18 months (three million new gardeners, working from home, mental health concerns, climate change fears, the joy of being together again….) How have these impacted on the Show? We Growbags can report that the impact was frankly massive!
As a contrast from all the usual Show coverage in the press and on the Beeb this week, we gave ourselves a few questions to ‘ponder while we wander’. Here are our answers:
Q. What seemed the most dramatic change from a normal May Chelsea Flower Show?
Elaine: Apart from the obvious (the autumn plant-range), I thought a Covid-affected September Chelsea did feel very different – much more space, a ‘softer’ greener feel to the Show Gardens, and lots of ‘healing, hope and health’ messages about. There was a much more pervasive awareness of what gardens and gardening can do FOR us, rather than the other way round. Perhaps inevitable, though I have to confess I did miss the buzz and excitement of the packed pavilion stands a little!
Laura: Agreed Elaine, there was a definitely a different vibe with a new colour palette that verged on harvest festival note (and fewer people meant almost non-existent queues for the loos – please can this be an annual feature?)
But with so little time to adjust and prepare for the new timing many of the usual suspects were missing, and missed (come back Kevock Plants). Hats off though to those that did go the extra mile to give us our horticultural fix, whether that was tricking plants into thinking it was still being held in May (the alliums actually looked great after spending the summer in a cold store) or rustling up a selection of true late summer flowerers (step forward Daisy Roots and Binny Plants).
And for me personally the thrill of seeing sandstone from the quarry on our family farm on the Guangzhou Garden (our feature picture) more than compensated for the slimmed down pavilion.
Caroline: Most dramatic change for me was the number of gardening celebs to be found eking out every last ounce of news value from a reduced exhibitor list – you could hardly swing a cat without hitting a Carol Klein or Joe Swift!
Also there was a very welcome update on the traditional Show Garden/Artisan Garden formula. New categories….. Houseplant Studios, Container Gardening and Balcony Gardens felt dynamic and much more relevant to our lives now (obvs not Elaine and Laura’s still stuck somewhere between The Great Wars.)
Q. Which plant did you most want to take home?
Elaine: As always, I was tempted by virtually every clematis on the Raymond Evison stand, and almost every rose on the Harkness stand (have I ever mentioned that I love roses?). I was deeply taken by the grasses, especially Panicum virginatum ‘Squaw’, and the ironweed Vernonia ‘Mammoth’ on the lovely Daisy Roots stand. But I’m going to plump for the Chelsea Plant of the Year 2021 – Cercis canadensis ‘Eternal Flame’ introduced by Suttons. I’ve got Cercis c. ‘Forest Pansy’, and I LOVE it. This new variety’s ability to change shades through the seasons looks like a winner to me.
Laura: What a surprise, Elaine wanted to take home either a clematis or a rose …! that new cercis must be quite something to lure her final choice to a small tree. I also wanted to take home a tree – the lovely crabapple Malus ‘Winter Gold’ from the Blue Diamond Forge Garden (surely this garden should have got Gold? – it was absolutely lovely)
Caroline: Ah, not Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ then, as I told my husband when I spotted it. So I don’t know much about plants but I do know what I like, and here was my favourite… the Babycham bottling plant that was inexplicably attached to Bowlands Nursery stand (how come it looked positively Victorian when I remember Babycham so well?).
If we’re talking plants proper, I was bedazzled by the brand new Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’ which flowers right through the summer! Although camellias are a welcome sight in early spring, it’s still so cold in Scotland I’m not really in the mood for them. Problem solved – this beauty will flower right through the summer and grow happily on my terrace in a pot. You can buy it exclusively from Thompson and Morgan, I’ve added the link at the end..
Q. At the Show, when did you feel the need to say loudly ‘What Da?!’
Elaine: There were quite a few moments like this, from beaten-up caravans to psychedelic sheds, but the one that felt the most random was the gorilla head carved from a pumpkin on the spectacular Medwyn’s veg stand. A bit worried about the minion above it too. I’m not saying I didn’t admire the craftsmanship, I just couldn’t think what it was doing there……………
Laura: Mine was the fleeting moment when I thought that the news that London Buses were planning to go green, meant something much more exciting than a shift from diesel to electric.
Caroline: For me it had to be that shed. Apparently it’s a VIP hangout for the show’s ‘plantarati’. If this is where superstars relax, I dare not ask where they go for stimulation!
Q. What was the best comment you overheard?
Elaine: A man standing next to us while we were watching Adam Frost rehearse his words in one of the Sanctuary Gardens: “I can’t hear what he’s going on about, it’s probably something to do with gardening”. And, though not exactly an overheard comment, I loved that a lady handing us details of Sarah Eberle’s Gold Medal-winning Psalm23 garden whispered excitedly, “…..and that’s Sarah’s real sheep poo!”
Laura: Definitely the person behind me at the Trailfinders’ Himalayan garden, who enquired hopefully, ‘If I reminded them I had a holiday with them in 1978, do you think I’d get into hospitality?’
Caroline: One chap was obviously trying to relate his visit to his normal reference points (The Godfather), confided to his wife at a chrysanthemum stand, ‘These always remind me of mafia funerals. You always see them spelling a name on a coffin.’
One thing was made very clear, Chelsea’s back to its usual slot next year (24-28 May 2022), so this year’s show has a unique place in history and all in all, we reckon organisers made good fist of it. What are YOUR thoughts?
NB Here is the link to that new Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’
Do check out what we managed to come up with last May at Chelsea Show – when there wasn’t even a Show……..
And if the autumn Chelsea has whetted your appetite for late summer flowers DEFINITELY have a look at our gorgeous new small flower cards, on sale in our shop – all painted by Growbag friend and artist Lyn Sweetman and based on photos of Louise’s late summer borders.
More NB And Louise has yet another late summer perennial that would grace any flower show or greetings card as her plant of the moment – click on the box below to find out what it is.
Yet more NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.