Chelsea bunions & biblical beginnings

Yesterday I went to Chelsea Flower Show, and have come home with very sore toes. I did a lot of walking in plimsolls, which seemed a good choice in the morning (being flat) but I didn’t account for the fact it would be quite so warm. If I could have taken them off, I would have. And to be honest, I think that barefoot might have been a more fitting look.

Here’s my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on the Show. As you know, I’ve converted to gardens that have a purpose… Grow your own, bee and wildlife friendly, sustainable etc. And Chelsea has a lot of the ‘other’ sort of gardening, that’s all about visual, themes, trends and, well, money. A Chelsea Garden costs a staggering average of £250,000 to create (according to Monty).

So it was quite interesting to note that this year there seemed to be several ‘trend’ gardens that looked like they’d come straight out of an Illustrated Children’s Bible. There was an undercurrent (with all those dry river beds) of passing-through-the-eye-of-the-needle, 40 days and 40 nights, the parting of the Dead Sea, pyramids and rocky roads to Damascus. And a ‘Return to the Beginning’ (argh-ar-argh) where plants were concerned.

Other phrases sprung to mind, as I moved among the crowds, trying to find a way through to see the light: Renewal after repentance. Starting from scratch. Weeds are worthy too. Colours: Copper. Parchment. Sack cloth. Brown flowers (that are meant to be brown). Burning Bush braziers (not brassieres. Although a lot of the colours did reminded me of granny’s underwear drawer).

If gardening fashions are like clothing fashions, then it all has some sort of socio-economic subliminal meaning… (Don’t ask me what!) Or, we are so bloomin’ fed up with floods, gales, sodden summers and overgrown lawns, that a dry, parched desert is now seen as The New Luxury. ‘Arid’ is the new ‘Lush’.

Not all the gardens followed this theme. The most popular garden, judging by the 6 deep crowd that surrounded it all day, was this pocket ‘kerchief of perfection (see below), by Australian Charlie Albone. Despite having apparently ‘out of fashion’ box hedges, symmetry, lawn, and topiaried square trees, it sent the crowd loopy for its lovely lupins. I have to say, it was a very well thought out garden regarding the planting… The way the plants changed from the sunny end to the shady end was very clever. And the contrast of the almost black shade, created by the leafy boxed-in terrace, as a backdrop to the vivid purples in the light created drama… Inspired, I thought. Although not my favourite garden, I would bet on this winning the BBC’s People’s Choice tomorrow.

It’s always good to find out about a garden before dismissing it. At first I wondered about this next garden, and what looked like the unfortunate result of Digby and Dougal attempting to perform a dogs’ rendition of a Rogers and Astair number down stone steps. Then I noticed the beautiful wool felt backdrop, the unusual choice plants and props (nettles? Walnut husks? Skeins of wool?) and the penny dropped. A dyers garden, with all the plants being sources for natural dyes. Genius. In my top 3.

Other memorable highlights… Pennard Plants ‘allotments’ in the Big Tent. I loved the mirrored shed, although not sure it wound be good for the birds.

Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary garden. I loved the lollipop shaped hawthorn hedges. Brilliant. And the hooped and twirled plant edging.

Inside the Pavilion, it’s a complete contrast. It’s  positively  Soddom and Gomorrah in comparison to the breezy, ‘un-cultivated’, self-seeding show gardens… Carnivorous plants, parasitic plants, some monstrous… All mesmerizing.

… There’s lots for sale too, of course… This greenhouse that could double as a swanky shower. I’d love to have seen it filled with plants, as it could really be fabulous… With an added sprinkler system, a few well-placed orchids…


Joking apart, I think it’s clever and wonderful to see a greenhouse that isn’t harking back to Queen Victoria. Bravo,  Pure Greenhouses of Bristol. I’m now off to Google your website…

Oh, you want to know my favourite garden? Well, it was a sunny day, and it was lovely, momentarily, to be transported to a land of dry heat and no thirsty vegetables to look after… For me, it has to be Nick Bailey’s  Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

Did you go to Chelsea, or see it on TV? What was your favourite garden?



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