Ah, how I wished I'd not started my previous post with "what a weekend" as yesterday was really quite a day. It wasn't the quite so early start I'd been contemplating (but really that shouldn't be any surprise) but it was a day full of the Chelsea Flower Show and my best experience yet of the show. I'd applied for and been granted press accreditation for the show, and so off I went on Press Day, and the whole day had a friendly mix of formal and informality about it, and it worked rather well.
There was plenty of time and space to take pictures, photographers were courteous and the celebs and well known faces were also gracious. I unexpectedly caught up with some of the organisers and attendees of my Stihl press trip to Austria and it was great to see them. I had a chat with Elaine Paige on the corner of the Yorkshire garden, bumped into James Martin a couple of times, had a giggle with Su Pollard as she took charge of a photo and as you'll see towards the end of this post heard more than one voice I recognised, and of course saw some wonderful gardens and planting, and in the sun too.
I took way too many photos, we're talking hundreds here, walked over eleven kilometres which adds up to nearly seventeen thousand steps. And with such a step count, I felt it was ok to get the bus back from the station. Given I have so many photos to go through, I've split my highlights post into two, today I'll share my highlights from the gardens and will follow up with a highlights from the Great Pavilion, so let's get going shall we?
There are seven artisan gardens, but I only managed to see five on my visit - I could go back on Wednesday, but as I'm double booked it may not happen - if I do then I'll head along and find the remaining two. I made a beeline for these as soon as I arrived as before when I've been they've been rammed, and you end up shuffling along the Serpentine Walk, which is never pleasant, so I planned to avoid that by heading there first.
It seems though Press Day was a little bit more relaxed, which if you think about it makes sense. The first garden, the Viking Cruises Wellness garden includes a Nordic spa - a sauna, and a plunge pool and definitely had the feel of tranquility about it. And it was here that I started to suspect things might be a little different today. It was when Anneka Rice posed almost in front of me with two dogs, and all dutifully looked at everyone in the crowd.
Moving along to the next artisan garden I got another feel for how the day might go, and while I did bump into Nick Knowles continually for the rest of the day, that wasn't it. Instead I'm talking about the film crew and interviews, neither were pushy but they were there to do a job. When I got home yesterday this Nick Knowles interview was one of the ones covered in the afternoon show.
Space to Grow gardens
There were eight of these gardens with the overall theme of health and wellbeing which are aimed at improving our own wellbeing "as well as displaying solutions to some of the environmental issues facing us today" - which will become clearer the more posts I share. The Space to Grow gardens were a new category at this year's show and it'll be interesting to see if this category remains in future years - I hope so, I'm all about the gardens.
The concrete blocks are certainly eye catching, especially with the traditional buildings and lovely blue sky behind them. They represent people with varying skin conditions and is a "window into our genetic past" which all sounds very deep, until you realise it's a garden created for an established UK skincare company.
I liked the texture and fun they brought to the garden, and while it might not be something that could be replicated in domestic gardens on this scale, adding a concrete block or two and mixing the sizes is totally something that could be borrowed.
The concept of the Seedlip garden was easier for me to grasp, and that's to show how edibles can be grown beautifully at home. If my edibles every looked anywhere near as pretty as this, then I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be on the allotment route we currently are, but that's a whole other story.
The Chelsea gardens have an attention to detail that I'm unlikely to achieve in my own garden, in the Seedlip garden that was the pea motif used throughout the garden, and even split peas used in some of the paths and paving - I'll share more on this though another day.
I've included the sculpture from the Myeloma UK garden as it was so striking. It's heavy too, made of perspex it weighs 7.5 tonnes and that's not all the combined weight of the boulders in this garden weighs eighteen tonnes, so it's far from a lightweight garden. The sculpture was built by the team that constructed the London 2012 cauldron, so they've got form but on this occasion took home a medal colour not available in the Olympics, Silver-Gilt.
The Urban Flow garden was one of my favourites, I am rather partial to a bit of Corten Steel, which there was plenty of at this Chelsea. This installation shows its versatility as a material, it's a strong material that with the cut out detail can also look more delicate. The judges, it seems, also approved of the garden which is designed with water conservation in mind and awarded it as the Best Space to Grow garden.
I told you there was a fair bit of Corten Steel at the show didn't I? This next garden is as it says on the RHS website "garden theatre" and shows how sculptures and planting can work so well together. This was one of my favourite gardens so it was disappointing to learn that the judges awarded it only a Bronze, but of course we don't know exactly what they were judging it on. But in all honesty, it won't spoil my enjoyment of it, nor will I'm sure spoil others' views either.
The M&G garden is a garden of contrasts, how the plants play against the terracotta toned walls which are made of rammed earth and for me the beauty was those contrasts, and with yellow, lime green and pink plants it was always going to be popular with me.
The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC designed by Chris Beardshaw won the Best Show garden and now I know, it's easy to see why - it really was a delight. The garden's design "is a metaphor for the emotional transition that takes place in a child as they experience the positive impact of the NSPCC’s work. At the start of the garden the direction of the path in the woodland is unclear. As it turns a corner it leads to a more open and tranquil space, filled with soft, textured perennials. The path steps up onto a bespoke cedar wood pavilion, enclosed, at the rear, by a calm, reflective canal".
It was a delight to see, and calming.
In total contrast the Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden was great fun, densely planted, but fun. It uses plenty of plants that are native to South Africa that we regularly use in our own gardens - the red hot pokers, the agapanthus - yes, those garden staples come from South Africa.
For me the LG Eco-City was a contender for my favourite garden - I may well have been swayed by the colour of the planting, but it's also a garden I would love to own, and I don't think you can ask for a better testimony than that, can you? But perhaps it's practicalness wasn't quite for the judges as it was awarded Silver-Gilt.
The shot above with the sculpture and moss bubbles was an element I loved. Moss, because of its eco properties, it's great for combatting air pollution and obviously doesn't need mowing. The sculpture because it's beautiful, but also because it reminded me of the giant hare I saw at Chatsworth back in 2014. Looking back at that sculpture, it's easy to see why it jogged my memory isn't it?
Remember at the start of this post I said I heard many familiar voices, well I did, and on hearing yet another familiar voice I turned around to see Monty Don behind me, and I'm not embarrassed to admit I had a bit of a fan girl moment.
So there's part one, you can see why I'm splitting my highlights into two - it's been quite a jaunt around the show hasn't it? I'll also share more from around the show, and from each of the gardens, but my next task is editing the photos from the Great Pavilion - wish me luck, and if you're going to the show, then have a great day and let me know which garden - or gardens - caught your eye.