Crowds descend on SW8

As previously threatened, a post on the Chelsea Flower Show. Almost two weeks late. (Ach, can you blame me? I’ve been busy…)

Perhaps it was down to my crankiness from sitting indoors in a hot and unventilated room with ~300 other people for an entire afternoon when it was nice and sunny outside, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by the showing at Chelsea. Firstly, was it wise of the organisers to sell so many tickets that a short-*rse like me couldn’t see most of the courtyard gardens? The showground is notoriously small, but in an effort to boost already great profits, more people are packed in every year. We had evening tickets, which meant we could enter after 5.30pm. This gave us just enough time to look at the show gardens, but we had to give the Grand Pavilion a miss. (No great loss as I’m not that keen on vast displays of perfect delphinium specimens anyway.) But even in the closing hours, there was barely any room to view the smaller gardens. The courtyard displays (probably the most popular due to space constraints on most British gardens) were packed so tightly that once you got close enough to see the garden, Sod’s Law dictated that a 7-footer would worm his way in front of you.

We came to realise quite quickly that the gardens don’t look as impressive as they do on the box, which brings me to my second dissatisfaction. The point of such garden shows is to inspire us proles and set the trends for the year’s gardening. But I felt no such vibe. (OK, that may again be down to my poor mood that day added to the prospect of another 2-3 years of no garden of my own.) Perhaps the innovations have all been made, and there is nothing new for the doyennes of gardening to show us. Rehashed cottage-style gardens abounded this year, over-stuffed with plants. Although, on plus side, there was more realism with over-grown looking gardens. A familiar look for those of us with insufficient space to cram in all our favourite plants.

My third gripe is about the ridiculous queue to see the three or four gardens under the TV interview platform. My cynical mind suggests it was to make that part of the showground look exceptionally busy for the evening broadcast, as the gardens we had to queue to look at weren’t particularly spectacular. There were two queues: a hardly-moving slow lane right next to the gardens, and a fast lane going along three terraced platforms where you couldn’t really stop to take any photos. Perhaps it was the proximity of the gardens to each other which made the queueing necessary, but good showground planning should have prevented that, not excacerbated it.

Tunnel Wine bottle fountain That tunnel

All the complaints aside, there were gems to be found. (Around 7pm when the crowds dissipated, and my annoyance about a wasted afternoon abated after an ice cream…) I fell in love with the sweetest looking poppy ever: Patty’s Plum. (The pool structure behind it looked inviting too…) And although it was absolutely mobbed, the Real Rubbish garden looked spectacular. It wasn’t very clear which materials were recycled or pieces of rubbish (and the leaflet I picked up is now lost in the mess of papers that is my living room), but that’s the beauty of it.

Patty's Plum Wet float Pretty rubbish

Diarmuid Gavin‘s lavender bushes were mocked by the Titchmarsh, but I quite liked them. I can’t imagine who would go round pruning them once a year to maintain the ball shapes though. And I loved the wee hobbit houses he scattered in his plot. We used to hate his Home Front concrete structures, but will concede that they look nice. That is, if you’re rich, have a massive garden, and are prepared to whitewash the massive structures once a year on top of the weeding. The planting was simple, with box(? leaflet somewhere…), lavender, and a few designer cabbages, and the overall greenness was soothing. Another eye-catching planting scheme was used by Kate Frey for the Fetzer Wine Garden. It was packed a little too tight to be realistic, but the mass of yellow, orange and blue flowers had the most cheery effect of the lot.

No hose-pipe ban yet Unfurling Hobbit home

The star of the show was, of course, the Chelsea Pensioners’ Garden, by Julian Dowle. Including a wee veggie patch, it not only remembered the war-time need for home-grown vegetables, but also a growing trend for people to grow at least their own herbs and salads in whatever patch of green they own. I wish our vegetable garden as good; we were quite chuffed to find our favourite sweet peas rambling on the fence, but were a bit surprised to find them flowering so early. Another war-themed garden was the chic Peace is Special garden by Jennifer Hirsch. Paving stones and wall decorations were riddled with bullet holes, and dates of significant battles carved into the paving stones evoked a sense of sorrow and loss. Not one to have in your own backyard, perhaps. But one very apt for this 60th anniversary year of the end of WWII. Another melancholic garden was In the Grove by Christopher Bradley-Hole, created in memory of the late Sheik who had sponsered many gardens at Chelsea over the years.

Veggie garden Bullet holes In memoriam

Overall impression of the SW8 show? Crowded, maybe too much so for comfort. Recommendations for anyone planning to visit: Book early (or join the RHS for a member’s pass) and either get there really early or wait till late (after 6pm). And if you’re short, bring a periscope…

I have no chance of ever recreating any of these show gardens (notice how I failed to mention the Merrill Lynch…), but the possibility of continuing with our vegetable gardening is looking up. The Newcomer’s Guide to LA book that I bought through Amazon holds a wee glimmer of hope: they have community gardens in La-La Land (that’s allotments in British English). Wahay!

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