Chelsea Flower Show (i) The grounds and the gardens
Chelsea Flower Show is the high point in the garden lover’s annual calendar, and frankly, is a pretty important date in the diary of every budding London socialite too. Dressed in their best pastel colour frocks and matching hats, sauntering around the grounds of SW1’s Royal Hospital Chelsea with a glass of champagne in one hand, and generally speaking an umbrella in the other (one may as well be realistic), the best of the celeb, upper crust and garden fanatic world come out every last week of May to hail the Summer gardening season open. This celebration, not only of flowers, but of cutting edge garden design and horticultural supremacy, is a scintillating dalliance with beauty, an artistic explosion of natural aesthetics, and a demonstration of the indubitable improvement which a well tended garden, pot plant or bunch of flowers can bring to anyone’s life.
This first of two Chelsea posts shares my experience of the show as I explored the grounds of the vast garden exposition yesterday evening. I was lucky with the weather – had I gone today, most of the gardens would have probably been flattened by the perilous wind and relentless wind which has battered these damp shores all day. But last night, in the yellow light of a low evening sun, I was able to view the show gardens – that is the garden plots pristinely designed by top horticultural masters for competitive purposes – at their very best. From elegant geometric garden spaces, neatly clipped box hedges and satisfyingly swirling water features, to the complete recreation of an almost unwieldy, lush and otherworldly Australian rainforest, the show gardens on offer this year have to qualify for some of the best in the show’s history. And appropriately too – being as this is the show’s centenary year.
With the aid of a long zoom which was able to traverse the heavy crowds bustling for space around each of the show gardens, I was able to successfully photograph many of the highlights of the show gardens, and here they are!
I’ll start with my favourite, which had to be the East Village Garden designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius. Spectacular in its use of architecture (a geometric wall, glass spiralling pavilion, and an angular viewing terrace for visitors), as well as its many curves packed into the slender area of the garden, I just adored the feast of shapes and sensations on show. In particular I adored the fluid lines of the garden which were reflected to stunning effect by a plentiful spiralling group of gala lilies interspersed with purple irises, which in turn encircled a swirling stream which extended the length of the garden before disappearing into an satisfyingly bottomless hole. The great thing about this garden was that with its lawns and its modern seating area, one could really imagine using this garden, unlike so many of the others on show, such as The Telegraph Garden, which was filled with so many box hedges that there was literally no space for people to walk amongst them, or the B&Q Sentebale Forget-me-not Garden where a mud-platform in the centre of a large pond area appeared to have no way of access.
The East Village Garden
My second favourite garden, and in fact the garden judged over all “best in show”, had to be Trailfinders Australian Garden by Phillip Johnson Landscapes. This completely stunning recreation of an Australian jungle, complete with a huge waterfall, paths lined with overflowing mosses and rockery flowers, and a large metal floral structure which doubled as an art studio, this garden really has become the paragon of 2013’s Chelsea. However, while I appreciate that the metal tortoise and the sound recording of frogs helped to create the Australian atmosphere, I did find that it Disney-fied the garden a little, making it more suited to Chessington World of Adventures than Chelsea – hence demoting it into my second place.
Before bombarding you with a gallery of further miscellaneous shots of the show, mention should go to the very cool Brewin Dolphin Garden by Robert Myers. This garden, which was probably my third favourite, was the very antithesis of my other favourites, be they curvaceous and organic in nature, while this one was geometric, linear and meticulously controlled. Yet for all those contemporary lines, the bold occasional use of red in the architecture, reflective surfaces, hard sharp lines contrasting with rounded pebble like forms – I loved it. I could easily imagine whiling away many summer’s evenings in this garden until such time as the lines of the garden went wobbly through alcoholic indulgence…ahhh Pimms o’clock indeed.
On that note, I will leave you with a selection of other photos from the show, including the now infamous garden gnomes, allowed in the show this year for the first time to raise money for charity, each of 100 having been painted by celebrities – check out Sir Elton John’s together with its spangly pink glasses. Also in there are the incredible sculptures included in the Arthritis Research UK garden, and some of the rather bizarre but eye catching glass floral water features which made for something of a crowd puller near the Australian garden.
Tomorrow I bring you flowers, flowers and many more flowers. See you then!
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- Australian garden team triumphs at Chelsea Flower Show (abc.net.au)
- In pictures: Chelsea Flower Show (bbc.co.uk)
- Banned garden gnomes make triumphant return to Chelsea Flower Show (photoblog.nbcnews.com)