Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Foxgloves tower at the Chelsea Flower Show 2011

At the risk of further swelling the inevitably vast coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show 2011; a few personal highlights, observations and photographs of the day.

Year on year, garden designers at the Chelsea Flower Show are expected to put on a novel show, and this year certainly did not disappoint. The talking point this year has to be Diarmuid Gavin's hanging, Irish Sky Garden, with its pink planted pod suspended high above the ground, overlooking his inspired horticultural creation. Glad to report that finally, the man whom is often wrongly overlooked in terms of metallic praise, finally managed to bag a well deserved Gold for his ingenious creation. Though admittedly, being but a mere onlooker, unable to venture further than the boundaries of his green garden, and hence simply admiring the lucky few allowed to oscillate in the hanging Eden pod, the effect was personally somewhat lost. That even, despite my being much taller than most of the onlooking punters....

Irish Sky Garden, Designer Diarmuid Gavin

In terms of sheer bonkers originality, none can top Diarmuid. Nonetheless, most of the show gardens showed off interesting novel design ideas, such as planted walls, and the odd luxury swimming pool common to most Monaco backyards. The latter, certainly of appeal to the increasingly hot, sun drenched Chelsea punters, eagerly pushing forward through the crowds, to catch a glimpse of the horticultural extravaganza.

Monaco Garden, Designer Sarah Eberle

As expected, the planting schemes in the show, urban and artisan gardens, superbly demonstrated diversity, colour and plant texture optimisation. My favourites were those that looked like seamless tapestries of repeat, soft muted planting with fluffy textures, softening the over all effect, without the need for any bold feature planting.

The Lands' End Across the Pond - Urban Garden - Designer Adam Frost

The Lands' End Across the Pond - Urban Garden - Designer Adam Frost

The Daily Telegraph Garden - Designer Cleve West - Best in Show

Laurent-Perrier Garden - Designer Luciano Giubbelilei

The show gardens dominate the media headlines, though personally, the Great Pavilion represents true Chelsea. The sheer skill of the nurseries to exhibit their wares to such a high standard, with such attention to detail and more often irrespective of the respective natural flowering seasons, forever astounds me. My favourite exhibitors, tend to be those that specialise in one (or few) plant type(s);  Bowden Hostas, Peter Beales Roses, David Austin Roses, Raymond Evison Clematis, The Botanic Nursery (Digitalis), Downderry Lavender Nursery, amongst many others.

Raymond Evison Clematis display in Great Pavilion

Interestingly, despite all the exuberant designer opulence and fancy new varieties, in my opinion, it was the common Foxglove that really stole the show. Amongst the vivacious colours of the displays and the crowding hordes of (rather nail-bitingly slow moving) punters, the Foxgloves respectfully command attention. All are stunning, but it was the spectacular, Digitalis x Mertonensis, that stood out foremost. The observant punter would have spotted it, strutting proudly amongst the fine planting schemes in many of the top winning show and urban gardens.

Digitalis x Mertonensis
Just as yours truly, many were dissappointed to have had to leave the Great Pavilion without this particularly treasured, though annoyingly, very sold out, seed packet. Digitalis 'Apricot' will have to do as a replacement, though that may be just for the short term....

Impatient crowds sensing the ever decreasing seed stocks of the magic Digitalis at the Botanic Nursery & Gardens display

One cannot visit Chelsea without the obligatory gawking at the odd gardening celeb. Joe Swift was in disguise - wearing a suit, the elegant Rachel (thank-goodness-my-husband-did-not-spot-her) de Thame was doing the rounds in the show gardens, and the forever charming James Alexander Sinclair was working away in the Great Pavilion, adorning his large infamous hat. To delight in James' words of wisdom on the whole Chelsea affair, press your red button on the telly now...

Crowds were gathering around Diarmuid Gavin's garden, though sadly not to admire his handy work, but to catch a small glimpse of Saint Alan Titchmarch in the neighbouring tv tower, strutting his stuff in front of the cameras. According to one of the fruit growers exhibiting in the Great Pavilion, just one squeak from the man about a certain plant, makes the cash registers rattle with rage. On that note, Diarmuid must have been somewhat enraged as Alan, steals all the man's hard earned thunder, simply by sitting down in a green box. Such cheek...

His royal greenness, Alan Titchmarsh, chatting to Joe Swift

And finally, after all that intensive horticultural education, some serious retail therapy is in order. Without fail, every year, the best shopping destination is Centre Sales Marketing (CSM), where I always seem to buy more pairs of gloves, than one could possibly ever use.

CSM's colourful gloves shop

Now, it would be a lie, if I said that it all ended there. For the fifth year in a row now, my husband and I, needed to sneak over to the Ever Edge stand, to pick up their Special Chelsea Flower Show Discount order form. Unfortunately, after 5 years of discussing the possibilities of purchasing quite some yards of their finest, they now annoyingly recognise us. The problem being that the yardage we require would probably involve house remortgaging, as they certainly aren't giving the stuff away. We have therefore been pondering on this purchase for a considerable amount of time. This year, I pulled the short straw, so after some deep glasses of courage inducing Pimm's, I managed to bravely, and thankfully (due to an inquisitive potential customer) obscurely, collect our annual contraband.

Who knows, maybe this is the year....?


  1. Great post Petra and some excellent photos. It looks like you had a great time but l'm not sure l could cope with the crowds! Interesting that Mr Titchmarsh can still make those tills go 'ching, ching'!

  2. Wonderful wall planting. And that clematis tunnel!!

    I have never been to Chelsea (or the UK at all yet), but I could imagine the slight headache/plant euphoria after such a day fighting the crowds.

    Thanks for the glimpse, Petra.

  3. Thank you Trevor and Julie. The crowds at Chelsea are quite extraordinary, though hardly surprising. Such a famous flower show, in a relatively small space. Queues everywhere! Though fortunately for me, I am 6ft3 tall, so I can peer over quite a few people! Although, even if one needs the patience of a saint to walk (so slowly) amongst so many, I can still highly recommend a visit.

  4. Great post. Loved Chelsea this year too, finding the artisan gardens the most inspiring. As you said, certainly worth braving the crowds for all the great ideas you find in the show gardens and nurseries. Naomi (only 5ft5 ins)


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