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Aquilegia stellata 'Ruby Port'

Aquilegia stellata ‘Ruby Port’ (copyright Ian Curley)

Following on from the theme of my last post, May really wouldn’t be May without the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and that’s where I found myself yesterday.

Chelsea induces in me the levels of excitement you normally witness in children in the run up to Christmas. This plant extravaganza is, for me, the equivalent of a sea of presents under the Christmas tree. Perhaps this will explain my inability to get much sleep the night before. Strange sounds coming from the kitchen of the bed and breakfast didn’t help. To my sleep deprived brain it sounded like the frantic spoon-clearing of a yoghurt pot. There was a point when I lay there thinking, ‘I’m staying in some complete stranger’s house and how do I know they don’t have some odd midnight yoghurt eating craving’, until Wellyman pointed out it was just their dog lapping up water from its bowl!!!

Last year was my first visit to Chelsea. To say I was chuffed when I received a pass for Monday’s Press Day was an understatement. Unfortunately, the shine wore off rather quickly as I wandered around the show ground. There were mutterings and grumbles from the assembled crowd that the RHS was playing it safe with the designs it had picked and that the planting was lacklustre. The latter was no real surprise after last year’s very cold spring and it all left me thinking I hadn’t seen Chelsea at its best.

Sultry planting was a theme at Chelsea 2014

Sultry planting was a theme at Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

But what a difference a year can make – Chelsea 2014 felt like a different place. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the weather. Last year I was nithered (Geordie for bloody freezing). The grey, laden skies made everything look quite flat, and photography in the Great Pavilion was difficult because of the low light levels. Yesterday with blue skies and baking sunshine everything seemed to sparkle. It was almost as if the designers had an inkling it might be a scorcher with water features incorporated into several gardens and rich, sultry planting that seemed just perfect for the conditions.

It wasn’t just the weather though that had made the difference. Apart from a couple of well-known designers, the RHS had chosen to champion some younger horticultural talent and I really feel it needed this. There has been a tendency over the years for designers to create show gardens which I’m sure appeal to very wealthy potential clients but leave me feeling ambivalent. I rarely dislike them and I can see the skill involved in the creation but I just don’t connect with them. They feel very much like status symbol gardens and a tad formulaic with the pre-requisite finely cut hard landscaping, uncomfortable looking furniture and a building of some description that tends to dominate the whole space. There were inevitably still elements of that yesterday and I’m realistic enough to realise that Chelsea has become much more than a stage for plants but I felt there was a much better balance this time.

Help for Heroes 'Hope on the Horizon' garden - Chelsea 2014

Help for Heroes ‘Hope on the Horizon’ garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Just as it’s hard to cover the whole of the show in the 6 or so hours I spent there – I’ll watch the TV coverage when I get home and wonder how I managed to miss a particular exhibit or newly introduced plant – it’s impossible to cover the day in one post so there’ll be a few posts over the course of the week. But, for now, here are a few of my highlights from Chelsea 2014.

The sultry colours of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, Aquilegia vulgairs var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’ and ‘Ruby Port’, Sangiusorba menziesii and Rosa ‘Darcy Bussell’.

Brewin Dolphin Garden  - Chelsea 2014

Brewin Dolphin Garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Choosing a favourite show garden this year is difficult but I think it would have to be the Brewin Dolphin garden designed by Matthew Childs. The copper archways with the verdigris patina were stunning and gave the garden the wow factor without that element of bling that can so often be the focus of a show garden. The planting was a superb mix and included my favourite combination of Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais and Aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’. The Help for Heroes ‘Hope on the Horizon’ garden designed by 29 year old Matt Keightley came a close second. I loved the dappled light created by the hornbeam trees and the shade they cast worked incredibly well in the strong sunlight. Another favourite was the Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden by Hugo Bugg who, at the age of 26, has become the youngest winner of a gold medal at Chelsea.

Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden - Chelsea 2014

Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Can anyone have enough bun moss? Well not if you’re Kazuyuki Ishihara, designer of the Best in Show Artisan Garden. His ‘Paradise on Earth’ garden was truly stunning. The attention to detail is incredible and he always packs so much into his designs I could stand and look at them for hours marvelling at the intricacy.

A Paradise on Earth by Ishihara Kazuyuki

A Paradise on Earth by Ishihara Kazuyuki (copyright Ian Curley)

Away from the show gardens of Main Avenue the rustic feel and stunning planting of ‘The Topiarist’s Garden’ in the Artisan category is more what I would look for in a garden and I could quite happily have taken it home with me.

The hottest day of the year so far meant the scent in the Great Pavilion was AMAZING. You could smell the strawberries on the Ken Muir stand before you got to them. The masses of lilies, hyacinths and roses too filled the air with a heady fragrance. It really was WOW!

And, I know it’s a bit twee but I did have soft spot for the Hooksgreen Herbs stand which was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I really feel for the person dressed up as aforesaid bunny, who must have been cooking inside all that fur.

BoJo - a crocheted gorilla

BoJo – a crocheted gorilla (copyright Ian Curley)

I’m not sure why but gorillas kept cropping up. If you want to part with a substantial wad of cash you could buy a humongous statue of one for your garden … well, each to their own. If you fancied a gorilla with an extra dimension you could have one clad in shells or lavender flowers, but my favourite had to be BoJo, a crocheted sculpture of a gorilla named after Boris Johnson. I know it sounds odd but it was quite incredible. Maybe someone didn’t understand the concept of ‘guerilla gardening’?

So, to sum up Chelsea 2014 – hot weather, hot planting and some hot new design talent.

 

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