Eternally venerated, my RHS Chelsea Flower Show trodden, mud encrusted, steel cap boots stand proud in the hallway. Ever the devotee of RHS Chelsea, being part of the build and planting stages to experience the enormity of the work involved and undeniable dedication to detail, has made attending this most esteemed of horticultural shows, all the more special. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show signifies much more than the habitually referred ‘catwalk of the gardening world’, rather the culmination of extraordinary expertise and dedication to the craft that is garden design, gardening and plantsmanship.
Despite the liberal fluttering of manicured eyelashes and erudite posing, the show gardens held their own to the barrage of celebrity distractions on press day. Across the show gardens, the more natural, informal and loose planting, often dotted with native plant varieties was delightful, and proved popular throughout the week. Textbook, formulaic planting seems a thing of the past, which to the amateur gardener whose repertoire is limited to ‘lawless’ planting, is a delight. To my eye, and biased as this may be, the best planting was that of Jo Thompson, in the Caravan Club garden. Beautifully ethereal, loose, and evidently respectful of plants, Thompson’s skillfully natural planting is superb. Just looking at her planting, one is overcome with an overwhelming desire to skip with glee, which (hopefully) unnoticed by many, often occurred.
In the Brewin Dolphin Garden, Mr Best in Show II, Cleve West skillfully takes informality a step further. In addition to the beautifully loose planting, the structural elements in the form of topiary (Taxus Baccata) were also positioned more naturally, challenging formal symmetry of garden design. Hence, for those keen to be on trend, symmetry and manicured gardening is out, informal planting is in.
Resurgence of Topiary
Makers of clippers, trimmers and secateurs must be rejoicing on cloud nine, as most of the show gardens at RHS Chelsea this year included topiary. All types of plants were used, from the common Buxus Sempervirens and Taxus Baccata to the rarer, but stunning, Illex Crenata, prominently on display in Andy Sturgeon’s striking M&G garden. Despite a severe lack thereof in our garden, I’m rather keen on topiary, particularly cloud (organic pruned) topiary. I therefore found Thomas Hoblyn’s, cumulus combination of formal topiary spheres (Osmanthus x Burkwoodii) with informal, loose planting rather clever and terribly beautiful. Furthermore, the repetition of Salvia Madeline amongst the planting further softened, the expected formality of the effect.
Despite the majestic, almost ancient appeal of topiary used by Arne Maynard in the luscious Laurent Perrier garden, there seemed to be almost a few too many topiary structures in this garden, which was a real shame. The result was a rather satiated garden, which despite its elegance was rather uneasy on the eye. Frustratingly, photographing this garden was therefore quite a challenge, as it was difficult to view it in its entirety without topiary obstructions. Professional photographers will undoubtedly disagree with me.
In the style of Mr Praline and his vertically challenged parrot, ‘I would like to register a complaint’. That, of the use of ancient trees, such as the 100 year old pear tree in the Laurent Perrier garden, the aged cork oak in the Arthritis Research garden and the ancient olive trees in (a.o.) the L’Occitane Immortelle Garden. Beautiful as they are, there is something rather sad about seeing such unbelievably historic specimens, in a zoo-like situation. Just to be clear, building a garden around ancient trees is not the issue here, but more the addition of an old tree, as an accessory to the design to surpass those long years of establishment.
Ancient trees should be admired and respected, and not moved to be part of a show garden. Not only will such action inflame global eco-warriors, but consequently the hunting down of such extraordinary specimens will be met with demand for such trees in gardens across the country. The hunt for ancient olive and cork trees has impacted the landscape in the Mediterranean region and beyond, and is in my view sad and unnecessary. The changing climate has made it possible to grow trees normally more suited to warmer climates in this country, however, that should not result in quick replication by means of ancient tree imports. This country boasts a huge array of superb (younger) trees, all of which surely present suitable alternatives?
Nothing teaches one more of the required detail expected for RHS Chelsea than the mind-numbing ‘cleaning’ of Stipa (Tenuissima). Going through this plant, spear by spear, for the removal of (naturally) browned spears, is what the RHS Chelsea is all about; the execution of perfection. For judging, garden designers and their teams are bound to the initial design brief submitted to the selection committee in August 2011. Though even with that in mind, award decisions will continue to puzzle me, where some gardens surprisingly fared better in terms of metallic praise, than others.
Irrespective of awarded RHS bling, my favourites include; the Caravan Club, Brewin Dolphin and the Telegraph, show gardens. All seemed to exuded that serene quality through their wonderful planting and clever structural elements. Much respect too, for the terribly well executed, DMZ Quiet Time: Forbidden Garden with its poignant symbolism. Admittedly, and this is purely personal, use of gardens as symbolic mediums of a particular argument, makes me rather apprehensive. In this case though, as that was clearly the purpose of the DMZ garden, it obviously worked.
It has to be said too, that the Australians are still without a shadow of doubt, the kings of the BBQ and very envious of their outdoor cuisine equipment, as so evidently boasted in the Trailfinders Australian Garden, I will always be. Messy eaters they must be, as can see no other reason for having that outside bath in the garden.
Finally, kudos to Patricia Fox for creating an enviable modern rooftop garden. If our house had a large enough roof, I can certainly see the value of having a version of the ‘Rooftop Workplace of Tomorrow’ garden. Cluttered as we are though, minimalistic interiors and exteriors are probably a bridge too far.
Do you like lettuce?
You can’t do RHS Chelsea without working the isles in the Great Pavilion. A creature of habit, the visiting regular jaunts is key to my visits to RHS Chelsea. My memory fails me, but favourites include (a.o.); the Botanic Nursery, Bowden Hostas, Bloms Bulbs, Peter Beales, Hardy’s Cottage Plants, Kelways, David Austin, Raymond J Evison, Hardy’s Cottage Plants, and Ken Muir. Unfortunately, my Great Pavilion visiting system has turned out to be bogus, as I seemed to have completely missed out the superb Edulis nurseries display, by the talented Paul Barney. Paul Barney, was responsible for one of the best displays at RHS Hampton Court 2011, where he designed the Garlic Farm’s stunning, Elephant Garlic studded, display.
Bless them, Bowden Hostas must be bored of answering questions to the never ending slug crusade, as I overheard the response to a visitor query as to why some varieties fared better against slugs than others; ‘Do you eat different varieties of lettuce? Why?’. I suppose that’s clear…
For those keen to know, it seems that the more rugged the leaf, the less appealing to slugs.
On press day, some level of celebrity rubber necking is certainly on the cards. In terms of celebs, the RHS Chelsea press machine certainly did themselves proud, where the likes of John Hurt, Michael Caine, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr, Jerry Hall, Tom Stoppard and Roger Daltrey were strutting their stuff along Main Avenue.
Most underwent the slick buttonhole treatment of the super speedy Flower Farmer, Georgie Newberry, even despite her use of the largest and most dangerous looking pins I have ever seen. Hay fever sufferers included, all were adorned with the lovely (and astutely labelled) buttonholes.
In all the luminary excitement, an apology is due. Though, the exact origin of this particular bit information is unknown; could have been yours truly, or I may have just been amplifying an already major clanger. You see, despite photographic evidence and likeness of physique, unfortunately Hugh Jackman never set foot on the RHS Chelsea Flower Show grounds. The dishy chap in the white suit, whom was casually yet elegantly parading along Main Avenue, was not Hugh Jackman, but the equally talented; James Purefoy. Close dead ringer, but no cigar.
My apologies to all the rather excited, eye fluttering, ambulance chasing, Hugh Jackman fans, for the unforgivably bum information, that either originated or was simply passed on by myself on this matter. The ever charming photographer, Charles Hawes, who is unmistakably; Mr Erroneous Celeb spotter must be laughing with glee….