I have lost count of how many times I have visited the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, but one thing is guaranteed - I always see a few gardens and new plants or ideas that inspire me in my own garden.
I am lucky, as I often visit on the press day when there are less crowds, enabling a closer look at the displays as well as the chance to rub shoulders with a few of the celebrity visitors. There certainly was no shortage of these - I saw Sir Bruce Forsyth, Sir Cliff Richard, Ringo Starr, Ricky Gervais, Piers Morgan, Sir Trevor McDonald, Jayne Torvill, Moira Stewart, Jerry Hall, Angela Rippon and Joan Collins, along with all the celebrity gardeners.
The show garden that really caught my eye was Chris Beardshaw’s Furzey Garden, which was so colourful with rhododendrons and azaleas and reminded me of Chelsea gardens of yesteryear. Chris wasn’t sure if the show judges would like it, but they must have as it won a well-deserved gold.
Sometimes the smaller show gardens look more realistic and it always surprises me how much can be crammed into a small space. Satoyama Life won a gold with a delightful small Japanese garden highlighted by Japanese acers, an old shack and a wishing well clothed in moss-like mounds, leading to natural stone and large pebble paths and a trickling stream to add that gentle sound of water.
The best show garden for the judges and one I also enjoyed was designed by Cleve West and called The Brewin Dolphin Garden. This garden had some wonderful perennial and annual planting combinations, such as alchemilla mollis and alliums, papaver ‘Ladybird’, blue nigella and ammi, blue hardy geraniums and deep mahogany aquilegias - all ideas that could easily be taken away and planted in our own gardens.
Moving into the Great Pavillion where the various nurseries display their ranges of plants, is a plant enthusiast’s dream. This year T&M were lucky enough to win the Plant of the Year with Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’, a real breakthrough in digitalis breeding as this is a colour never seen before. Talking colour, I didn’t realise heuchera could be grown in hanging baskets until I saw them growing on Heucheraholics’ colourful display.
Birmingham City Council knows how to catch visitors’ attention - this year, as well as a miniature barge on their display they had a Mini covered in carpet bedding, along with a driver also made from carpet bedding.
The Jersey Farmers put up a colourful display of vegetables that are all grown on the island by farmers or individual growers. This included vibrant peppers and tomatoes along with some wonderful long parsnips and leeks, as well as their best known vegetable, the Jersey Royal potato.
No visit to Chelsea would be complete for me unless I stood for a few minutes in admiration of the brightly coloured begonias and stately delphiniums displayed by Blackmore & Langdon. I grow large begonias for pleasure and exhibition, but looking at these, compared to my own I have a little more work to do to come up to the same gold medal standard.
Just a few of my personal highlights, and they’ve already whetted my appetite for next year’s visit.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden
Jersey Farmers' vegetable display