Naomi from Out of my Shed hosted her second Chelsea Fringe street party this weekend. The sun was shining and there was a great turnout (and supply of cake) from Naomi’s local community. This year, gardening bloggers were also enjoying the event virtually, via a parallel Fringe event called the Bloggers’ Cut (geddit?), organised by Michelle over at Veg Plotting. How very 21st century!
Naomi scored a bit of a coup as she managed to get three Chelsea Pensioners to declare the party officially open. They always visit the Chelsea Flower Show, so it was fitting that they visited a Fringe event too. They caused quite a stir, posing expertly for the (many) cameras and chatting away to the fascinated crowd. And what lovely, twinkly chaps they were. I asked Bob (in the middle) how he’d got there, and he told me he’d walked (he’d got a taxi). Bill (on the right) told me all about life at the Chelsea Hospital. Apparently the food is excellent, especially the crumble. He took some pics on his smartphone. I’d love to have talked to them all for longer.
A bit of Chelsea Flower Show-style planting had also come to Finsbury Park, in the form of some cow parsley in the communal veg patch. I’ve walked past that veg patch many times, and have never noticed any cow parsley. A neighbour told me that Naomi dug it up from somewhere she shouldn’t have, but her secret’s safe with me.
Every show garden at Chelsea tells a story – usually one that’s dictated by the sponsor. Often it reflects a landscape, an environmental issue, or a charitable cause. There’s rarely a garden without an agenda of some kind, which is a shame. The best gardens manage to nod to the sponsor’s brief while basically sidestepping it – I’d never have guessed that Roger Platts’ M&G Centenary Garden was reflecting 100 years of gardening features, and it was all the better for it.
I never read the blurb that I’m handed about a garden. To be honest, I’m not interested in the story it’s trying to tell, or the ‘journey’ that it’s taking me on. Much as I care about some of the issues represented, I just want to look at a show garden and decide how it makes me feel. Do I love it? Does it inspire me? Could I wake up to it every day? Could I try some of those planting combinations at home? Are there elements of the design that I could emulate one day?
On that basis, here are my two favourites.
I’m never going to plant a Japanese garden, but I could happily wake up to An Alcove (Toknonoma) Garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory (above). It represents an alcove in a traditional Japanese tatami room, and in Japanese culture, people often meet with important people in such spaces. As I was taking pics, Cleve West was invited by the designer into the alcove – lucky (and important) chap.
The planting in Chris Beardshaw’s Arthritis Research UK Garden (below) stood out for being refreshingly different. There was an abundance of meadowy planting in many of the other gardens (I was cow parsleyed-out by the end of the day and think I might have gone off that style of planting a bit), but this garden had lots of zinging colour, and plants that weren’t found elsewhere (eg lupins, foxtail lilies and Echium pininana). I loved the splodges of Pittosporum tobira that acted like full stops at the end of the borders – a nice alternative to the ubiquitous box balls. I went back to look at the garden several times, and that’s always a good sign.
In other news, I went home with a red face. For once I hadn’t put my foot in it (or if I had, I hadn”t realised it) but had managed to get sunburn. Or was it windburn? Many other people said that their cheeks were also burning. How on earth did that happen on a chilly, cloudy and not-especially-windy day?
Now, here’s a window box with a difference. It’s around 10m long, a foot wide and deep and runs down the entire length of Locanda Locatelli.
It looks as if a meadow has been transplanted to central London – very Chelsea 2012 – and contains cow parsley, nepeta, penstemon, Stipa tenuissima, Allium sphaerocephalon and sedums.I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’d love to know who designed it.
The restaurant is within the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and around the corner, the same building is adorned with window boxes filed with the red, white and blue bedding that’s everywhere at the moment. All very nice, but not a patch on this.
Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, you’ll know that the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place at the moment. I went on Monday, on press day. It’s a privilege to walk into the showground early in the morning, the air heady with anticipation, and to glimpse the show gardens for the first time. I’ll admit that I’m more interested in the show gardens than I am in the displays in the Great Pavilion. Maybe that will change when I get my own garden, as I might actually be in the market for buying some plants.
This year, the must-have plant seemed to be cow parsley. A colleague quipped that he spends most of his life trying to keep it out of his garden. There was a very high box ball and topiary quota, too. Some of the big gardens on the Main Avenue looked a tad similar, with lots of naturalistic, romantic planting – a reaction to the double-dip recession maybe? Or a homage to the big Chelsea cheese and gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith? And oddly, there was very little grow-your-own in comparison to the last few years, so maybe that bubble is beginning to burst.
This year, I decided I’d ‘judge’ the gardens on whether I’d like to wake up looking at them every day. My favourites are below. I wouldn’t actually want Diarmuid Gavin’s creation (above) outside my back door, but it was most definitely fun. Due to vertigo issues I only got halfway up, but it was great being able to set foot in a show garden, especially one that involved ladders, waterfalls and slides.
And then, of course, there were the celebrities. I’ve come to the conclusion that spotting celebs on press day at Chelsea is a bit like going on safari. On safari you’re told what you might see – zebras, lions, elephants etc – and you really, really want to tick them off your list. At Chelsea, you’re given a list of the celebrities who may be present (Christopher Biggins, Floella Benjamin and Ringo Starr are usually guaranteed), and you really, really want to tick them off the list. You get jealous if someone has seen someone you haven’t, even if they’re a bit Z-list, and get over excited if you spot anyone at all (my colleague Jane, visiting Chelsea for the first time, cried: ‘Oh my god, it’s JENNIE BOND!!!!’. We haven’t let her live that one down).
If you get wind of a crowd gathering, see some flashbulbs going off, or hear a rumour that someone off the telly is nearby, you hotfoot it there indecently quickly, camera or smartphone held aloft and sharp elbows at the ready. This is what happened when I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was in the vicinity last year, and the same thing happened this year with Sir Cliff Richard. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know why I did it, but there’s a pic of him at the bottom of this post anyway.
There was a lot going on in Joe Swift’s garden compared to others on the Main Avenue, but it was ordered, welcoming, contemporary and considered. I’d seen some drawings beforehand and the garden didn’t look particularly inspiring, so the finished result was a surprise. All the years commenting on other people’s show gardens for the BBC have obviously paid off.
I sat on Cleve’s bench for a few moments with a bunch of other hacks. I loved the planting – naturalistic but with lots of pops of colour. Apparently there was some red, white and blue to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was very subtle.
Jo Thompson’s garden was an inspiration for anyone with a small space. She used mature birch trees, Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’, which were perfectly shaped and not remotely overpowering – perfect for a town garden. And who wouldn’t want Doris (the 1950s caravan) at the bottom of their garden?
More inspiration for small gardens. The clever layout included a path that was a continuous curve, leading to a seat. The sweep of alpine strawberries (on the right) was a nice touch.
This Japanese masterpiece invited you to just stand and gaze at it. Which I did, for a long time.
Lots of hard landscaping and tree ferns isn’t really my thing, but the underplanting was really pretty in this garden, in shades of purple and orange. I couldn’t really do it justice in this pic.
As I’ve observed on this blog before, the likelihood of someone being home as I’m snapping their garden seems to be disproportionately high. These days I have a card at the ready and most people are more than happy to have their garden photographed.
My luck ran out last weekend, though. The cockles of my heart still warm from the house a few doors down (see previous post), I found this other lovely display (there were also some other pots that you can’t see, which contained French marigolds and cornflowers). I got my camera out, raised it… and then heard some loud banging on the window from behind the net curtains. This was accompanied by an emphatic ‘NO!’. And then the curtains were pulled to one side.
Having been a gardening journalist for several years, I am used to the fact that the owner of a garden is often not at all what you’d expect from the look of their garden. And that was certainly the case here. I was imagining someone at bit boho and middle class (as most of the inhabitants of Dartmouth Park are). Let’s just say that the person shouting at me was not remotely like that…
‘The garden’s looking terrible!’ said my Mum when I went back home last weekend. This is a familiar refrain on my mum’s part but no one else can ever see what the problem is. The garden is complimented by anyone who visits and the front garden once won a ‘front garden of the year’ competition without Mum even entering it.
I found Dad painting the beehive, which isn’t really a beehive but a tool bin made by my Uncle Ian, who isn’t really my uncle but a family friend. I think even Mum would have to admit that it looks nice amid the cow parsley under the trees at the bottom of the garden.