4pm on a Thursday and the minutes were going by slowly. I was looking forward to getting home, putting my feet up and relaxing with a large glass of wine. The next half an hour went pretty quickly and I overheard a conversation about needing someone to go to Barcelona to collect plants for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. To be honest, all I heard was Barcelona and I said ‘I’ll go’. Never did I think I would then be rushing home to get my passport to book flights for the next morning.
7pm I arrived home with a little buzz in my stomach. It was such a great opportunity, but knowing I had the difficult task of getting the plants through security and onto the plane, well I definitely needed that large glass of wine. We tried contacting Ryan Air before hand to make sure we could get the plants on the plane; we even purchased an extra seat for our VIP plants. To our dismay, we had no luck and we were advised soil was prohibited on the plane. Now, try explaining the difference between soil and compost to a non horticulturist and you’ll need a second glass of wine!
However, we knew that our Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ plants were to be the centre piece of the Pure Land Foundation Garden. After being advised HRH the Queen was going to be visiting the garden we had to try.
4am the next day I was up and on my way to Stansted airport. The taxi driver was highly amused that I was travelling to Barcelona and back just for ‘some plants’. What I didn’t realise was this would be a highly entertaining subject for the whole of my journey. I am not really the best of flyers, turbulence is my worst enemy and from a past experience with Ryan Air I was a little nervous to say the least. To top things off, as we headed for takeoff a fixture of the plane’s hand luggage holder fell right in front of me. The gentlemen to my right found it hilarious, but it is safe to say the feeling wasn’t mutual.
11.30am I was standing at Barcelona El Prat airport with our very special plants. I didn’t expect the box to be so large, so when I had a call from T&M HQ I was quick to raise my concerns, there was no way they were going to fit in the plane. With my box in tow I went for a coffee, the realisation that I had 6 hours to spend in this airport was slightly daunting. I should have spent the time learning the Spanish word for Trolley, as I could not locate one anywhere and ended up carrying this box around all day.
Now, of course, I expected some people to look at me confused. I mean it’s not every day you see someone walking through an airport with a box as large as that (which had images of fresh fruit on it I might add) and it isn’t really something you would want to see going onto your flight. However, I was stared at like a hawk! The funniest moment was trying to go to the bathroom with my box. I couldn’t leave it outside; they were too precious so they had to come with me. I took a quick bathroom selfie to send to HQ for a laugh.
The most nerve racking part was getting the box through security, it is quite funny that it soon received the label ‘The box’ not ‘The plants’, but anyway, security. I approached the x-ray machine and it was clear the box hadn’t gone unnoticed. Four guards approached me asking what was in the box; this was the part I had been so worried about. My friends joked I would be arrested for smuggling plants, of course I didn’t find it very funny! ‘Plants’ I said, ‘Garden plants’. They put them through and sent me on my way.
I had crossed one major hurdle and had one more to go, getting them on the plane! I sat in the departure gate for 3 hours talking to a gentleman about my day. He had quite a trip ahead of him also as he was flying back to the UK to pick up his car to then drive back to Barcelona. My flight was meant to be at 6.40pm, a look at my watch proved this would not be happening as it was now 7pm! We were then advised our plane hadn’t arrived yet and we were delayed by an hour. Just what I wanted hear after all the hours I had already spent waiting around.
The time came to board the plane and I was becoming more and more relieved. I knew that once I was sat on the plane, with the box next to me, we had made this crazy 3,000km round trip. I reached the door of the plane and the air steward immediately said, ‘that will not fit on the plane’. And she was right, it was far too long and the seat belt wouldn’t fit around it. So, we had no option but to put it in the hold under the plane with the rest of the luggage. Now, I don’t know if you have seen these documentaries on how our luggage is handled, or shall I say thrown on and off the plane, but my heart sank. I quickly and desperately advised they were very precious plants that would tomorrow be seen by HRH the Queen.
She very kindly advised the grounds crew that this box needed to be handled with care and they very kindly strapped it in securely upright so hopefully the journey wouldn’t cause the plants too much distress. Arriving at Stansted airport the air hostess stepped in to help once again, she told the grounds men about the box and I was assured it would be handled with care. I was standing at the baggage collection point and one by one passengers were collecting their luggage and making their way out. Still no box. Where was the box? It was like I had lost an arm, after all it had spent the best part of 6 hours glued to my side. A kind man advised it had been brought in by hand and was waiting a little further down. I saw the box in the distance; it was standing up right, no dents to be seen. The only thing to be seen was the smile on my face.
I collected my box and went through arrivals, where Michael Perry was waiting to take photos and to take the plants off my hands and transport them to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I was impatient and I had to see how the plants were. Without hesitation, we opened the box and WOW, they were in perfect condition. The relief was pretty astonishing; I mean they are only plants, but my 18 hour adventure was so worthwhile. The Digitalis Illumination Apricot (a new sister line to winner of the Plant of the Year 2012 Digitalis illumination Pink) looked incredible.
Digitalis Illumination Apricot looking amazing at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
A pit stop at McDonalds and by 11pm I was tucked up in bed. What a day! I also get the honour of visiting the show on Thursday, so I will be sure to tell you all about it
Hi There! My name is Jack Shilley; I’m 19 years old and i have an incredible passion for horticulture and growing your own. This is my first blog for Thompson & Morgan so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you my horticultural story – so that you get to know me a bit better before I start sharing my Thompson & Morgan product experiences with you all.
My horticultural passion, expertise and background lies within the horticultural retail and business sectors which I adore. I also have a growing passion for journalism, media and broadcast horticulture which I hope one day will become my full time career. Oh and vegetables, fruit & tropical’s are my favourite plants to grow!
I started gardening around the age of 6 years old when my parents first bought me a small, pop up greenhouse in which I could start growing a few things. I was lucky enough to attend Ranelagh CofE School (Secondary school) where they had a thriving gardening club run by Peter Seabrook’s daughter (Alison Seabrook-Moore). As part of this gardening club, and under the guidance of Peter himself, we were lucky enough to exhibit a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2009. This was an incredible experience for a 14 year old and turned my gardening hobby in to my long term horticultural career.
After I completed my GCSE’s and one year of A-level study, I undertook a level 3 extended diploma in horticulture at Sparsholt College Hampshire – and I’ve never looked back! Sparsholt was a great place to study and I graduated in June 2014 with a distinction star grade – you can’t get any better than that! During my second year of study I was lucky enough to once again design, build and exhibit an RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden. Being more involved this time was stressful, fun and tiring all at once. When results day came it was the greatest feeling in the world to be so highly reward for all our classes’ hard work by achieving a Gold medal and best in category! Amazing!
After graduation I was accepted for a position with the National Tropical Botanical gardens on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii. This was an amazing experience and I learned loads about one of my favourite plant categories – tropical’s! Working with these exotic plants in Kauai’s unique climate and landscape was just inspiring and the other interns who I lived and worked with were also awesome!
I am currently working in horticultural retail at a garden centre in Bagshot and I am hoping to head back to Sparsholt to attain my horticulture degree in September 2015 for 3 years. I also started YoungHort in December 2013 – which you can find out more about here.
And that’s all about Jack! (Me in a nutshell!!)
More to come ….
After all the buzz of setting up, last minute polishing and- for some- the clinking of champagne glasses, Chelsea Flower Show exhibitors can now sit back and rest… well almost! Let’s hope the plants can last another day; the unprecedented hot weather this week has given many exhibitors sleepless nights, as they struggle to keep their displays in dazzling form! So here is The Chelsea Roundup.
Newsfeeds were going crazy earlier this week; which celebs are at the show? What are the trends? Who’s going to win best in show? How expensive are those sandwiches…?? You simply can’t deny that Chelsea Flower Show is the most talked about horticultural event of the year, and I love how non-gardeners get on board with it too by being glued to the daily shows on BBC2.
Who cares if some of the gardens are outlandish, isn’t that what this show is about? It’s a showpiece to show the best skills in garden design and horticulture. I’m convinced you can always take elements of any garden and use them in your own; planting partners, styles of planting, sculptures, create your own mini Chelsea show garden! One of my favourite gardens was the Help for Heroes garden, designed by Matt Keightley. I loved the planting, interspersed by blocks- for me; it was the perfect fusion of tradition al cottage garden and modernist!
Help for Heroes garden, by Matt Keightley
I also liked the artisan garden section, mainly because it was in the shade on such a sweltering day! I loved the Virgin Roof Gardens entry, which featured red Geraniums and dwarf Marigolds from Thompson & Morgan. It was an explosion of colour, yet still cool and relaxing!
Virgin Roof Gardens
Every year at Chelsea, my main focus is the floral marquee, where I do a spot of indoor plant-hunting! Here, specialist nurseries show off their skills and variety range. You can come here to see everything from gladioli to passion flowers, bonsai to sweet peas. I must admit I can’t help but feel some of the stands have looked the same for 50 years, but there were some fresh looks. How about hanging amaryllis for example??
The Plant of the Year stand is in the floral marquee, where any nursery from the UK can enter. Those plants are whittled down to 20 finalists, but there can only be 1 winner. As soon as I walked up to the display, I knew that Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’ had the leading edge, even over plants I had entered! Well, I should have visited a betting shop, as my prediction was right, and this picotee, two-tiered Hydrangea was named Plant of the Year 2014!
Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’
Then, tomorrow, it’s the BIG SELL OFF! When the stands are dismantled, and the contents auctioned off. This is an absolutely crazy few hours, and it culminates in the London Underground being filled with people hugging delphiniums…! Phew! Another great show!
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 runs from 20 – 24 May. You cannot deny that the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the pinnacle of any horticultural calendar. Although it can divide public opinion with some of the garden designs, the event is a fantastic showcase for new plants, undiscovered plants and old favourites!
I have loved the show since I was 18, and have visited pretty much every year. In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to get in on the Monday (not over the fence, either!) so have had the privilege to walk around with a bit more space, able to get up close to the displays and gardens!
There’s been even more of a buzz about the show since they began the “Best New Plant” contest 5 years ago, and every year Thompson & Morgan have entered their most sparkling new plants. In 2012, we won! Foxglove “Illumination Pink” was crowned “Best New Plant”, thanks to its unique heritage (Isoplexis x Digitalis), 5 month flowering, perennial status and exotic colourings!
Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’
This year, we have a few up our sleeve. But, personally, I think Petunia “Black Night” is in with a chance. The Petunia “Black Night” is the world’s first double-flowered petunia with velvety, BLACK flowers. A lovely, mounded petunia, which is already picking up fans the world over…!!
Petunia ‘Black Night’
So, I’ll be ready, at the gates, at 8am next Monday, eager to get to the main marquee. This is where I’ll spend hours seeking out new plants, snapping with my camera, and yapping on about plants for hours. Bliss!
If you are one of the lucky ones that have a chance to visit this year, make sure you take pictures of you favourites and let us see them!
Daytime – Monday 23 – Friday 27 May 2011 12:30 – 13:00 on BBC One
Evening – Sunday 22 May 18:15 – 19:00 on BBC One
Monday 23 May 19:30 – 20:00 on BBC One and 20:00 – 21:00 on BBC Two
Tuesday 24 May 20:00 – 21:00 on BBC Two
Wednesday 25 May 20:30 – 22:00 on BBC Two
Thursday 26 May 20:00 – 21:00 on BBC Two
Friday 27 May 20:00 – 21:30 on BBC Two
Saturday 28 May 19:30 – 20:00 on BBC Two
Sunday 29 May TBC on BBC One
Here are a few highlights to keep an eye out for;
RHS Chelsea at Twilight – Friday 23 May, 2014
An evening of light opera by Opera Holland Park. Ticket includes entry to the show at 5.30pm and a glass of champagne. The concert will commence at 8.15pm
New for 2014
Discovery (in the Great Pavilion) replaces RHS Environment and showcases the best scientific and educational exhibits from the world of horticulture
In the Great Pavilion include NAFAS’s display celebrating their Emerald anniversary (55 years) titled “A Green Thought in a Green Shade”, a one-off display by Perennial marking their 175 years of support for horticulturists and a stunning display by South West in Bloom highlighting “Fifty Golden Years of Bloom”
I have been to Chelsea before – I have always loved it and I’m sure I always will. Never before have I felt so excited about going as I did this year. The last time I went to Chelsea, it was the second day and I went with one of my best friends, a florist who runs a fantastic florist shop in Berkshire called Green Parlour. My friend Emma had got the tickets for us and we had a wonderful day looking around the show together – looking for inspiration for her floral designs. This year was quite different. I had been lucky enough to be accepted for Press Day and I was so excited to be able to see the showground, whilst it was still quiet before the gates opened to the general public the following day.
The fantastic Get Well Soon garden at Chelsea this year
Walking around the grounds so early in the morning was wonderful, and gave me the chance to speak to the garden designers and exhibitors as they were putting the finishing touches to their displays. You could tell how much work had gone into their exhibits and although they were clearly nervous waiting for the judges to come around, everyone was so friendly and keen to speak to me about their gardens.
There are so many things that I love about Chelsea – I love to see what medals have been awarded and I love to listen to the opinions that people have of the gardens as they speak to their friends. Every garden will divide opinion and it’s easy to see why. There is such a range of different gardens that they will never be to everyone’s taste. For me, the larger show gardens are hard for me to get passionate about. It’s not that I don’t think they are beautiful – I do! I find it hard to draw inspiration from them though, as they are so different to my own garden. The artisan gardens are a different matter though, they are about the right size for my garden at home. I can find so many things in them that I would like to bring home to my own garden.
The wonderful “Get Well Soon” garden by The National Botanic Garden of Wales was fantastic – full of things to show us that gardening is good for our health. I chatted to the ladies who were putting their finishing touches to the garden, who were all very friendly and I will definitely be going down to visit them in the garden in Wales.
The Grand Pavilion is another fantastic part of Chelsea – there are displays from nurseries from up and down the country. It’s a great way to look at plants that you might want to order as bulbs. The scent is indescribable and hits you as soon as you walk in.
I’m already counting the days until next year!