Behind the scenes at Chelsea Flower Show 2013 (press day)
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centenary birthday this week, and I was very lucky to receive a press pass for Monday 21 May for a sneak preview and behind the scenes look at the most prestigious event in the gardening calendar – a money can’t buy experience for any keen gardener!
Normally I attend as the ‘paying public’ with my husband Ian, purchasing my ticket in the middle of winter with the anticipation of warmer days ahead. With it comes the hustle and bustle of crowds of people sweeping you along from the minute you walk through the entrance gates; the brass band playing in the distance; queuing for Pimms and the ladies toilets! But yesterday was a whole new experience for me and very surreal; almost like a personal VIP visit. Walking through the gates I was surprised at how quiet it was. I stopped for a few moments to take in the calm atmosphere with people putting finishing touches to their displays; watering gardens and trade stands being stocked with everything for the home and garden.
I visited the artisan retreats gardens first and walked into the BBC filming for their lunchtime slot with Kim Wilde; what a scoop! I watched as the film crew stood in front of each of the eight artisan gardens and Kim pointed out plants of interest and talked to each of the designers. I also met Toby Buckland from Gardeners World
and chatted to Woolcott and Smith (NSPPC: What Will We Leave? The Garden of Magical Childhood). Their garden is designed for adults and brings fond memories of our childhoods back, with marbles and teddy bears taking centre stage. Some of the plants were grown from plugs at home in Kent. Remember the space hopper from your own childhood? Woolcott and Smith gained lots of attention and famous signatures on theirs and plan to auction this at the end of the show!
For me the best part of Chelsea has to be the artisan retreat gardens; I look forward to walking around the corner and seeing small spaces filled with inspiration and colour. Talented garden designers working closely with charities and organisations, often to a tight budget for just ten days to complete these perfect little spaces. You don’t need to have acres of land to make a big impact; less is definitely more. Most people who visit Chelsea are keen gardeners on a small budget who want to take home a little piece of Chelsea and incorporate it into their gardens. This can be a packet of seeds; a small idea from one of the larger gardens or gaining inspiration through plant structure and colours.
The Great Pavillion was full of colour and exhibitors showing off their prize blooms. I love to wander through browsing through a mixture of growers old and new in search of plant inspiration. It’s a great place to see the plants up close and compare them side by side. Some of the displays are very extravagant and others subtle with the plants doing the talking.
The smell of the David Austin roses should be bottled for you to take home; it is truly amazing walking through the display and the mixed scents coming together as one. I even saw Miranda Richardson admiring the beautiful roses; she looked up at me and smiled for the camera (click)!
The large show gardens were filled with cameras, wall to wall celebrities and garden designers being interviewed. It was a stark contrast to when I entered the grounds earlier in the day. The low lighting levels outside made the gardens jump out and draw you in; the colour more vibrant without the suns glare. Each garden easy to view and experience unlike on public days where you find yourself weaving in and out to get a front row seat! Instead photographers lined up calling celebrities to look their way to get the best shot. It’s quite funny walking around smiling and saying hello to people you recognise then realising it was Kirsty Allsopp or Ringo Starr!
The Conversation Garden was small and intended to be visual, it invited you to walk around the two pools symbolising social interaction and reflection. I like the idea of re-siting the garden after Chelsea to a permanent home in Tottenham, North London for everyone to enjoy. The SeeAbilty garden depicted the effects of sight loss with its creative use of colour contrasts of vibrant greens and purples. The Ginkgo biloba trees drawing your attention to the centre of the garden where a circular slate area representing the pattern of the eye’s iris – very creative and eye catching! The Homebase Garden ‘Sowing the seeds of Change’ was my overall favourite. The colours, the dividing spaces, interplanting of vegetables with perennials, and the handmade working beehive made of green oak, just stunning in every direction.
Gardening trends have changed over the past 100 years but some things are truly British – like roses, sweet peas, strawberries (and gnomes?) And the best bit about visiting Chelsea Flower Show after such a long winter is getting your gardening mojo back. Remembering why you love gardening, be it pottering about on a Sunday afternoon; grabbing a precious 10 minutes watering the veg patch before work. Every gardener can take home a little bit of Chelsea this year; what would you take home?