Some you you may remember that last year I entered the RHS Gardening Blogs 2013 competition and to my astonishment I was shortlisted for the public vote for the winner. I didn't come first but I did receive a runners-up prize which arrived just the other week . . . a Press Pass and official wrist band for the Preview Day of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014!
As I'm wearing my Press badge I thought I ought to write a report – and as a reward for reading it and making a comment, you can enter into the draw for a Chelsea themed prize, Yay!
Entries to the draw now closed - but you may still comment if you wish.
Before setting off for Chelsea I looked at the twitterings on Twitter I discovered other bloggers who would also be there, so we arranged a 'Tweet-up', here are my Twitter/Blogging friends in real life . . .
Alison, Helen, David, Mark & Gaz, Harriet and Sarah
David had won First Prize in the RHS Gardening Blog competition and like me was new to the experience of Press-Day, the others are seasoned Chelsea Press Day bloggers, so I'll leave it to them to do proper reviews of the show gardens and displays. You can hop over to their blogs from here . . .
Alison - The Blackberry Garden
Helen - The Patient Gardener's Weblog
David - The Anxious Gardener
Mark & Gaz - Alternative Eden
Harriet - who blogs for Whichford Pottery
and Sarah aka Matron - Down on the Allotment
So, as you can find any number of beautiful images of all the show gardens and displays on the offical RHS web site or the BBC Chelsea pages, I'll give you a more personal view from the side lines . . .
After picking up my free Show Catalogue from the Press Office and threading my way through the TV camera crews and wandering celebrities along Main Avenue, I headed around the corner to find the Fresh Gardens "innovative, informative and sometimes challenging". I was looking out for Janey Auchincloss who lives not far from me in SW Suffolk and who has co-designed and built the Himalayan Rock Garden – I found her making last minute checks to her garden . . .
Janey explained that all the plants chosen for the garden either originate in the Himalayas or have cultural links to the area – I particularly liked the use of the Marigolds threading through the more natural planting like garlands that are seen placed on the mountain shrines.
This may 'just' look like some plants growing on a stoney mountain path - but remember it's all been put together in a few weeks on a show stand, every pebble carefully placed by hand. Talking with Janey made me appreciate all the care and thought and hard work that goes into all the exhibits.
At lunch time the Tweet-up ajourned to a shady table in one of the Food areas for liquid refreshments and some rather nice pulled-pork and apple sauce buns. With Helen, Alison, David, Gaz & Mark and Harriet (sorry Mark and Harriet didn't fit into the photo) we discussed which gardens we liked best and the ones some of us weren't that struck by (apologies to Mr T)
I don't pretend to be qualified to criticise a Chelsea Show Garden and it's over 10 years since I visited the show (on a hot and crowded public day) but I noticed a certain 'look' common to many – the space divided into rectangles, some paved, some with water, a patch of 'naturalistic planting' under a multi-trunked tree and a rectangle of white stone breaking up the hedge at the back.
The medals and winners were announced this morning and this was the overall Best in Show - so what do I know! The RHS now judge gardens on Design, Delivery, Atmosphere, Planting and Construction and points are awarded in each section then added up and . . . points mean prizes!
Points or whatever, I did like the yellow lupins in the 'planting' and how they show up in the shadows under the tree.
Yesterday before the prize winners were announced, the buzz was all about the new blood that had been injected into Chelsea, young designers making their debut with Show Gardens on Main Avenue . . .
Would Hugo scoop the top accolade with his Waterscape Garden? This was one of my favourites and I loved the blue irises!
Or would Matthew take the prize with the The Brewin Dolphin Garden which included some beautiful plant combinations, like the blue irises growing through the lovely yellowy-orangy ferns.
And then there's the Rich brothers Vital Earth the Night Sky Garden with its muted rusty, palette spangled with white starry flowers.
It gave everyone something to discuss and there was fresh young talent to interview - which I think is a good thing, as Chelsea was on the verge of becoming a stuffy old institution.
This morning I thought about why Hugo, Matthew and the Rich brothers may have missed the top prize . . . did they try to put too much in their gardens? More plants and more different surfaces and elements to be a teeny bit below par and bring the marks down? I found each of their gardens full of interest and they were "gardens" I would have been very happy to spend time in. I'll leave my opinions there.
My favourite Show Garden was Cleve West's Paradise Garden . . . here it is graced with a panoply of BBC celebrities.
The bright sunshine and heat yesterday perfectly showed off this garden's design – the foreground is the stony sandy desert with plants and shrubs suited to such a habitat. In the shade at the back is a formal garden planted around a stone fountain. The flowers in the shade where in cool shades of blue, mauve and white. Most of the plants used in Cleve's garden are perfectly suited to my dry Suffolk garden, so this was very inspiring.
The BBC were busy filming in all the gardens over the course of the day, here's Monty emphasising a point with his pointy stick and Joe looking a bit over-dressed in his suit.
The Great Pavilion is where are the plant displays are to be found, it is huge, I mean really really VAST! In fact it was overwhelming in scent and colour and sheer numbers of stands to see.
There were magical mountains of exotic orchids
Improbably immaculate vegetable gardens
Even Purple Podded Peas!
I loved this exuberant arrangement of flowers, fruit and vegetables all from British Growers . . . and yes, that is a Hairy Biker.
Like many of this year's exhibits, the inspiration for this display of Heucheras is the horror of the trenches and WWI for both men and horses.
I was lucky to be standing near to the No Man's Land garden when the War Horse puppet trotted past (my strategy of ushering the lady Chelsea Pensioners past me for a better look, meant I could take a photo before the media pack elbowed me out of the way).
At regular intervals through the day, signalled by a bugle call, various celebrities read war poems. Earlier I'd heard Rowan Atkinson do his reading (overheard... "he actually has rather a good voice", well he wasn't going to read it as Mr Bean or Blackadder!) and when I wandered past again, Jeremy Paxman was just taking the stage so I stopped and listened and he was rather good – introducing and reading The Soldier by Rupert Brooke and Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen. It was very moving and he got an appreciative round of applause.
Oh gosh! I was running out of time and hadn't yet seen the Artisan Gardens! These are tiny plots on a raised bank along a shady pathway far from the jamboree of Main Avenue. It was a pleasure to be in the shade and the Artisan Gardens didn't disappoint.
My absolute favourite was Togenkyo - A Paradise on Earth by the Japanese designer Ishihara Kauyuki. And here's the man himself, with his interpreter, explaining to a TV crew the meaning of his garden . . . Togenkyo is a fabled beautiful landscape/garden that takes away one's troubles – but can only be visited once in your life time.
Ishihara's intricate and exquisite garden is designed to fix the image of Togenkyo into the your mind so it can be recalled to calm you in times of stress.
NOW! As a reward for reading my ramblings (or just for scrolling down to the end) I've put together a bag of goodies for one of you to win . . .
all you have to do is leave a comment after this post and next Sunday, 25th May I'll select a winner - by a random draw . . . what you will win is
An official RHS Chelsea Flower Show Bag and badge,
A packet of Tuscan Salad Mix seeds from the lovely generous Paolo of Franchi Seeds of Italy,
A spool of purple wool twine and a packet of purple podded pea seeds from the delightful Kim of Twool,
and five of my greetings cards.
(If you don't have a garden these seeds are also perfect for growing salad leaves and pea shoots on your kitchen window sill, and the twool can be used to tie up parcels.)
I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Chelsea