Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

RHS Chelsea 2014 - who am my to judge? ... and a giveaway!

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 . . .
Mark & Gaz - Alternative Eden
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



  1. Wow, those orchids are amazing! And I love the Japanese garden. (Makes me think I'm definitely right to stick with vegetable gardening - I could never begin to make anything that beautiful, but I can grow a carrot :-)

  2. I really enjoyed your post. You have really given me a feel of your day out at the show and it sounds wonderful! I agree with you about Cleve West's garden - truly delightful!

  3. That must have been so much fun to see and do!

  4. I've always wanted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, but so far I've not got there ... maybe next year :-)
    Love all your photos and 'ramblings' ... makes me feel (almost) as if I was there! Thanks for sharing and thanks too for this giveaway ... fingers crossed x

  5. What a fabulous day you had:-)

  6. That looks like a fun day :)

  7. You are you to judge, and why not? Thank you for sharing your day with us :)

  8. I haven't been to Chelsea for at least ten years either - I must get myself sorted out next year. I have to admit, I'm not enchanted by the best in show, but maybe you have to see it with a judge's eye. Lovely pictures and commentary, thank you.

  9. What fun Celia!
    I've never been to Chelsea but I enjoy watching it on the television!

  10. Loved reading a review from someone I feel I know, like being there but without the tired feet!

  11. I can only imagine how lovely it must have been to visit when it was so 'uncrowded' (having only ever been on a public day). From what I've seen on the TV my favourite large garden is Cleve's and I like the Potter's Garden in the artisan section. Glad you had such an amazing time :-)

  12. I'd love to go to Chelsea...maybe next year :) Thanks for sharing your photos!

  13. Your blog is the first time I have seen the togenkyo garden and it looks so beautiful and calm I think I would like to see it in person may be that will be my once in a lifetime visit.
    glad you got the chance of such a fantastic day

  14. It was great to meet you yesterday Celia! Hopefully we'll be able to meet up again real soon, Hampton Court perhaps? We did some gardening (actually painting) as soon as we got home, that and combined with a day of walking we both now feel very achy! Worth it though

  15. I'm a bit far away to take advantage though I did go to the show a couple of times when I lived there.
    But I've really enjoyed your report, Celia.I'll come back later and enlarge your pictures for a good look!

  16. The idea of the togengyo garden that one can only visit once but can carry with you really touched me. Loved your report. x

  17. I haven't attended Chelsea for years, but to be able to attend when it is so uncrowded must have been a treat. Sunshine, lovely gardens, and meeting up with other bloggers.
    Jeremy Paxman's hair looks much whiter than I imagined, and is that Fiona Bruce, who looks so much taller than I thought? I understand Monty has badly hurt his leg and now needs a stick to stop him toppling over.
    I think that you could be right about putting too much in the garden, sometimes less is more.

  18. What a fantastic post, how lovely to see Chelsea from your point of view. It sounds like you had an amazing day. Bet it was exhausting though!

  19. Wasn't it hot? But wonderful to be there on Press Day. I was lucky to be invited onto Cleve's garden and was amazed at how much cooler it was as soon as you stepped onto it. Shame I didn't hear about the tweet up, it would have been lovely to meet you and the others.

  20. How lovely! Lucky you. Great review and lovely pictures, sounds like you had a wonderful day!

  21. It was a smashing day, wasn't it? And I'm so pleased to have met you and to have taken part in a tweet-up! I was back to mowing yesterday, which was quite a contrast to the day before. Dave

  22. I love the meaning behind the japanese garden. It looks as if you had a wonderful day!

  23. Sounds like an amazing day! I not been to Chelsea for a few years maybe time to give it another go. It's good to read your review and glad you got your photo of the pensioners before being crowded out by the journalists!

  24. I'm so jealous- what a brilliant day out! Nice to see a real person's view of it rather than BBC highlights, much more interesting!

  25. It sounds like you had a fantastic day. Reading your blog has given me so much more insight into the smaller gardens and pavillion displays than watching the tv coverage has done - they seem to be concentrating on Main Avenue. I'm glad that I've found your blog.

  26. What a wonderful post Celia. I found it far more entertaining and informative than the BBC coverage last night! Although I did spot the purple podded peas on TV.

  27. I love your Chelsea post, Celia. Keep missing it on TV so this sums everything up perfectly. Yellow lupins great!

  28. Why has nobody mentioned Alan Titchmarsh's garden?

  29. It looks like you had a wonderful time ..and without the crowds! Visiting Chelsea is on my wish list. Lovely to hear your personal thoughts and share your photos.

  30. Hello Celia. A lovely blog post as always and I'm pleased to see you spent time in the pavilion as well as the show gardens. I find Chelsea a complete wonder and yet very concerning alll at the same time and it also has a huge emotional strain for me as my mother died days before my 1st ever plants to appear there won gold. But what it does do is herald British horticulture and th pavilion is a great shout out to those thousands of independant nurseries that are woring so hard to maintain our gardening heritage in the UK. Thank you for your lovely post, Sara x

  31. Good post and great to meet you. I thought I had done a good tour of the show but keep seeing bits on others posts I missed. Hope to go next year, maybe see you too

  32. I saw The Warhorse on stage and it was the most astonishingly moving thing ever.. I wept all the way through - not just because of the sadness of it all but the astonishing beauty of the horse itself which you never once thought was anything but real. I'd have liked to have met twitter crowd at Chelsea this year but it wasn't to be.. it had better be as sunny next year

  33. It looked like you all had a blast! I was hoping to go to the Manchester flower show, but funds are a bit tight! :( haha

  34. Great post, almost feel as if I was there! Looks like you had a lovely time

  35. While I enjoy daydreaming through bright & over flowing gardens, the ones I am most interested in knowing more about are those involving native plants & planting with climate change in mind. 'Paradise Garden' is what I would be interested in knowing more about. (even though I still need to have a peony or rose bush around)

  36. Yes, I adored the Japanese garden. The views and composition were just perfect no matter which angle you viewed it from.

  37. Well Celia, I've never been to Chelsea but I feel like I have now! I seem to be missing most of the tv coverage but I did watch the one with all the show gardens last night. My opinions mesh with yours on the ones I would have picked. The young designers are breaking through I hope. There is a lot of that gorgeous blue planting around this year and I want to get some anchusa now. Sadly irises don't like this garden but I can get my fix from your gorgeous photos. Lucky you to get a press pass and thanks for a great report!

  38. Lovely to read your post and how lucky to go with a press pass!! I went a few years ago when my nephew designed the Help for Heroes garden,it's a fabulous event but very crowded on public days.

  39. I've never felt the need to go to Chelsea, but it does look interesting!

  40. If only I had half the inspiration of those designers, my potato plants would be in nice, neat rows at the same height and standing to attention. Thanks for an interesting read with beautiful pictures.

  41. Wow ! What a day you had. I particularly liked the pics of the vegetable garden, the Himalayan and the amazing orchid temple. What an intoxicating delight :) x

  42. I was lucky enough to spend the day at Chelsea yesterday (wear comfortable shoes!) and it's fascinating to see how we all come away with a different set of photos as a reflection of our favourite things. Mine include shots of that stainless steel horse rearing over one of the heuchera stands; the auricula theatres; the Hope on the Horizon garden; a lump of rock (with a cushion!) acting as a seat in the Alzheimer's Society garden - memories of family holidays with our mother "perched on a jagged rock". Thank you for sharing the things that caught your eye.

  43. Celia, its been many years since I visited Chelsea but now I definitely want to go again - without the crowds. What an excellent opportunity for you to go along on Preview Day! Thank you for sharing the experience with us. Oh and I loved young blood Hugo's Waterscape Garden, saw it on the TV. Just beautiful.


  44. I do miss going to Chelsea!
    It was an annual pilgrimage for us (along with Wimbledon) My older sister and I (and Guy too once he was added to the family)often met up with our Aunty C there; usually on public days in the afternoon/evening when the ticket prices go down - but for a couple of years we bought her RHS membership as a Christmas Present and then we got to go on Members days which was very nice :)
    There is always so much to see and be amazed by. This year's gardens seem to be no exception, although I have to confess to not being a huge fan of all those squares, I like more flow and freedom in a garden. The thing that amazed me most actually was seeing the RBC sponsoring a garden - what on earth is the Royal Bank of Canada doing at Chelsea? lol!


  45. My friend confessed that she has always wanted to go to chelsea flower show the other day. if I win, the themed stuff is going to be a gift for her :)

  46. Going on preview day sounds just perfect. I would love to see but hate crowds. A couple of years ago I went to Malvern for the spring show and found the public day so busy I could hardly look at things. The RHS members' day was fine but your preview day sounds even better. I was interested in your comment about a certain sameness in the structure of many of the gardens. I had been thinking much the same while watching the TV coverage. Cleve West's was my favourite too!

  47. I was googling 'silk in suffolk' this morning for a visit in July and came across your blog. Lovely chat about Chelsea - very envious as I have only ever visited as an RHS member and not on press day (although perhaps I might try and get in as an occasional contributor on gardening for a charity magazine). But I watched loads on TV and was struck how much I thought like you on the main gardens - rather formalised but trying to be 'cottagy' with all the flowing purple plants. It also worries me that flowers like irises last for so few days so their lovely garden designs would have to be completely rethought for the rest of the year! My most envied thing from Chelsea this year was Carol's pink dress and bolero jacket with long sleeves. I want it!
    Lovely blog - I shall revisit.

  48. What a wonderful thing to do. I am so glad that you had the chance to go and, to enjoy. I am not so sure that I would like it nowadays.

    As an aside, you once sent me some Hollyhock seeds
    and they have just shown up as young plants! They will flower next year and I am looking forward to seeing them so much, I thank you for your generosity. xx


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