A grand day out

The summer season kicks off to a great start with the Chelsea Flower Show each May. A world class horticultural event that appears to captivate the four corners of the world. Chelsea for me personally is now part of my DNA, having been part of my life since 1995. I first exhibited a garden for House Beautiful magazine, going on to win a bronze for my efforts. To then go and claim a trio of gold medals for BSkyB and Lladro. All of them amazing experiences and ones I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

This year, my visit was for pure pleasure, to see old friends and admire outstanding horticultural skill on display. I wasn’t disappointed, on entering the Royal Hospital grounds the feeling of expectation and excitement starts to rise. It’s like coming home after a long absence. I love the way that this temporary ‘village’ looks so settled and part of the landscape, nestling in between the Thames Embankment and the regal architectural display of the Royal Hospital. Giant London plane trees rise majestically up to form a cathedral like span across the entrance as you arrive. 100 yards in and I’m already chatting with old sparing partners, recollecting and reminiscing about past years and discussing the look, colour and flavour of Chelsea 2015.

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I do admire the exhibitors, they make the finished effect look so effortless. The endless hours, months and in some cases years of planning synchronise and culminate in this one moment to the point of perfection. If I had to say what the influences or look that reflected Chelsea this year were then they would be orange, natural and curved with a touch of old fashioned showmanship thrown in. If there is a colour I love it’s a touch of orange, either in the border or my wardrobe! The colour lifts and livens a scene. The richness and warmth works so well with cool blues or rich greens. Too much and it becomes gordy, so subtly is the key. The Homebase garden ‘Time to Reflect’ by Adam Frost (Gold Medal), demonstrates this beautifully. Discs of Geum ‘Princess Juliana’ float above the green foliage, complementing the timber of the walk way and building, the orange is then lifted through the icy blue of the Iris Siberia ‘flight of the butterflies’.

I noticed a big swing away from the hard straight lines of previous years to curves and circular features. A mesmerising slate wall, made up of thin slithers takes centre stage for the Brewin Dolphin garden. The slate radiates out from this central hole like rays from the sun and the whole effect appears weightless. The floating effect is created by layering the plants so you gain the sense of distance within a small space.

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Others have chosen less natural materials for their garden. Rusty steel has been used to great effect. The window effect of this industrial styled wall draws the viewer in to see ‘ropes’ of steel wind their way though the swathes of bamboo and grasses to great effect. ‘Dark matter’ by Howard Miller for the National Schools Observatory won Best Fresh Garden Award.

Sculpture can be found in abundance from over grown apples to the serenity of couples just hanging out.

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Inside the Grand Marquee the best of the best are in full bloom, the effect is overwhelming. This one acre tented wonder is filled with the sweet scent and an array of colour, form and texture. Nursery men and women and flower arrangers from all over the globe come together. Some
hoping for their first Gold others their 64th. The skill on display and the array of plants never diminishes. Showmanship is positively encouraged. Where else could you find a Mad Hatter’s tea party to end all others or a couture dress made from Maple leaves!

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Famous faces are commonplace on Press Day, the great and the good all rubbing shoulders. Who would have thought Will Young would be in deep conversation with my friend and nursery women Rosie Hardy about the best plants for a shady corner. Julian Fellows waxing lyrical about
the glories of Chelsea and what a spectical it is to behold.

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Old favourites were on every corner and I’m pleased to see these are as popular with gardeners as they always have been.

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The heady scent of old fashioned roses, by David Austin (Gold). Tulips in abundance by Blom bulbs (a staggering 64th Gold). Ruffles of the bearded iris by Cadeux (Gold) and globes of Alliums by W.S Warmenhoven (Gold)

Also, among all this splender appears a small pot of perfection, with an enchanting face and sweet scent smiling back at me. Viola perennis ‘Fiona Lawrenson’ and yes it really is named after me! Victor Violas (Gold)

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The garden that stole the show for me was Dan Pearson’s Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth garden. This stood out for several reasons. The garden threw caution to the wind, not conforming to tradition. It created a moment, a memory and a landscape that stays in my mind. To take a space and use it in the round and have no right sides nor a backdrop presents challenges.

Every detail, every angle of the garden can be viewed and scrutinised. It reminded me of the ‘Highline’ in New York a garden or landscape depending on how you view it, that appears to float above the cityscape of New York’s Meat Packing District, that transports you out of the city and into a rural idle. Dan’s design with plants harmonised beautifully with the symbolic trout stream which meandered through the naturalised planting, reflecting Paxton’s historical rockery at Chatsworth. I found the garden reflective, calming and intellectual in its way. For me it recreated a memory that transported me back to my home county of Derbyshire.

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