Friday, 1 June 2012

Chelsea Flower Show - Gardens

This year was the second that we have been to Chelsea. Like any experience, the second time around doesn't have the same visceral eye popping thrill of your first time, and perhaps because last year's show was so great this year didn't quite do as much for me.

Having said that, like watching a Wallace and Grommit film, a second visit makes you notice lots of different aspects that weren't as obvious initially. For a start, either we have got a wide screen TV since last year, or the BBC have really stepped up their camera skills as the gardens, much like the Queen, look so much smaller in real life.

Cleve West's gates on his Brewin Dolphin garden, below, were beautiful but were not nearly the grand country house gates that they appeared to be on screen. My only assumption is that BBC presenters are chosen for their short stature.

Getting around the gardens early allowed us to see the planting in different lights rather than the sunshine which always pervades the BBC coverage. This really brought out the interest. I thought Cleve West's planting was superb. Interestingly, for me, was the difference in varieties of plants between last year and this year, which while partly down to design was also heavily influenced by the cold April weather. So, last year's gardens were filled with salvias and peonies whereas this year there was a heavy preponderance of aquiligias. 

Gardens were also a lot more green this year. Not so much in the environmental sense, but in the grass sense. Many of the gardens felt almost like walking through an English woodland in May, so naturalistic were they. The judges and many others loved this. To me, it was a bit too much. I can appreciate the skill which has gone into making them look this settled in just three weeks but it's all just a bit too 'unkempt'. Maybe I'm just an old fashioned Gertrude Jekyll 'Colour in the garden' stick in the mud.

The area of Jo Swift's 'Teenage Cancer Trust' garden below perhaps epitomises what I mean. Whilst the trees were beautiful, the underplanting did just look a little like it hadn't been strimmed this year.

In lots of gardens though there were real ideas you could take home. The Laurent Perrier garden with the Rosa 'Louise Odier' trained through hazel frames and smelling divine, below, was one such.
I really wanted to like Sarah Price's Telegraph garden but it didn't wow me, perhaps just too subtle for the likes of me. Like other bloggers I didn't quite understand the need for the cut stone in the centre, the natural boulders around the edge looked much more in keeping with the planting.

Favourite new flower seen in a garden this year were definitely the Turk's Cap lilies in the RBC Blue Water Garden, both the yellow and white forms. Really interesting shapes, and, given that they work in dry soil, I reckon they might be making an appearance in my garden next year.

As mentioned above, there seemed to be aquiligias everywhere, particularly large flowered versions. These Aquiligia 'White Barlow' were particularly lovely in Jo Thompson's 'Celebration of Caravanning' garden.
Fresh gardens
There were some great ideas in this category, and some lovely small gardens. In particular I liked the Rainbow's Children's Hospice garden, and good luck to all the guys who were rebuilding the garden at Rainbows this week in time for Blue Peter to film it this afternoon. However, it seemed to me that for too many of the designers simply sticking some orange flowers into the planting scheme was seen as 'thinking outside the box'

What I did like about the Fresh Gardens was that mostly they weren't full of too many fads. Except for the QR garden! QR codes are a bit of a flash in the pan and having been used for a couple of years are already on their way out, being replaced by new ways of scanning info onto smartphones. One of the big issues about QR codes though is their lazy use by marketers, so for instance putting them onto posters in the Tube where no one can get a 3G signal to connect to the website or by a road so you could only scan them from a moving car. In fact there is a whole website devoted to these bloopers. Knowing this, why would you build a QR code garden with the main QR code too big to be scanned by anyone standing on the path in front of it....

In the Great Pavilion there were, as always, some fantastic exhibits. I was drawn to the Headley Court and Gardening Leave garden. Horticultural therapy is a big part of recovery from both physical and mental injuries and these guys do a fantastic job. What the picture below shows is that the garden at Headley court is not adapted to make simple for the guys, some who are triple amputees, to get around. Rather, by combining the therapy with steps and different surfaces it means that the guys recovering need to learn to cope with all these different aspects in a controlled environment before they have to face them in the outside world.

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