They came, they saw, they splashed around in the water (at the Trailfinders Australian Garden), they recited punk poetry (John Cooper Clarke in the Foreign and Colonial Investments Garden), they served up celebrity pizzas (Jamie Oliver in the Children’s Society Garden), then they left.
So went the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show 2010. Monday is press day, but it is also the day when celebrities are invited to mill around in order to add some glamour to the proceedings. The only problem is that when they look too young, you wonder if they really do any gardening at all. If too old, you keep trying to remember which episode of Midsomer murders they appeared in. Jim Carter and Derek Jacobi did a turn round the Great Pavilion, where the tulips threatened to blow under the heat. A handsomely suited and booted Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen could be overheard air kissing: ‘Darling, I can’t get enough of you today’.
I always feel it’s my duty to look at the main show gardens first, because these are deemed to be the most important
part of the show by most of the gardening press, but I always feel rather torn. There seem to be two kinds of Chelsea Flower Show goers: those who go for the plants and those who go for the show gardens. In the end, the part that thrills me most is the Great Pavilion: delicate bulbs and dazzling displays alike. I want to take them all home and have a go at growing them myself. Dibleys Nursery has a new streptocarpus, Peter Beales a new rose… more on that tomorrow.
Today I strolled round the show gardens — 15 large and 21 small. Is there an overall trend or theme for this year’s show gardens? In as much as one can summarise, naturalistic gardens, which rely heavily on the colour green ie. foliage rather than striking flowers, are still very much the order of the day. I must admit, I do hanker after a bit of Christopher Lloyd or Sarah Raven theatrical colour.
James Wong’s garden for Tourism Malaysia is a perfect blend of jungly plants that has an evocative tropical feel. No flowers to be seen, but a beautiful, lush garden. Tom Stuart-Smith who is leader of the pack when it comes to Chelsea gardens chose woodland, wild plants like cow parsley for his Laurent Perrier garden. Robert Myers restful Cancer Research garden also has the same cool, shady feel to it. Medal day is Tuesday: Andy Sturgeon’s Daily Telegraph is tipped for a ‘Best in Show’ but we will have to wait to see what the judges say in the morning.
Of the smaller gardens, two stood out for me.
The first is the highly talented Tony Smith’s Easigrass garden which was commissioned by an artificial grass company. Last year it was James May’s plasticine garden which caused the stir, this year some people couldn’t bring themselves to look at it. If you have something difficult to promote (last year it was the Quilted Velvet loo roll gardens), Tony is your man. His approach to garden design is refreshing and risky, but always a triumph – this year’s garden no less so. It’s also fun.
My most surprising garden was the Pine and Conifer Enthusiast Garden. The words ‘conifer’ and ‘enthusiast’ never coincide in the same sentence for me, but this courtyard garden persuaded me that when combined with the right plants, they can be useful, attractive plants. Designer Graham Bodle’s parents run Walkers Nurseries in Doncaster.
He said: “I got rid of the staticness of conifers and pines by loosening them up. The grasses in between give them a sense of movement.” He adds. “Grasses are a great foil for conifers if you want to use them in the garden.”
Lastly, the garden with the most hype is probably David Domoney’s ‘Ace of Diamonds’ garden. £20 Million pounds worth of diamonds were brought in from a Bond Street jeweller, but the whole thing was lost on me. There was too much going on in a small space and many of the elements clashed. The large glass diamonds strew about the floor are the sort of thing that people use as table decorations at weddings. It’s a pity, because last year David Domoney’s garden ‘Ace of Spades’ was one of my favourites: a place of rest and relaxation for motorbikers, it was sexy and fun.
But nothing I say counts. It’s what the judges say that matters…