Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Chelsea Flower Show 2009

The Flower Show at Chelsea heralds the start of the social year for the glitterati. For the rest of us lesser mortals it reminds us that we better hurry up and get those plants in, and weeds out, if we are to have any planting even vaguely resembling a decent border.

Of course no gardener in their right mind thinks that the show gardens could be reproduced in their own modest plot. These are set pieces. Brought on, held back, hot-housed, frozen. Everything blooming in unison. Hedges and shrubs cut and clipped. Water without algae, plants without pests.

And the plants that the growers are showing – no doubt about it – are the epitome of perfection and beauty. Not one dead bloom, not one fading flower, not a scabby, scraggy leaf in sight. The best plantsmen in the country are showing at Chelsea.

One purpose of Chelsea in years gone by - when those living in their London properties visited the show to choose the plants for their country house - has long become a thing of the past. Chelsea is now for the gardening masses. And, yes, there are lots of us. All chasing our dreams.

But, nevertheless, for garden junkies like me it is an exciting and intriguing show piece. These are garden to imagine; there are wonderful new combinations to consider. They are, in short, inspirational. Occasionally amusing. Sometimes shocking. And so it was yesterday.

My favourite show garden was the Champagne Laurent-Perrier Garden. I liked the firm structure and clean lines, the architectural form of clipped hedges and the straight allee, the planting repetition, restricted colour palette, clean lines and water feature. And today I hear it did get Gold so my Landscape Architect antennae are still keen.

But the Daily Telegraph Garden also got Gold and Best in Show. I liked it, it just didn’t excite me. But then I like what the designer usually does with his plantings. Prairie plantings of grasses and daisy like perennials that associate well with them.

The third garden I liked was the Cancer Research Garden. It was a very striking, sculptural garden. All curving lines and geometric shapes, cool whites, black water, and lush green planting. It won Silver-Gilt. It dared to be different and I think it deserved a Gold.

The one that was truly different was the garden made of plastic plants. It was a joke. It should have stayed a joke and not been awarded any prize. This is a flower show, for goodness sake.

One of the most popular features of this years Chelsea was the pleached hornbeam hedge. Such an accommodatiing species, the hornbeam. And so versatile. It featured in all three gardens I mention. For flower colour, purple and claret were popular: in the Laurent-Perrier garden these were provided by a magnificent Paeonie ‘Buckeye Belle’, a glowing deep raspberry, and a darkest purple Iris ‘Superstition'. Fabulous.

And the plant of the moment that featured in so many of the show gardens? Well, there were plenty of 'living' walls but the real star was The Vegetable. There were rows of salad vegs, beds of brassica’s, canes of peas and beans. No poncy potagers, just sensible raised beds filled with beautiful, colourful, gorgeous crops. If only my vegetable patch could look so divine!

This year’s Chelsea Flower Show has given me ample room for thought: I shall spend the week-end pottering in the garden. Putting in the pots I haven’t planted yet, pulling out weeds and murdering pests. But in my mind I shall dreaming of Chelsea perfection.


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