The Greatest flower show on earth...

...well that's how the Chelsea Flower Show bills itself anyway. It certainly was an eyeopener. I wandered around in a bit of a daze, just staring at all the horticultural perfection on display. The highlight for me was the Great Pavilion. This is where the nation's best nurserymen and women, put their finest plants on display. Not only is this a total visual feast, but you get the chance to inspect the plants up close, and better still, chat to the people on the stand (I think I caught them early enough in the day that they weren't totally exhausted by questioning). More often than not they are the owners, and incredibly knowledgeable. I came away with a lot to think about: A green manure expert gave us two new ideas - clover as a companion plant for my veg (attracts bees, and adds nitrogen to the soil), and lupins as a green manure. And I got a stern talking to about the dry kitchen border from an expert in plants for shade - we really need to improve that soil before thinking about planting anything else. 

As for the show gardens - of course they were stunning. There was a definite fashion for naturalistic meadowy mixed-up planting schemes across many of the gardens. And it hammered home the fact that hard landscaping in a garden is key (something we need to sort out here). At the time I found the experience exhilerating, but now I've been back in my own garden, I can't help but feel a bit dispirited. The gardens at Chelsea are literally impossibly beautiful - there's no way any home garden can ever look that perfect. And even if you tried, it would look good for a few brief weeks while everything was in flower before looking tatty for the rest of the year. In a small garden like ours, every plant you grow has to pull its weight and provide some interest for as much of the year as possible. And that means the sort of rich luxuriant look where everything reaches its peak at once is never going to happen.

That said, the gardens are supposed to be inspirational, not models for what to do at home, and they have definitely provided food for thought. I did love the wilder, mixed planting look, and can feel an overhaul of our lacklustre perennial bed coming on. I also came away with some new plants that I absolutely loved:

Pimpernella major 'Rosea' - like a pink cow parsley, but perennial.
Astrantia 'Buckland' - again - pink flowers, but mostly green, and so pretty.
And Valeriana Officinalis - which I'd never thought to grow but is a magnificent umbellifer (although worryingly alluring to cats).

For what its worth, my favourite show garden was the Laurent Perrier effort (link here), closely followed by the Irish Sky Garden (link here). The latter almost more for the bold flower-less green planting than for the pink garden in the sky.

By the way - for a more professional appraisal of Chelsea I like Dan Pearson's article here, as well as the Guerrilla Gardener's piece in the telegraph here, and while I'm posting links, here's a good article about going peat-free. We have been peat free for a while here now, so I'm definitely on Alys's side.

The show gardens:

Bunny Guinness's kitchen garden - lovely, but a bit underwhelming.

RBC New Wild Garden - and check out the crowds!

British Heart Foundation garden - I liked this one, interesting understated planting.

Times Eureka Garden.

Times Eureka Garden with structure.

Detail of planting around structure.

The B&Q vertical garden - herbs on the wall, Mulberry trees beneath,
I so want a Mulberry tree!

The Irish sky garden, aloft when we were there. Though us ordinary
punters didn't get a ride.

One of the Urban gardens - Power of Nature - Worcester, Bosch group.

I'm afraid I don't even know what this is, but it's very pretty!

In the Great Pavilion:

The biggest, brashest orchid I've ever seen.

The Nong Nooch display. The amount of work here is just unbelievable. Apparently it took
60 people 3 months to do. It's mostly dry flowers stuck in flower arranging foam.

Sweet Peas. they look so perfect because they replace any flaggers every day.


  1. Like you (and for the same reasons) I used to get dispirited about Chelsea from watching the TV coverage. Now I go there and come back energised from all I've learnt instead :)

  2. Hi VP, thanks for dropping by. Good to know I'm not the only person intimidated by the perfection on display! This was my first time at Chelsea, so hopefully next time I'll know what to expect. It was a real privilege talking to the experts there though - I learnt so much!