Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chelsea Flower and Garden Show - London May 2011

RHS Chelsea Flower and Garden Show
After a wonderful tour of many of England's finest gardens, RHS Chelsea Flower Show was my last stop on my visit.  Calling this incredible event a ‘Flower Show’ is like calling the Roman Coliseum a playground.   I spent two days from 8:00 to 4:00 and still never saw it all.  Below I've included many of the gardens featured at Wisley and other highlights of the show and I've provided links to the show gardens.  Please click on the photos to enlarge them. 
RBC New Wild Garden
This garden studio by Nigel Dunnett is made from a refurbished shipping container and had an overall theme of sustainability.

Chelsea was everything I hoped it would be.  The latest trends and old favorites blend beautifully in this incredible venue.  Fortunately, the weather was bright and sunny….a good thing for a garden show that is held outdoors!   

Chelsea's Gold Metal garden winner for best of show was Cleve West. Created for the Daily Telegraph and entitled 'Modern Classic', this entry featured a sunken garden framed by walls, trees and moving water and the garden was punctuated by monolithic columns.  I thought this garden could easily be set down on any site in California!
Daily Telegraph Garden
 Cleve West's Garden 'A Modern Classic'
Stone foot bridge and rill.  
The Crocus Nursery installed this garden and many of the other Chelsea show gardens.  Check out Crocus at  I’ve used many of their planting schemes which are found online.  Most of the plant schemes for the show gardens are also listed on their web page. 
Planting scheme for 'A Modern Classic'.
Australian Garden
 The Australian Garden, presented by the Royal Botanical Garden in Melbourne contained every plant we use in California.  The plantings were lush and dramatic.  
B&Q Garden
 Vertical gardens are all the rage.  The B&Q garden shows what can be done with green walls and demonstrated how rain harvesting and vegetable gardening can be incorporated in high-rise buildings.
The companion planting for the B&Q garden formed a tapestry of color and texture.
Laurent-Perrier Champagne Garden
 Water plays prominently in most of the show gardens as shown here in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei.  The lavender stones of the rill complemented the muted tones of the planting.
Daimuid Gavin's Garden

Diarmuid Gavin won the People’s Choice award for his garden titled ‘Irish Sky Garden’.  When the crane lowered the hanging garden, you climbed on and the crane lifted you for a bird’s eye view of the garden below.
Japanese Garden
 'Beautiful Paradise' was the entry from Tokyo, Japan.  Designer, Isihara Kazuyuki, created a stairway to a pergola that hopes to inspire treasured memories.
Monaco Garden
 The Principality of Monaco’s entry by Designer Sarah Eberle.  The pool was 5' deep and 30'x10'.  I love the chaise lounges. 
M&G Investments Garden
 The beautiful M&G Investments Garden, designed by Bunny Guinness, featured raised vegetable beds and was one of my favorites.   
Another view of the Guinness garden
Raised bed detail 
Many of these show gardens will be installed in client’s private gardens or installed at RHS Wisley.
Small Urban Gardens
Another category of show gardens were the Urban Garden entries designed to replicate smaller city gardens.
 Entry from the Doncaster Deaf Trust.  Note the metal benches. 
Fountain from one of the smaller Urban Gardens.
Artisan Gardens
 Still smaller, a section called ‘The Artisan Gardens’ is also included in the show gardens.  These are smaller rustic country gardens and ‘A Postcard from Wales’, was designed by Kati Crome and Maggie Hughs.  
The Great Pavilion!   
Inside this football-field sized Pavilion are many of the flowers and plants of the world.
 Most of the famous plant hybridist and nurseries are competing for ‘Best of Show’ for their displays as well as their plant quality.  On the last day of the show, people can come in and buy these plants at a discounted rate.  Amazingly, also on the last day, you can buy plants from the show gardens.  It becomes quite a frenzy.  I’ve heard that many a tall Delphinium has been chopped off by closing train doors!   
 A few of the show plants…Clematis
 David Austin roses
Alliums Galore! I've never had success with Alliums.  Any suggestions?
 A million petals from the Kirstenbasch South African National Biodiversity Institute
Jacket Made of flowers and leaves from Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centers

 The tool makers Bulldog Forge created this vegetable and perennial garden in the Pavilion.  
Eastern Avenue - Product Row
 Down this lane is everything you’d ever want for yourself, your garden or your home!  Each booth or product also competes for the Product of the Year and a Gold Medal.   

Sophie Conran’s booth (Niece to the Conran Scion) showcased tools she had designed for Burgon and Ball.  
May 26 - Back to the Country and a visit with Rosemary Alexander
Saying goodbye to Chelsea and London, I rented a car and drove back down to Kent to visit Merriments Nursery and Pashley Manor Garden. I stayed at the charming Sissinghurst Farm House hotel.  When I arrived I was served tea and cake in the drawing room and chatted with other guests who were all there to attend Chelsea.  Staying at the farmhouse allows you to visit and photograph the Sissinghurst gardens in the late afternoon when no one is there.  Quite a treat.
Sissinghurst Farm House Hotel
The next day, leaving Sissinghurst behind, I headed for Merriments Nursery, a large and beautiful retail nursery with display gardens to rival any garden in England.  
 Rill garden at Merriments 
 One of the many meandering paths at Merriments 
Merriments had a very special feature in the display gardens, a little shelter where you could sit and watch birds feed.  Dozens of birds swarmed around a dozen feeders.  I took out my bird book and identified a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, and Yellow Finch among others.  My sister Polly has turned me on to the joys of bird watching.
Close by Merriments is Pashley Manor.  In the past, Pashley has always been the favorite garden of almost every traveler who’s been on one of my tours.   Privately owned, Pashley prominently displays and promotes sculpture and art throughout the garden. 
Pashley Manor Garden
 Bather near the hothouse covered in roses 
 Looking across the lawn to the pond and fields beyond 
 One of the borders at Pashley Manor 
 Berberis border leading to the Lutyens bench. 
 Many gardens lure visitors with their superb restaurants.  Lunch under the umbrellas at Pashley is always wonderful.  I had the best mushroom tart.  
After Pashley Manor, I went in search of my bed and breakfast where I would stay for the next 2 nights.  Search is the operative word since I got completely lost.  However, thanks to some friendly villagers, I was set right and eventually on my way.
May 27-28 Chainhurst Cottage
I spent two lovely nights at Chainhurst Cottage.  The owner, Heather Scott, was a student at the English Gardening School years ago and her design skills were demonstrated in her beautiful garden.  Heather was readying her garden for the Open Days the following weekend.  Each summer, private homes offer their gardens to the Open Days Scheme which raises money for charities.  Heather was expecting 200 people over the two days.  I worked with Heather and her husband Richard weeding and raking up clippings from the hedges.  I felt privileged for the opportunity to work with my welcoming hosts and it seemed like I was with two dear friends.  I highly recommend Chainhurst Cottage.  My room was large and had all the amenities of an elegant hotel.

Heather’s vegetable garden with Bamboo Cloches in the foreground and Oast houses in the background.
 The solarium where breakfast was served each morning.
Breakfast in the solarium   

The view from my room overlooking the garden and the fields beyond.  
May 29 - A Visit with Rosemary Alexander, Dean of the English Gardening School at Chelsea.
Leaving Kent early the next morning and heading for Rosemary Alexander’s home, I spotted another yellow ‘Open Days’ sign and followed a tiny winding road searching for the open garden.  At one point I was so far off the main road that I thought I’d better turn back.  Glad I didn’t.  I found one of the most charming gardens and it was early enough for a private tour by the owner.  Most of these Open Days gardens have plants for sale that the owners have propagated.
The Open Days Garden.  My treat at the end of the road!

Entrance to the perennial garden
 Looking back at the house
On to Rosemary's
After a wonderful visit at the Open Days Garden, I drove north and hopped on the M25 and headed west to my final visit with Rosemary Alexander.
Rosemary's Home

The front garden
A corner of the vegetable garden
Arriving late morning, I quickly changed clothes and helped her in the garden.  She was also hosting an ‘Open Day’ the next weekend.  I set about weeding this vegetable garden above.  
We broke for a late lunch and she fixed cold artichoke soup and a salad from greens in her garden.  I’m now a big fan of Rocket, a tangy green that I had never tasted before.
 Rosemary gathering veggies for lunch.
 Back out to work, I planted fifty, 4” Nicotiana plants in the front garden, deadheaded a climbing rose and cut down all the Autumn Crocus.  Because there had been no rain in almost 60 days, Rosemary was watering with this sprinkler.  Most gardens in England are watered by hand and sprinklers are at a premium right now.  Many gardens have no form of automatic irrigation.  
Rosemary’s guest house, back lawn and rose border.
At 4:00 Rosemary called for tea and she had baked an orange cake that we devoured.  Then back out to work for a few hours before dinner at a local pub with Rosemary and her husband George.  That night I crawled into bed stiff and tired!
May 30 - Last day in the country and on to Heathrow Airport
 Next morning it was back out to weed the Allium border along Rosemary’s driveway.  Not a fun job but I was determined to impress her with my weeding skills.  Rosemary is a woman of incredible stamina!  After two days of hard work we said our goodbyes and she headed for her 12:00 Pilates class and I limped off for the airport, again stiff and tired!
Final Thoughts
Looking back over my photos, I remember each day and all the wonderful experiences I had.  This trip will be a treasured memory for years to come.  I learned so much, especially about designing perennial borders.  One of the tricks is succession planting! 

Much of the garden design business has taken on a 'celebrity' mentality; million dollar garden shows, books, TV personalities, and magazines all promote the best of design today.  But what I take away from this trip is that the only thing that really matters is each person's enjoyment of their own garden.  Whether it's an allotment in an English village or an acre garden in Atherton, whether it's homegrown or designed by a professional, does the owner spend time in the garden and relish its magic?  Whether a person relaxes in the garden with a glass of wine after a long day or enjoys harvesting tomatoes from a container on their balcony, what matters are the simple quite moments in the garden, not the money spent or the celebrity designer.

Join me next year for Chelsea 2012 and the gardens of Kent and the Cotswold, May 20-30.  More details this fall.

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