The day dawned bright and this south Londoner rose early, if not quite with the lark. It was the first day of this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show and I was to rendezvous with a group of friends at the Royal Hospital. I set out, in my English linen and sensible shoes, along side the commuters, checking the weather app as the 137 bus crossed Chelsea Bridge. Yet I wasn’t the first of our group to arrive, some hardy souls were there when the gates opened at eight o’clock.
Programme purchased, I headed to the River View Cafe for an absolutely necessary shot of caffeine and a chance to text other members of the group. I could even see the river. Meeting up was always going to be something of a logistical issue, given that we were from all parts of the UK – from the West Country, North Wales, the south coast and Scotland. Plus, my phone seemed to throw a tantrum. Why don’t they work properly when you need them to? No matter, there was nothing for it, I would just have to wander around until I found the others – amid a crowd of thousands!
At this time of day the betting was that some, if not all, would be on Main Avenue looking at the Show Gardens, before it became too congested to see them. And so it was. I met the West Country contingent by the Resilience Garden and we were shortly joined by those from Wales and some from Oxford, via Putney.
It was time for some serious garden viewing. The planting this year was natural, but not quite the garden meadow and sprinkled wildflower natural which has prevailed in recent times. There were a lot of mature trees, including a glorious Scots Pine, and green predominated. Andy Sturgeon’s M & G garden deservedly won Best Show Garden, in this humble gardener’s opinion, with its burnt timber formations resembling ancient rock and setting off the jewel-like colours to perfection.
Thence to lunch. Fizz and smoked salmon on the grass, picnic style, where we met the Scottish and south coast contingents for some chat and catching up ( and lots of talk about this year’s Clapham Book Festival ). We disperse again in the afternoon, it being impossible to keep over a dozen people together in the growing crowds.
The Grand Pavilion is always worth visiting, with its wonderful displays and, this year, a Show Garden, the IKEA Tom Dixon; Gardening will Save the World garden. This was intriguing, if not the most aesthetically pleasing garden, with the science on display beneath the raised ‘garden walk’. Here were hydroponics, artificial light stimulated growing and lots of other clever ways of nurturing food plants. Very interesting, but it couldn’t compete, in terms of impact on the eye, and the nose, with the traditional stands and their carefully chosen cultivars in riotous display. ( This year the Bloms Bulbs man was in full tartan rig. ) Serious purchasing was done.
Time for a quick swing around those gardens which we hadn’t had the chance to visit, before meeting at a Pimms Bar – but which Pimms bar? There were several groups by now, all doing their own thing and lots of Pimms Bars, it was lucky that other people had functioning mobile phones.
A word for my favourite gardens, the Silent Pool Gin garden ( alas no gin, but excellent planting and lovely use of copper ) and the Greenfingers Charity Garden, not for the double storey so much as for the planting, with liberal use of fennel and angelica. The D-Day sculpture garden was also immensely impressive in its own quiet way.
Another Chelsea over – though it goes on until Saturday of course and the sell-off. It’s expensive ( £75+ for a day ticket and steep prices for everything once you’re in the Showground ) but then a ticket to a Premiership football match is not much cheaper and you only get ninety minutes ( at least the cricket goes on all day ). I wouldn’t miss it.