Chelsea Flower Show!



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On TV this week have been BBC programmes from the Chelsea Flower Show: fascinating and marvellous show plots and information. Modern technology can deliver such fine pictures into the house. The show is actually held in the grounds of Chelsea Pensioner’s Hospital; gardens erected and taken away in a flurry of two or three weeks manic activity. A tribute to not only the designers but the other behind the scenes staff who dig, move, carry and plant; almost certainly smiling, stubbing toes and cursing while busy. The shows, presented by Gardener’s World’s Monty Don have  an appealing magazine-and-guest-presenter format are well composed and show to super effect the gardens and selected activity.

Gardens from Kirstenbosch remind me that I have been there: not only Capetown but also as part of a windy, self-inflicted open-topped bus tour, to Kirstenbosch gardens themselves. Such a wonderful journey that one – but the gardens: protea and restios and massive butterflies, a family of just mobile geese and a mongoose. There is a splendid Islamic Garden (from Dubai) which is inspirational but with just too much hard landscaping and architecture for me.  A brilliantly conceived exhibition garden from Chatsworth House (which eventually won Top Garden of the show).

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The artisan gardens included a trug maker’s garden and the film that was shown had the two co-designers taking inspiration from Sussex trug-makers and translating it into a quiet, evocative example of a “working garden”. Quite delightful … but it looked as if, rather than being put up in a fortnight, it had been there – and evolving – forever. The art of garden design. A million miles away from the quiet rhythms of allotmenteering where the space is filled as the year develops.

There is another garden, not eligible for judging which I was keen to see: the winner of a first-time series of BBC programmes the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge: six amateur gardeners competed by designing and building (is that the right verb?) a range of different styles of how plots. These were then judged and each week a hopeful competitor was eliminated. The prize was a spot at the Chelsea Flower Show itself. It was won, in my opinion deservedly by a Northumberland nurse named Sean Murray who created a front garden with space for parking, with gravel and naturalised planting, and minimal hard surfacing. His garden featured a water-filled crevice dividing the garden, reclaimed materials, slate dry stone walling and secluded seating under trees, as well as nooks and crannies to provide habitat for wildlife.

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I was struck by his genuinely gentle and modest approach to the competition and like his attitude that he is “enjoying the moment”. Particularly since his plot was visited by many members of the Royal Family on the Opening Day. But also by his delight that younger people were being inspired by gardening – a most necessary thing indeed!

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Some of the gardens are trade gardens, sponsored by large corporate businesses, others are charity gardens (Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Prince Harry’s Sentabale Garden) and I find myself wondering when this trend began: what year and in what circumstances. Then beyond that to the whole rather English concept of flower shows. Some of the gardens have some historical references: the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (the Duke of Wellington’s victory against Napoleon in 1815), a small garden based on the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede ( often considered the basis of all modern democracy) in 1215 and a far more personal garden (The Evaders garden) commemorating the shooting down of a Stirling bomber and subsequent rescue  of the crew by the Resistance in World War two. We are a nation so rich in history and are properly reminded of some of it by such events and displays. It doesn’t do to dwell in the past, but paying attention to it is no bad thing.

A good job by the BBC bringing this to our front rooms over the week. Next week the slot will be taken over by Springwatch.

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