Gardening: Something for everyone at Chelsea Flower Show

The Duchess of Cambridge visits her garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The show that all gardeners wait for is coming to a close this weekend. The Royal Hospital in Chelsea played host once more to probably the greatest flower and garden show in the world and once more, it didn’t disappoint.

Before the event, much was made of the fact that there were no international designers on Main Avenue. Brexit has made its presence felt here as in all walks of life in the UK. As long as Britain remains in the EU, then plants and related materials enjoy free movement across borders under a Plant Passport scheme.

As the original Brexit date was scheduled for March, then such unrestricted movement would cease and as gardens at this show come at such a big cost, no designer wanted to be left carrying the can, so to speak, when plants were left stuck in a truck at Calais.

All that being said, the show this year certainly lived up to its reputation. There were four gold medals, four silver gilt, two silver and one bronze awarded to show gardens. The M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, was awarded Best Show Garden — the most coveted award for all designers.

This is a show which has a long association with the British royal family and that was strengthened hugely this year by Kate Middleton. She worked with designers Andrée Davis and Adam White to design a garden for the RHS entitled the “Back to Nature Garden”.

This garden aimed to illustrate the benefit of the great outdoors and the countryside to our mental health. Inspired by childhood memories, this was a beautiful garden, complete with a treehouse, swing and streams. It was great to see the RHS Chelsea Flower Show leading the way this year in promoting such an important message.

This is the best, the most high-profile, the heaviest-hitting flower and garden show in the world and having Kate Middleton lend her name to this message can only be a good thing.

I was delighted to see this year’s show really focus on the benefits of gardens and gardening in general. We have, in many respects, lost our way when it comes to our management of this planet. Gardens, the green environment, that magical energy we call soil, offers us the answers to most problems facing urban societies if only we would open our eyes to what nature is telling us.

The artisan gardens are showpieces on smaller footprints than those of Main Avenue and serve to inspire people, showing just how much can be done with limited space. My favourite of these displays was Green Switch, a Japanese garden representing the space we inhabit when we switch off from the stresses of everyday life.

It was a fantastic use of limited space complete with a sedum-green roof, relaxing water and, of course, Japanese maples. Best Artisan Garden went to the Family Monsters Garden designed by Alistair Bayford.

Best Garden in the Space to Grow category went to the Facebook Garden which, according to Facebook’s vice president Steve Hatch, “is a celebration of the people who come together in the online world through Facebook groups and create real change in the real world”. Over 20% of us now get our gardening information from social media.

Dame Judi Dench launching the Re-Elming of Britain campaign with Hillier Nurseries at Chelsea Flower Show.
Dame Judi Dench launching the Re-Elming of Britain campaign with Hillier Nurseries at Chelsea Flower Show.

A week in Chelsea isn’t enough to take it all in. The show takes 15 months of planning, It takes 25 days to transform this space from bare grass into 28 gardens and close to 500 trade exhibits. It takes 8,000 people to put on the world’s most famous flower show and takes 11 days to bring the space back to bare grass.

How could anyone take it all in within five short days, let alone one visit? I say that because, of course, it’s not just about the gardens, for at the centre of the entire show lies the Great Pavilion and for me, this is the main attraction.

I’m a plants person at heart and to see the best of the best on display each year, preened to within an inch of their botanical lives, is mind-blowing. I’m always left speechless by the sheer standard of what’s on display.

I associate the Pavilion with perfectly produced and arranged alliums, delphiniums, and other cut flowers because that’s probably what struck me most on my first visit, more years ago now than I care to remember. This year was no different in the Pavilion and nowadays I add dahlias, irises, heucheras, and bonsais to the list. Some 57 gold medals were awarded in the Pavilion this year which gives an indication of the standard achieved.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to share some new photographs of their family as they visited the RHS Back to Nature Garden at the #ChelseaFlowerShow on Sunday afternoon. The photographs were taken by @mattporteous. The #RHSChelsea Back to Nature Garden, designed by The Duchess and award-winning landscape architects Andrée Davies and Adam White of Davies White Landscape Architects, is a woodland setting for families and communities to come together and connect with nature. Her Royal Highness is a strong advocate for the proven benefits the outdoors has on physical and mental health, and the positive impact that nature and the environment can have on childhood development in particular. Over the past months, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis have helped The Duchess gather moss, leaves and twigs to help decorate @The_RHS Back to Nature Garden. Hazel sticks collected by the family were also used to make the garden’s den. The Duchess told Monty Don in an interview for the BBC: “I really feel that nature and being interactive outdoors has huge benefits on our physical and mental wellbeing, particularly for young children. I really hope that this woodland that we have created really inspires families, kids and communities to get outside, enjoy nature and the outdoors, and spend quality time together.”

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It’s in this great Pavilion that the Plant of the Year nominations are on display and the where the winner is chosen. I particularly liked Sedum ‘Atlantis’, and was delighted to see it claim the title. It’s a low-growing cultivar with beautifully variegated foliage and yellow flowers which bloom in May, unusual for a sedum as they are normally plants for late summer and autumn interest.

Another that took my fancy was the indoor plant, Streptocarpus ‘lemon Sorbet’, the strongest yellow-flowering form yet which stays in bloom for 10 months of the year. Best New Product at RHS Chelsea 2019 went to a new type of composter. Hotbin compost bins are hot aerobic composters which produce usable compost in 30-90 days.

Dutch elm disease struck Britain and Ireland in the late 1960s and wiped out more than 30m mature trees. Hilliers Nurseries has been working with growers and breeders in the US and Europe to develop an elm that is fully resistant to this disease.

Judi Dench was presented with a specimen of this Ulmus ‘New Horizon’ by Adam Dunnett of Hillier Trees, to launch the re-elming of the British countryside, starting this year, after 55 years of development.

London is leading the way worldwide in terms of green infrastructure — not just in highlighting the problems of species extinction, but also taking measures to improve the situation. The London Gate entrance to Chelsea Flower Show was transformed by JamJar Flowers into a proscenium arch, leading spectators though beautifully scented theatrical curtains of bee-friendly herbs and English garden flowers to see the wonders of the show.

Behind the drama, the gate served as a gentle and beautiful reminder of the importance of bees, not just in this amazing city, but in all cities and urban areas, and indeed the whole planet. The message was simple: “Save our bees”.

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