‘Winning at Chelsea is just like playing in the World Cup’, says Kerry gardener

A Kerry gardener has won a silver-gilt medal at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London.

“It’s a great feeling — 99%, if not 100% of people who work with plants love plants, so winning at Chelsea is a bit like a 50-year-old football fan going to the World Cup and participating in it. It’s living the dream,” said Billy Alexander.

Billy’s ‘Wilde Atlantic Garden’ showcased rare and exotic ferns grown at his Kerry estate, Kells Bay House and Gardens, which is also home to Ireland’s longest rope bridge.

Not only was Billy awarded a silver-gilt but he also spent some time with British royalty.

“I met the Queen of England for a few minutes,” Billy told the Irish Examiner.

“I was explaining where I came from and the amount of rain we get in Kerry, but that it’s the best quality rain as it comes in off the Atlantic and she said: ‘Really? That’s remarkable.’

Aside from celebrating his prestigious medal and meeting the Queen, his garden will also be broadcast on the BBC tomorrow night.

“In a few minutes ,the BBC is coming to talk to me and that will go out on Thursday night to millions of people, showcasing Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way to millions of people across the UK,” he said.

The Chelsea Flower Show is an application-only event and those who are accepted do not compete against each other, instead they must reach a standard with gold being number one, followed by silver-gilt.

Billy applied late last year, was accepted and had all of his ferns transported to London for the show.

“I applied for Chelsea last August and they came back to me in September to say I was accepted,” he said.

“I started getting ready straight away with the ferns, tree-ferns and the ground-ferns and they were all brought over from Kerry.”

While he had transported gardens to Dublin for Bloom in the past, getting his prized plants all the way over to England was a different
process entirely.

“When you’re doing the Chelsea show, every step is paranoia,” said Billy.

Chelsea Flower Show, London.

 

“A huge big lorry came to collect everything last Friday week and they arrived in England on the Monday.

"So for three days I wasn’t with them. I was thinking: ‘What if they get the temperature wrong in the lorry? What if they don’t arrive?’”

Thankfully every plant Billy sent arrived in one piece and he and his gardener spent three days creating the ‘Wilde Atlantic Garden’ in London “meticulously to plan.”

The idea behind Billy’s garden is to show people that nature is on our doorstep and not just in the form of manicured flowerbeds.

He also wanted to point
out that we can find a silver lining to all the rain Ireland receives.

“In England, a lot of the gardens are quite manicured,” said Billy.

“I’m saying these ferns are perfect in the natural environment. Kells Bay in Kerry is a remarkable place — it’s a naturally beautiful landscape and it’s filled with ferns. It’s wild.

“The truth is there is a lot of rain but you have to promote the plus side, that what we have is wild and beautiful.”

The Irish public will have a chance to see Billy’s garden up close at this year’s Bloom in the Park festival, in the Phoenix Park over the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Kells Bay, which is 44 acres of wild gardens, was originally developed by the Blennerhasset family in the 19th century.

An ongoing restoration was started by Billy and his wife Penn in 2006.

The estate is now home to some of the rarest and most exotic plant species in the world.

Billy said the special climate of the area enables the growth of many exotic plant species, such as tree-ferns. The garden also functions as a nursery and supplies a range of extremely rare plant species.

Billy and his awarding-winning garden will arrive home to Ireland this weekend.

He hopes his medal will inspire all types of people to become interested in nature because “you never have a bad day when you spend it with plants”.



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