Gnomes, stars and blooms on show at Chelsea

Helen Mirren and Ringo Starr were among the celebrities who flocked to the world’s most famous flower show for a sneak preview ahead of the Queen’s official visit.

Chelsea Flower Show is celebrating its centenary year — and has even lifted its ban on gnomes to mark the occasion, with a host of stars invited to decorate the ornaments.

Also among those getting the first glimpse at the blooms were chef Jamie Oliver, gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh, and actress Joanna Lumley.

One of the most popular photocalls of the day was for Mirren, who dubbed the ensuing scrum a “Chelsea bun fight”.

“It’s a complete honour to be invited,” she said. “It’s just the wonder of it, the dream of it. We all dream our gardens can be like these, but of course in reality they’re full of dead leaves and mess. But that’s the battle of gardening. The hard work is part of the pleasure.

“I think it’s also very important that we must understand how important nature is in our lives, and how we’re in danger of losing that.”

Oliver said: “I love gardening but I don’t have as much time to do it as I’d like — but I’m massive on veg, I spent all day yesterday picking things from my garden for [restaurant] Fifteen.

“When you’re a chef, the closer you get to nature the better.”

Television presenter Ben Fogle said: “I’ve been coming here for 10 years and used to attend with my mother. As a Londoner, I love how it spreads beyond the boundaries of the gardens themselves, making all of Chelsea like a living painting.”

Actress Emilia Fox posed in the Sentebale Forget-me-not garden, saying its message — about protecting vulnerable children as well as reflecting the loss felt by those without mothers — was an important one.

The mother-of-one and star of BBC crime drama Silent Witness said: “Because it’s about mothers and children, it’s particularly close to my heart. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful in every way — it has simplicity but it also has symbolic patterns.”

The Queen and other members of the royal family attended in the afternoon, before the public opening today.

The miniature gnomes will be auctioned on eBay for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.

Their designers include Elton John, who gave his gnome a pair of his trademark colourful glasses, and Mirren, who decorated hers in yellow and green.

RHS director general Sue Biggs said this year’s show is a “a plantsman’s Chelsea — this is a Chelsea for people who love plants”.

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