A celebrity under every leaf at flower show

A TOPLESS model poses in the foliage, environmentalists plead for the water vole, yoga enthusiasts balance on tip-toe amid the plants.

Media day at Britain’s Chelsea Flower Show can be a truly surreal experience when former Beatle Ringo Starr rubs shoulders with Britain’s national sailing team and “Weakest Link” TV presenter Anne Robinson launches a garden for Alzheimer sufferers.

The world’s most famous flower show is bedecked for the day in some very unlikely finery — TV soap stars, interior designers and even donkeys, chickens and a Shetland pony are on display. No gimmick is too outrageous.

But then it’s all-change as the show goes upmarket.

The camera crews and jostling reporters are ushered out in the afternoon so Britain’s Queen Elizabeth can tour the show in regal solitude.

There are about 600 exhibitors from all over the world at the Royal Horticultural Society-organised show, with top name garden designers including Diarmuid Gavin, Tom Stuart-Smith and Andy Sturgeon.

Seen as the ultimate event in the gardening calendar, some 157,000 visitors will explore the displays.

For High Society, Chelsea is the launchpad for the summer season with socialites then trekking to Royal Ascot races, Wimbledon tennis and a night at the opera in the country at Glyndebourne.

But for green-fingered enthusiasts, fuelling Britain’s £2 billion gardening industry, this is serious business.

Gardening, in the words of British designer Terence Conran, is “the new rock ‘n’ roll for the young.”

Famous cooks vie with gardening experts for airtime on the latest makeover show.

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh, who hosts a nightly BBC Television show from the grounds, has no doubts about the prowess displayed across this green and pleasant land.

“The Brits are the best gardeners in the world. It is not an idle boast. We have the greatest skills and experience,” he said.

“We have been cunning over the years and we took inspiration from the French and the Dutch and ran with it and added our own.”

For Chelsea is the horticultural Olympics.

The show, staged in elegant grounds on the banks of the River Thames, attracts exhibitors from as far afield as Australia and the Cayman Islands.

For four days, this is the centre of the gardening universe as up to 170,000 visitors cram into Chelsea.

“If you talk to the man who has brought orchids from Japan to the show, this is where he wants to be — at the Chelsea Flower Show — as he has nothing like it back home,” Mr Titchmarsh said.

George Harrison’s widow felt creating a special garden in memory of the former Beatle had brought her closer to her late husband.

“I really cannot think of a more joyful thing to do for George and I know he would approve,” Olivia Harrison said as she put the finishing touches to her floral tribute.

“I do feel close to him in the garden,” she said. He died of lung cancer in 2001.

“He was a passionate gardener,” she said of her husband who loved to tour the show grounds, taking copious notes on the plants that took his fancy.


Lacemakers in Limerick want to preserve their unique craft for future generations and hope to gain UNESCO heritage status, writes Ellie O’Byrne.Made in Munster: Lace-making a labour of love rather than laborious industry

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