Aldona at Large: Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning…

And in a flash your trusty correspondent was up and at ‘em and en route to the Chelsea Flower Show in London. The weather was cool, breezy and grey, but I was well armed for come-what-may, notebook and camera at the ready.

Held on the spacious Royal Hospital Grounds (nearest tube station, Sloane Square) it’s a big deal. And this year was extra-special as it was its 100th anniversary. Press Day at Chelsea is the first and least-crowded day of the show, and I was eager to join the throng of fellow scribblers and photographers, hopeful wannabe and has-been actors, minor royalty, garden folks, as well as a smattering of true celebrities.

Of course, the real stars are the gardens and their designers, the astonishing plants under the marquee, the ideas you can borrow and the luxe garden ornaments and special products you can buy. All this, coupled with its festive air (think champagne and Pimm’s), is why Chelsea is the ne plus ultra of garden shows.

So fasten your seatbelts, as I whisk you away on a whirlwind pictorial tour of some of the delights and delirium of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Garden Highlights

While not my favourite, this garden won the coveted “Best Show Garden” award. It’s the Trailfinders Australian Garden designed by Phillip Johnson for Fleming’s. One thing that may have tipped the award in its favour was the fantastic quality of the plant material:

Wow. Did they grow this stuff in England, or ship it over from Australia?

Designer Chris Beardshaw was holding court at his garden designed for Arthritis Research UK. It too had wonderful plants, but I couldn’t help but be amused that Mr. Beardshaw saw fit to stand on pieces of cardboard not to dirty the pavement. Now that’s attention to detail. This garden won a Gold, and the People’s Choice award, too.

An intriguing garden called Wasteland, designed by Kate Gould Gardens. Note how junkyard elements have been cleverly repurposed as garden features.

Roger Platts designed the M&G Centenary Garden, “Windows Through Time,” which was extremely photogenic from all angles and quite lovely. It won a Gold. Here is another image that shows a window detail in a romantic ruin.

Prince Harry himself was involved with the Forget-Me-Not Garden, designed by Jinny Blom to commemorate Princess Diana as well as to increase awareness of Sentebale, the Lesotho-based children’s charity championed by the Prince. The garden was underwritten by B&Q, and won a Silver-Gilt award.

I liked the lines of the East Village Garden designed by Michael Balson and Marie-Louise Agius for Delancey. It too won a Gold.

Sponsored by Canada’s own RBC bank and designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett, the RBC Blue Water Roof Garden also won a Gold. Now wouldn’t it be nice if the RBC sponsored a garden at Canada Blooms?

While small, the SeeAbility Garden designed by Darren Hawkes had some interesting elements that could be used to delineate spaces in a garden of any size. It won a Silver-Gilt.

And then there were the smaller Artisan’s Gardens, such as this Motor Neurone Disease—A Hebridean Weaver’s Garden designed by Jackie Setchfield and Martin Anderson.

Celebrity Spotting

Before we move on to look at some of the stunning plant displays under the big marquee, here are some of the famous faces that your star-struck reporter saw at the show.

Up close, Helen Mirren looks her age, but in a decidedly good way. She’s the consummate pro and turned up on time and was good-humoured and patient. (On the other hand, Helena Bonham-Carter was a no-show, and the desperate garden designer’s crew ran around giving all the scribblers free bottles of beer at 10 a.m.! They know their journalists.)

Ringo Starr was gracious and eloquent. No wonder I’ve always loved the Beatles.

Sweetie, darling, sweetie—Joanna Lumley (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) was an absolute hoot. Ab Fab indeed.

I also spotted a number of celebs better known in Britain, such as author Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’ Diary), actress, columnist and comedienne Maureen Lipman, and TV presenter and columnist Anneka Rice. Jamie Oliver was with a group and I couldn’t get a good photo, but I can report that he’s taller than you might think.

Two journalists overheard discussing an anonymous, slightly past her sell-by date blonde, who was gamely vamping for attention:

“Who’s that?”

“Dunno. I think she was on telly 20 years ago or somefink.”

“Weren’t we all?”

Plants Under the Marquee

I am always gobsmacked by the fact that growers who are showing under the marquee seem to manage to get all their plants to be perfect and ready at the same time, no matter what their season of bloom or, in the case of veggies, harvest. Hats off to them and their skill. Here is just a small sample of what I saw.

Look at this stunning display of lupines—not the easiest plant to grow– from West Country Nurseries, holders of Britain’s national collection.

And check out the wealth of clematis from Raymond Evison, who visited the TBG last year.

The Alpine Garden Society’s creation was a stunner.

And if you think you’ve seen every kind of Heuchera there is to see, Heucheraholics Haven begs to differ.

Since the show was founded in 1913, Blackmore & Langdon has exhibited at Chelsea every year. This display of delphiniums and begonias earned them the President’s Award.

I loved the sweet, old-fashioned display of dainty Auricula from W&S Lockyer.

Then there were the rare and wonderful “can’t grow those here” plants, such as this Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunshine’ from Trewidden Nursery in Cornwall, which specializes in Protea, Restios, Succulents and Exotics. Eat your heart out, Paul.

The RHS “Plant of the Year/Plant of the Centenary” display was a big draw. People from all over the world voted for the Plant of the Centenary, and the winner (drumroll, please) was Geranium ‘Rozanne.’ While it is a great plant, it is also a fairly recent introduction, which makes me wonder if people largely voted for it because they know it best right now? Anyway, here were the other top 10 contenders as chosen by horticultural experts. (Note: Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ is a Canadian introduction.)

1913 – 1922: Saxifraga ‘Tumbling Waters’
1923 – 1932: Pieris formosa var. forrestii
1933 – 1942: Lupinus Russell hybrids
1943 – 1952: Rhododendron yakushimanum
1953 – 1962: Rosa Iceberg (‘Korbin’)
1963 – 1972: Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’
1973 – 1982: Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
1983 – 1992: Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’
1993 – 2002: Geranium Rozanne (‘Gerwat’)
2003 – 2012: Streptocarpus ‘Harlequin Blue’

The plant of the year for 2013 is Mahonia eurybrachteata subsp. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’.

What About Those Gnomes?

Talk about a PR person’s dream. The celebrity-designed gnomes that received so much press coverage turned out to be about eight inches tall, or the size of a wooden pepper mill, and were housed in a glass cabinet in the RHS booth.

Yes, they were cute and this was the first time that gnomes were allowed at Chelsea, but still. So an enterprising retailer decided to go one better with the living, breathing version.

The Devil is in the Details

Let’s take a quick whip around to see some of the cool stuff at this year’s marketplaces.

I loved this sweet garden bench by Christopher Lisney.

Could this understated water feature be called “circling the drain?”

Wouldn’t you just kill for one of these off the back of the house? Sigh.

That’s a whole lotta driftwood, momma.

And I wouldn’t say no to one of Roger Till’s whimsical wire sculptures.

This was a far cry from most booths. I treated myself to a couple of bars of “Hope and Glory” soap in the Union Jack package.

An entire booth filled with garden vintage? Get behind me, Satan!

Chelsea Flower Girls

It was a chilly day, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at these scantily dressed flower girls. Brrr. Somebody give them a cup of tea, please.

Even Local Shops Get Into the Spirit

Before I say TTFN (ta ta for now), here is a quick glimpse of some of the shops near Sloane Square that also got dressed up for Chelsea:

Next time, I’ll take you on a tour of a several English public gardens that are off the beaten garden path but well worth seeing. Rule, Britannia!

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