This was my first visit to RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I have always wanted to go, but for various reasons, I’d never managed it, so I was very pleased to finally walk through the hallowed gates, which were suitably festooned with seasonal flowers and foliage. This year’s show was always going to be a bit different to the usual extravaganza. It has moved from May to September, because of Covid, and I was anticipating a riot of autumnal colour. I was not disappointed. It was a bit like stepping into the world’s most glamorous harvest festival.
Everywhere I looked I saw the rich hues of the season. Mellow grasses, ripe crab apples hanging heavy on trees, golden heleniums, red hot pokers, flamboyant hydrangeas and beautiful painterly amethyst blue asters. Chelsea is a fantasy in many ways, and I was only too happy to leap right into it.
I was keen to start with the show gardens, and my eye was immediately caught by the Yeo Valley Organic Garden designed by Tom Massey, supported by Sarah Mead. I enjoyed the exuberant planting in front of the steam bent wooden nature hide, and felt that I could step inside and curl up there. I couldn’t, of course, as the site was teeming with press photographers and certain areas were out of bounds, but in my imagination, I was right there. This garden won a gold medal, and I could see why. It melded together and flowed.
This garden, designed by Ekaterina Zasukhina with Carly Kershaw, was arresting for the waterfall which splashed and fell from a great height and the sound of joyous birdsong. At first I thought this was coming from a flock of parakeets, but infact, I later found out that it was recorded! The vista was inspired by the Ural mountains, and I definitely sensed the wildness in this garden. It looks as if it has been here forever.
Another garden which succeeded in looking as if it had been in place for hundreds of years was the Blue Diamond Forge Garden, with a blacksmith working inside the rustic thatched forge, which was inspired by a 15th century building in Branscombe, Devon. I could see the fire glowing and hear the clang of his tools. A natural woodland setting had been created, with a crab apple tree, a stream, and lots of edible herbs and medicinal plants mixed in with wildflowers and marginals.
Not many of the show gardens embraced the full on colour palette of autumn. The NHS Tribute Garden did, however, and I loved its exuberance. It was designed as a place “to reflect on our experiences, to remember those we may have lost, and a place to imagine a better future.” I loved the warmer tones of the plants, and the water features which evoked a sense of calm.
There were warmer colours and gorgeous flowers galore on the Alitex stand. This was a beautiful meeting of creative minds. Showcasing the lust-worthy greenhouses, stylist Selina Lake had created a really cosy haven, using accessories from Lamb & Newt, and lots of seasonal touches, such as baskets of apples, pumpkins, posies of flowers in darker hues, wool blankets and throws.
The stove and chairs looked so inviting.
A blaze of autumn colours dominated at the fabulous Gaze Burvill display which was designed by Ann-Marie Powell, with flowers on the tables grown for Sarah Raven and arrangements created by Arthur Parkinson. I was drawn back a few times to look at the lush colours here, and I loved the details, like the blackberries mixed with the blooms, and the delicious jewel toned vintage glassware.
The blaze of colour continued in the Grand Pavilion. I’m told there were far less exhibitors here than in previous years, but it was still a wonderful sight, with all sorts of quirky displays. Plenty to delight and plenty to provoke thought, too.
Champion fruit and veg….
I’ve never seen such gorgeous rows of chard.
So many stunning penstemons.
This exhibit was irresistible, and not surprising that its creator is an Instagram sensation.
There has been more of an attempt to include all sorts of gardeners at the RHS shows this year. I really liked the row of designed balcony gardens. The reality is that so many people garden in tiny and less than ideal spaces, and I’ve always been a huge advocate of making the most of limited options. I do it in my own garden, after all.
Balcony of Blooms, above, was designed by Alexandra Noble. “I wanted to create a continuous green edge,” she told me. “This is planted with herbs for culinary and medicinal use, as well as pollinator-friendly flowers.” Two trees create a sense of enclosure. The furniture is foldable and easy to store, and the spindle trees are tough enough to withstand an urban environment. “It’s the first time I have designed a balcony,” explained Alexandra. “It was good to create a useable space which is applicable to real life.”
I really loved the floor, the integral seating, and the grey bistro set.
A slightly larger space, but still with the focus on edibles, was this lovely garden by Alan Williams for Parsley Box. It won the People’s Choice Award and I’m really not surprised. Parsley Box is a company which makes healthy ready meals delivered to the door, and Alan’s focus was very much on productivity. There was even an outdoor kitchen, just out of shot, with pickles and preserves displayed. In his planting, Alan had mixed in edibles with perennials, a great concept for small-space gardening, and something I am going to try. So, along with rudbeckia and crocosmia, you might find chocolate mint, oregano, marjoram and a curry plant. A gorgeous fig tree framed the seating area, and a pleached pear tree provided shelter, along with lots of juicy fruits. This garden had so many elements in a limited area.
By now, I was starting to flag, so I sat in the sun eating a slice of home made blackcurrant cake from my bag, and pausing for a stellar 15 minutes of people watching. First of all, Monty Don walked past with a man in a pea green suit. Then I noticed the Gardeners’ World team filming in this show garden. A barefoot director was giving instructions to Adam Frost.
A commotion and suddenly Dame Judi Dench was in view, surrounded by people. A tiny figure dressed head to toe in cream with an elfin cap of grey hair. When I popped into the loo, there was author and columnist Caitlin Moran, and when I came out, I walked into a filming zone with TV presenters Lisa Snowdon, Nicky Chapman and Sophie Rawarth. It is fascinating to see how the production part of the show is put together. There are so many characters wandering around, not just famous ones. I enjoyed seeing this artist, Venetia Scott, painting a canvas.
Painting at Chelsea – not a bad gig to get!
And I enjoyed meeting Lizzie from the Rose Press Garden. She’s someone I have been talking to via email, and it was lovely to put a face to a name, and to see her very first Chelsea stand. Lizzie started her business, a monthly seed and bulb subscription for new gardeners, during lockdown, and it has really taken off. She has managed to demystify gardening and bring it to a wider audience. She had truly entered into the Chelsea spirit!
Finally, I was pleased to see a big focus on houseplants, with six houseplant ‘studios’ exhibiting in amongst the trees. Lots of great ideas to be found here, including this genius idea for growing cuttings in jam jars from Conservatory Archives.
Definitely one to try at home.
And I liked The Green Room…lots of kitsch.
Walking back to the tube, I did some window shopping and admired the Chelsea in Bloom exhibits. This is where shop keepers decorate their businesses in keeping with Show week.
And in the King’s Road…
It’s whimsical, it’s escapist, it’s a bit over the top, and it just felt really uplifting. Just like the show itself.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of Chelsea Flower Show, I’ve come away buzzing with ideas, and I really hope I can visit again next year!
- Every effort has been made to report accurately on the exhibits and exhibitors. Please contact me if you see any amendments that should be made in my show report.