Well no, I didn’t say that. Not exactly. Well not at all in fact because, despite being just a stone’s throw from Stamford Bridge, this is The Chelsea Flower Show where soft, polite, hushed and ever so slightly reverential tones are very much the order of the day.This is largely because that’s how everyone else speaks, but also because that plant will probably be in the top ten most well known plants ever list. So it was actually more a whispered “could you possibly tell me what that little yellow flower down there is called?”
But nurserymen take heed because, despite its dulcet tones, RHS Chelsea is Middle England speaking, the quiet, but giant majority. And so here we go with a precis of eavesdropped Chelsea Flower Show Chants 2016.
To start autumnal hues – burnt oranges, coppers and faded yellows – are everywhere; expect a run on heucheras with their long-lasting brown, russet and red leaves; and, i predict, delicate looking violas will make a comeback too. Viburnum opulus is clearly in, along with Viburnum plicata – yes, get used to a surge of dark green leaved shrubs with pretty white flowers. The similar, but more delicate looking, Cornus kousa, will join these ranks too. If the designers had their way, the trend for yellow and blue has passed, but people still like the combination – memories of Luciano Giubbilei’s stunning Best in Show 2014 remain. But there seems to be much less pink around – plenty of strong whites and deep purples but less middle ground. And large cut stones, or rocks as they’re more commonly known? Maybe, but despite two very strong Chelsea appearances, the jury is still out for home gardens. Too expensive and large. Oh, and heavy!
And that little yellow flower down there? Trollius x cultorum ‘Cheddar. Watch out for it – you heard it here first!
And so to the Show Gardens. At what point did Show Gardens become Show Landscapes? Why did 2016 Best in Show winner, Andy Sturgeon, feel compelled to introduce a mountain range made of bronze in his Telegraph Garden; or James Basson, and I quote from the catalogue: “a recreation of the beauty of the harsh yet varied environment of Haute Provence” in his L’Occitane Garden? Or even perennial Chelsea favourite, Cleve West, with his Exmoor-scape.
To cut to the chase designs seemed a bit over-propped this year and in need of some Arne Maynard elegance, Tom Stewart-Smith originality, or Luciano design simplicity, just to reign it in and bring a touch of reality back. These are garden designs not film sets. Dan Pearson may have thrown down a design marker last year, but it was a brilliantly tempered creation. I didn’t quite get that this year – the hard landscaping often overruled the planting.
Charlie Almone’s Husqvarna Garden was as close to Best in Show as it got for me, and was my clear favourite. Call me old fashioned but green works and this was a clever combination of Buxus; a Carpinus canopy, and sunken lawn surrounded by predominantly purple and sage tones. A rill and a bronze and copper sculpture that didn’t overpower helped make this work. I confess I was expecting Cleve West’s Exmoor-inspired garden to be my standout. He had pole position but came a close second.
My take on all this is, forget the elaborate props, the clue is in the name – Flower Show. Let the planting tell the story.
And talking of props, what about Diarmuid. Dear, dear Diarmuid. Always Top of the Props. Going by the previews for his Heath Robinson inspired creation, I had high hopes for this return to Chelsea this year. The gimmick factor was there, of course, but also some lovely planting – a billowing cottage garden in full bloom, coupled with box, yew and bay formality. There was even a ‘classic’ pond. Get you Diarmuid. A Gold, even Silver-Gilt would have kept that Irish ego alive and kicking, while ‘Best in Show’ would have secured him National Treasure status – forever. But alas it was not to be, this is Chelsea and props clearly must be deep and meaningful. Diarmuid’s Harrods British Eccentric’s Garden could never compete with Andy Sturgeon’s ‘dramatic bronze fins representing an ancient mountain range with a stream of melt water running in the gorge below’. Still, as ever Diarmuid kept the crowds entertained in a tut-tutting Chelsea kind of way, and gave the media plenty to work with.
At the heart of the Show is, of course, the Great Pavilion, and this is where inspiration really rests. Notepad and iPhone in hand, you scribble plant names and take their pictures. Then there’s hours of fun to be had matching the two later. Or not.
The Pavilion is where we plan next year’s diehards and highlights for me were Sweet Pea Harlequin Mixed – “7 curious veined and picoted standards and wings with flushes and stripes’- unusual and very striking; Digitalis purpurea ‘Cream Carousel’ (to go with the pale yellow Trollius, obviously); Violas ‘Dawn’ and `Blue Moon’ – ditto; and Geranium ‘Prelude’ – a deep, vivid mauve. And that’s just the tip of a very long list. Yes, days could be lost in the Pavilion, not least due to a tendency to wander round in circles.
Then there’s all the extras to take in outside: the Artisan Gardens: a bit off the beaten track but well worth the walk, the standout for me being The Garden Bed, by Alsion Doxey and Stephen Welch.
And the Fresh Gardens with this year’s ‘Quirky’ award going to Martin Cook and Gary Breeze for their Marble and Granite Centre ‘Antithesis of Sarcophai’ – essentially a huge, hollow concrete block with peep holes to an enclosed forest garden. Weird and worth the 40 minute queue? Possibly. Probably. Well, yes. Not least for the pair’s chirpy attempts at keeping the queue entertained.
The ‘Very Serious Indeed’ award goes to Juliet Sargeant’s Modern Slavery Garden with its eight, full size front doors, harsh black railings and black and white tiled path. It also won a Chelsea Gold. I was sceptical but my wife thought it was very moving. Sadly, I don’t remember a thing about the planting! Enough said!
Then there’s all the bits you see on TV beforehand – the entrance gate decorated to celebrate the Queen’s 90th, tick; the 26,000 knitted poppies, tick; the RHS Chelsea Garden Products of the Year, tick; the Eastern Avenue of Loosely-Connected-Garden-Themed-Retail, tick.
Blisters, tick (I stupidly wore new boots); empty wallet, tick (I’m a sucker for loosely-connected –garden-themed-retail).
Back next year? Tick.