I was going through my photos of Chelsea and I found this one which I had taken on my phone. It’s of Ulf, surrounded by his adoring fans, during the Show. It makes me smile – not many days before Ulf was on his knees, planting for 10 hours a day. Now he is dressed in his customary Prada being lauded by his admiring fans. The Chelsea Flower Show is a world of contrasts.
I have been reading quite a lot of the coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show and this article by Mark Griffiths in Country Life summed up, for me, what was so special about Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden.
“With the Daily Telegraph Graden, Christopher Bradley-Hole returns to Chelsea after an eight-year absence. It’s a classic case of ‘cometh the hour’. This is not only a great garden, but also, fortuitously, a sublime meditation on our new-found Englishness. In semi-abstract form, it represents the human forces that have shaped our countryside. The forest understorey is embodied by hazels, artfully sculpted with parasol crowns and low-slung branches. Beneath them, a naturalistic tapestry of perennials conveys the flora of the meadow, woodland, heath and water margin.
Not all of these plants are native, but they look it and that’s the point. Mr Bradley-Hole wants to reflect the arrival on our shores of species from overseas, one of the oldest influences on our flora, and by no means always negative. He also points out that nations with a strong home-grown horticultural identity – Japan for example – have no qualms about using non-native plants provided they harmonise with the indigenous: purism of palette is not necessarily the way to achieve purity of vision.
The interplay of light and shadow is one of this garden’s exquisitely judged features. Its wildflower weave is shady, dappled, and sunlit in turns, but always seamless in cohesion and luminous in detail. Punctuating it are small rectangular pools and blocks of box, yew and beech whose contrasting greens re-create the checkering of field patterns. The giants of the forest have been felled; but they endure in the form of a green oak colonnade backed by a charred oak wall.
Set into this wall, a narrow niche acts as a shelf for the series of flints, found objects that have all the enigmatic potency of a Palaeolithic Venus or a Henry Moore maquette. It is here, within the loggia, that you stand and look. One of the many revolutionary features, this is a garden not for entering but for contemplating, a three-dimensional picture framed by its own oaken gallery.
Mr Bradley-Hole’s inspiration for that came from his experience of Ryoan-ji, the Kyoto temple whose 500-year-old garden is a landscape in abstract and microcosm, a panorama to be viewed from a verandah. There’s profundity and beauty in the notion that a garden may be high art capable of setting the mind free when explored with the eyes alone. We should celebrate the fact that it has finally arrived at this centenary Chelsea, and in an English design consecrated to the mysteries of our landscape”.
The Show is over for another year and the plans are already starting for next year. But the pictures below show you a Chelsea you never see. Only a few days ago, these gardens were Gold medal winning gardens. Now they are a building site.
Robert Herrick was right when he wrote:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old times are still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
And on that uncharacteristacilly philosophical note, I will bid you farewell for another year. Let’s see what 2014 brings.
It’s a nervous moment when you walk into the Show Ground to find out what medal you have won. The day before (Monday) is an exhausting day with judging starting at 8.00 so we have to be in very early to make sure that everything is spotless. Then there are endless TV crews and journalists trying to get onto the gardens – there are times when we are more like bouncers than gardeners. At 3.30 the Show Ground is cleared and the Royal walkaround starts. This year I was taking round Prince Andrew and Princess Beatrice who were charming. It was a real rugger scrum when we got to Prince Harry’s garden. There must have been over 100 journalists and camera crews wanting to film Prince Harry and the rest of the Royal Family. After that there was the Gala night followed by dinner -exhausting. So you can imagine that I struggled a bit to get out of bed this morning. I was doing fine though until I found out that I had a puncture. Not a good day to have a flat tyre. I finally got to the Show and found that both gardens got Gold which is excellent. The RHS have given out 10 Golds this year which, in my opinion, is far too many and I’m sure that there will be some debate about it. But for now, we can relax with our pot of Gold. The Australian garden got Best in Show. One day someone can explain that decision to me but for now, I will just enjoy our gold rush.
There was quite a scrabble at Chelsea yesterday as we unveiled the Mark Quinn sculpture that he has generously donated to the RHS’s campaign for School gardening. It is incredibly kind of him and the money will go to a really fantastic cause. We were asked to create the garden in which the sculpture would sit. We were only asked a few weeks ago so it’s been quite a struggle to get it all designed and built. We also installed lighting – it looks spectacular at night.
It wasnt that long ago that we were getting stressed about ships not making it in time with valuable stone for the garden. In the end, it arrived about 3 days before we started on site. And it wasn’t so long ago that we were wandering around a woodland in Herefordshire choosing the oak trees that would be turned into this magnificent loggia. But all that effort was worth it. The vening light brought the garden to life last night – let’s see what the judges think.