A visit to Chelsea

I love looking at other people’s gardens. On the allotment you can take a brief stroll and eye up as many as twenty or thirty different plots in one go. Cheek by jowl, each is unique in presentation and production, and reflects the personalities of those who tend it. The variety is fascinating and my nosy wanderings leave me feeling alternately inspired, or competitive, or self-congratulatory, depending on what I find.

Last week I had the great good fortune to be able to meander around a similarly tightly-arranged group of gardens, but ones with much grander ambitions. A dear artist friend offered me her ticket to the Press Day of the Royal Horticultural Society’s premier event – The Chelsea Flower Show. Out of the blue I found myself taking the train to London and mingling with media, celebrities, and world-class horticulturalists and designers as I roamed the grounds, soaking in the atmosphere and reveling in the glorious show gardens. Take a look!

Full-size trees make a graceful canopy. Each garden is densely (and exquisitely) planted, creating a sense of permanence that belies the fact that it will be gone in a week’s time.

Chris Beardshaw’s woodland garden with thatched hut – a running Chelsea theme.

The “M & G Garden” – water, funky sculpture, and beautiful borders.

The Artisan Gardens were on a more intimate scale. Set in a glade within the Chelsea grounds, they were exquisite little jewels.

My favorite of the Artisan Gardens: “Satoyama Life” by Japanese designer Kazayuki Ishihara. The hut is covered in clumps of moss.

There was plenty that was conventionally beautiful, but Chelsea also highlights more esoteric and conceptual gardens. One of my favorites was “Quiet Time: The DMZ Forbidden Garden,” which evoked the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. Man-made boundaries are overtaken by lush and wild greenery. The photo below shows bottles with messages for loved ones stuck into a chain link fence. A haunting, evocative garden.

Then again, Chelsea is also for showing off and having fun. Irishman Diarmuid Gavin created a seven-story pyramid of scaffolding – an urban riff on the hanging gardens of Babylon. I was lucky enough to be the very last person allowed to enter the structure (before the Queen herself arrived to take her annual promenade around the showgrounds.) I eschewed the industrial lift (elevator) at the center of the structure and instead climbed stairs and precarious ladders all the way to the top. Each level offered new vistas and a different environment. There were sheds, hanging seats, a shower, vegetable patches, trees, all many meters above the ground. The best moment came last when I zoomed down from the top inside a silver tube slide. Whoo-hooo!

The future of gardening for an over-crowded island?

A view of the Grand Pavilion from the top of the pyramid.

The BBC shooting a piece for its nightly Chelsea program in Joe Swift’s garden. (Joe is a presenter on “Gardener’s World” – watched religiously every Friday night by the residents of Birch Modern.) You’ve got to like a country that takes gardening this seriously!


One thought on “A visit to Chelsea

  1. Thank you, Volutina! This absolutely warms the cockles of my heart. Having spent the month of May through heat waves happily laboring over our patch of ground at 119 Village Lane, the CFS was like a confirmation that there is a world out there with fellow-obsessives. (The heat has gone and we’re looking at welcome rain and cool temps.)


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