Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Chelsea chop & paintbrushes - behind the scenes of the Chelsea Flower Show

A month ago I had the privilege of getting a pass to see the centenary Chelsea Flower Show a couple of days before it opened, and before the glitzy & glamorous strided through the doors. Many were still in the thick of setting up, power water misters seems to be the order of the day and the finesse of the work went down to people brushing soil off plant leaves with a paint brush.

The interesting site of the Royal Hospital where the show is held. 

A few nurseries has been at the Chelsea Flower Show all the way, including orchid nursery McBeans. They recreated the first showy stand that they did of exotic orchids at the first Chelsea Flower Show, but now with even more genera.


Perfect lupins. It's mind boggling to think how they manage to get plants ready and in such top condition exactly for the dates of the exhibition. All sorts of keys & secrets I'm sure, hence the method known as the 'Chelsea chop' & probably some deep freeze action.

The building of a stand.

It never ceases to me amaze me how niche horticulturalists can be, from heuchera lovers to just being dedicated to one type of primula or even strawberries. The range of specialism was impressive. There was of course stands by famous nurseries like David Austen roses & Cayeau irises. The smell inside the marquee of all these plants was phenomenal. Here is the carnivorous plant stand being tweaked.



Nothing satisfies me more than seeing three grown men getting particular about primula auriculas, breaking stereotypes in a positive way.

I couldn't help but admire these aquilegias.

Waterside nursery dealing specifically with aquatic & marginal plants:

Not to mention one of my favourite nurseries 'Crug Farm' with their daring exotics from their intrepid plant hunting expeditions. One of their latest adventures was in Vietnam, which as the birth place of my parents I am very interested in.
A box of artefacts & seeds part of the Crug Farm display

I am intrigued by how these vegetables are displayed, it is like a shrine for a harvest god.

I have a thing for chandelier/ tiered primulas for some reason, so I was curious to see the different types on display (there was many).


I loved the lush planting/ display of Hillier. They had great plants & combinations and made it feel like a bit of a feast.

This is the first time I have seen rhododendrons pruned this way, almost as standards with some of their leaves stripped off.

This Cornus kousa was one of many plants that I saw on my desire list.


There were many other things going on in the main marquee too, different societies, RHS demonstrations of different gardens throughout the last 100 years and intensive floral displays by Birmingham Council and Nang Nooch Botanical Garden in Thailand.

Part of the Birmingham Council display

I was not as taken with any of the show gardens as I would have liked to have been. I liked Chris Beardshaw's planting that he did with Arthritis Research UK, especially the tall echiums.

A lot of the show gardens used this light flooring which I think was a type of york stone. I was wondering though if it was giving everyone a headache, as footprints & dirt seem to show up really easy on it. 

There is a big trend at the moment in green roofs, vertical growing, dealing with the urban environment and using modern materials. Nigel Dunnett uses concrete to make planters and modern metal grates as walkways as part of his design for a roof garden.

Tempting textures. This reminds me of the increasing interest in no grass lawns, they are pretty, are more multi-sensory and can potentially support more wildlife, but I have wondered about how they fare in terms of functionality too (e.g. lying on the grass, playing ball games, repeat walking etc.)
Section of the B & Q Sentebale Forget-Me-Not Garden

I couldn't help but feel that JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit was having its influence to designs too. Birmingham council had definitely highlighted The Lord of the Rings, as part of the celebration of the library that's opening there. If only the LOTR & Tolkien fanatics knew!

Many of the show gardens were very conceptual, this one was called 'After the fire', demonstrating growth that would occur after a fire and to symbolise a new beginning.



There was lots more, not including the product stalls who made just as much effort to present their wares as did the nurseries. It was only when I had gone home that I realised I had missed the whole 'Artisan Gardens' section, even though I thought I had walked round several times. And I didn't even manage to brush the sides of the Chelsea Fringe this year either.

Stalls creating their own planters & cheerful planting. 
The amount of packaging used was an installation in itself. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the look behind the scenes! The plant stands look like the best part. And hooray for Tolkienish influence!

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