Chelsea Flower Show: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

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Chelsea Flower Show 2018 officially kicked off with Press Day today but even before attending I’d seen a few confused social media comments off the back of the BBC TV coverage on Sunday: “That’s not a garden, it’s got concrete blocks everywhere again!“, “These aren’t gardens, who has a giant popping steamer in the middle of their lawn?” It begs the question, once asked by Queen (not THE Queen… although she does love Chelsea too and who knows… maybe it did cross her mind) “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”. Some people do seem puzzled.

Of course, the gardens on display at Chelsea are not entirely practical within a traditional 1970s ‘path + lawn +washing line + Snapdragon border’ design sense but can you imagine how boring it would be if they all were? As flower shows go, Chelsea is about showing unusual concepts, some more fantastical than others. Chelsea’s designs challenge ideas about features or planting combinations, colours and shapes. Yes, there is a cross over between art and gardening here and yes, gardens that illustrate a single issue, culture or cause are not the norm for the majority of us in our two-up two-downs and small outdoor spaces. I’m not sure I’d introduce anybody to my own terraced garden with a “this garden represents my period of anxiety and panic attacks and my uphill struggle” (although it actually does). However, the garden designs of Chelsea challenge our preset gardening beliefs and make us reassess our own garden plans – be they balcony boxes, allotments or two acre estates. If you pay attention, Chelsea should make you a better garden designer.

What should first time visitors expect?

To those visiting Chelsea for the first time (whom I’ve come across rather a lot this year) remember that the gardens of Chelsea flower show are there to inspire but not necessarily as a whole take-away. Perhaps you’ll see a garden you love in an instant or perhaps a single flower that makes you desperately seek it out. Maybe you simply come away thinking that you need a ‘water feature’ or ‘a sculpture’ as a focal point. It’s possible that you’ll detest a garden that you see and ‘poo poo’ it but hey, at least that helps you know what you love by comparison! Try to remember that a lot of work has gone into all of these gardens, sometimes years of planning and much back-breaking work, judging a garden and instantly dismissing it out loud might, just might, cause offence to the designer. Designers are creative people and not always that thick skinned, so maybe save your critique for Sloane Square tube station when they are out of earshot!

Crimson Clover Flower

Chelsea influences plant fashion (this year Lupins are definitely the must have flower again, I can hear the snails cheering that on already). I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of my allotment beauties growing within show gardens today. Firstly I came across a sea of Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) which is a green manure crop that we use to fix nitrogen to the soil. Only this week I remarked on how beautiful a flower it was at my allotment and how it should be in a garden and hey presto I find it growing in the Seedlip Garden (One of the new ‘Space to Grow’ gardens). I also noticed Comfrey growing within some displays at the David Harber and Savills Show garden on Main Avenue, bravo to that decision, one person’s weed is another’s gorgeous bee-friendly flower.

My favourite Chelsea Flower Show Gardens in 2018

Best Main Avenue Garden – The David Harber and Savill Garden – I love this garden, designed by Nic Howard, for its slightly cottage style perennial planting and colour scheme but mainly its multiple changing views from different sides which work so well in combination with its ‘Aeon Nucleus’ sculpture and mirrored water features. If this doesn’t win Gold I’ll be amazed. I would love to have been able to get inside this garden to see it from different perspectives.

The David Harber and Savill Garden

The David Harber and Savill Garden – Nic Howard

Best Artisan Garden – The Claims Guys – A Very English Garden
– I couldn’t help thinking of Hestercombe when looking at the half dome drystone wall in this garden. In combination with box balls and hedges, purple, pinks and foxgloves it ticks all my boxes for what I love in a garden. One might say I’ve been brainwashed by my own walled terraces.

Best Artisan Garden - The Claims Guys - A Very English Garden

Best Artisan Garden – The Claims Guys – A Very English Garden – Designed by Janine Crimmins

Best Space to Grow Garden – The Seedlip Garden & The Myeloma UK Garden 
– I struggled to chose between these two ‘Space to Grow’ show gardens but they are very different. The Seedlip Garden celebrates the pea, and my last name ‘Peskett’ means ‘seller of peas’ (in medieval times), so it seems only right that this garden spoke to me. I also loved the use of that Crimson Clover and the ‘Peavilion’ building. The perspex sculpture of The Myeloma UK Garden, is stunning, it looked best when sitting down on the floor in front of it but good luck doing that on a public visiting day!


Below are some other photos from around Chelsea Flower Show 2018 – I must be honest and say that I am so grateful for getting in on Press Day because it made photography so much easier without the crowds. It was a little weird being surrounded by so many celebrities but in the end you become quite desensitized. I had a brief chat with Adam Frost (of Gardeners World), bumped into Fergus Garrett (who I know from Great Dixter), and spoke with Nigel Slater (TV chef) – a really delightful chap. My Press Day access came about through the RHS Volunteer Scheme. I shall be at Chelsea again on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, in the Great Pavillion at the Weston Garden (central) – possibly outside on the Feel Good Garden on Thursday. Feel free to come and say hello, I’ll be the good looking tall chap in RHS purple.


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About Author

Matt Peskett is GrowLikeGrandad (if you want to know why read 'About the Editor). He has a few 'heavy clay' allotments and is Chairman of the Dorking Allotment Holders Association (DAHA). Matt also has a medium sized 'sandy soil' hillside garden (Italian terrace designed) and enjoys photography - especially nature. Matt takes inspiration from gardens like Hidcote and Great Dixter and enjoys watching anything on TV presented by Monty Don or Louis Theroux.

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