22 May 2014

The Chelsea Cheer

At 7 o'clock on a clear morning in May, gardens look pretty good. Inside the Royal Hospital grounds, the finest show gardens on offer are quietly shimmering at the Chelsea Flower Show. With pale sunshine and hardly anyone around, they will never look better than this, in their moment of judgement.
Since it's impossible to see everything at once at the Chelsea Flower Show, the leafy nook that shelters the Artisan Gardens is best saved until you are in need of escape from Main Avenue. But don't forget to go; they are the most inventive and useful gardens in the show. They're small, so people can relate, and they're not flash. They have a story to tell, like the Potter's Garden with WW1 bullets embedded in the soil or the Topiarist's Garden with a bothy and cottagey parterre for indulging a head gardener's personal topiary fetish (as if). 

If you are lucky there will be a Japanese moss garden as well, with a waterfall and lots of little mounds. If you are REALLY lucky you'll visit with a photographer like Howard Sooley. He'll tell you to go round the back and see what a small show garden can do. This one had had considerable attention paid to the sides, with a moss wall infiltrated by ferns and dangly things. At the back: a planted wall with little acers growing out of the top. It suited this woodland setting. And yet it was still neat: the turf around the edge of the back of the garden was precisely cut before giving way to real mud and weeds.
“Look at the back of this garden,” said my other companion. “Then look next door.”

The Paradise on Earth garden won Best in Show for the smaller gardens and as Kazuyuki Ishihara ran on stage roaring, with both fists in the air, he and his crowd showed us a thing or two about celebrating. After that we really wanted the Italian winner of the Best Show Garden, Luciano Giubbilei, to gesticulate and go a bit mad, but he's been living in England for too long.

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