Chelsea Round Up

Simple, yet effective public planting outside Heelis, the National Trust HQ - 19/05/2008

It's been a thought provoking week looking at the coverage of Chelsea. Having a blog and an easier access to the thoughts of other gardeners has added a new and fresh dimension to the extensive 'official' coverage by the RHS and the BBC. I confess that Chelsea always leaves me in a bit of a whirl and with a feeling of inadequecy. So many choices, so much excellence and my own small space always seems so dull in comparison. I always have to give myself a shake and a good talking to post Chelsea. After all, my space has to work for 365 days, not just a few. However, I'm resisting the urge to rip everything out and start anew more so than ever. I think that's the influence of my gardening course and a lack of a major gardening project this year beginning to kick in as well as the usual effect the show has on me. However, I've just about managed to hold myself in check - extensive notes on what is and isn't working in the garden, plus a project to improve my soil with lots of grit and compost are my overall tasks for this year, prior to any major changes.

So what of Chelsea itself? I thought Alan Titchmarsh summed it up pretty well in 3 words - Aspirational, Inspirational and Sensational. Many of you agreed with the inspirational and sensational - Emma, R Pete Free, Victoria and Zoe all summed these aspects well when describing their own visits. I also enjoyed JAS' take on the show, particularly with his judges hat on. (Note - most of these did more than 1 post) However, some of you disagreed with the aspirational aspect when commenting on my posts earlier this week - Sylvia (sorry I can't link to you, but thanks for the comments) loves the perfection, but doesn't want it in her garden and Yolanda doesn't feel pressurised into buying or changing anything. I'm glad there are people out there comfortable with what they have achieved. Deborah and Flighty think the smaller shows are better as there's more time to talk to the stallholders - I suspect this is also true of the designers if my experience at Malvern and Cardiff is anything to go by.

Chelsea is often criticised as being too snobby, expensive and of no value to real gardeners. If this were true, I don't think its success would continue. Yes, obscene amounts can be spent on the gardens, but I'm pleased that over 20 of these are going to be created elsewehere after the show. Also without Chelsea, I don't think we'd ever have gardening talked about as a mainstream topic like it has been for the whole of this week. For example, Cleve West's BUPA Garden has not only been a real crowd pleaser (as evidenced by his People's Award), it has done so much to raise issues around Alzheimer's and the needs of all people in care homes, many of whom do not have access to the kind of sanctuary this garden will provide for the lucky care home in London.

So where does my problem fence above fit into all of this? Well, another Chelsea criticism is it has no relevance to real gardens. I disagree - there are simply oodles of nickable ideas. It's very easy to go into idea overload if you're not careful! This year I'm restricting myself to just 3:

  • Mark Gregory's Children's Society Garden had lots of 'Vertical Borders' - a great idea to try to brighten up my fence
  • A multi-stemmed Prunus serrula - taken from Adam Frost's A Welcome Sight. I've been wanting to replace the supplied ash tree that came with the side garden when we bought the house. It'll be too close when it's mature - the Prunus will be the perfect replacement and provide so much more interest
  • Cleve West used Geum 'Lemon Drops' in his BUPA Garden - more dramatic and less problematic than the self-sown wild geum around my Clematis obelisks

How about you - did you find any ideas to use from Chelsea this year? If you need further help before you decide, the BBC has some downloadable plans from 10 of this year's gardens. Also the Crocus website has plans for the 4 gardens it supplied plants for this year - thanks Zoe for letting me know about these.

Finally, this year's Chelsea has engineered a real gardening breakthrough for the VP household. NAH usually sets me up to watch the coverage and goes off to fiddle with a lathe or something. The mention of the George Harrison garden on the news led to the following conversation:

NAH (suddenly alert at the mention of one of his boyhood heroes): So who goes to Chelsea then?
Me: Today it's royalty, celebs and the press, but tomorrow...
NAH: You mean anyone can go?
Me: Yes
NAH: Why haven't you gone then?
Me: Well I do want to go. It's easier now I'm an RHS member as I could go on the RHS member days or the public days. I will go one day.
NAH: Perhaps I'll come along too

:o This is from the guy who's interest in gardening is almost as non-existent as his interest in allotments!


  1. This is a great post VP - such an interesting read. Thank you.
    You tagged me a while back - and I have passed it on to-night.
    Warm Regards

  2. From the quick glimpse I had of the Chelsea Show, I can imagine how overwhelming it was. Like you, when I see a wonderful garden I want to change everything about mine. But I think you've taken a very sensible approach in taking a few practical ideas that you can apply in your own garden.
    That plum tree is gorgeous, by the way. I wonder if it would survive in zone 5.

  3. I enjoyed reading your account of Chelsea. As a veggie grower I find it frustrating that even though vegetable seeds and plants are now out-selling flowers - this was not reflected in the balance of plants at Chelsea!

  4. I was so pleased that Cleve West won the People's Award.
    Thanks for this and your other related posts which have been interesting and informative.
    My thanks also for another linked mention! xx

  5. I can understand the post-Chelsea inferiority complex; I used to get it just from looking at certain gardening magazines. It sounds like you've got some good ideas from it. My inspiration is the trippy, psychaedelic section of the George Harrison garden. ;^D

  6. I really enjoyed this post. It made me think about my view of Chelsea. I enjoy some of the coverage but it is repetative. I dont think I want to go to Chelsea as its a pain to get to and also it will be crowded but having read Carrots and Kids who set off at 5.00 in the morning - maybe I will give it a go

  7. really interesting perspective of the Show, you should go, book for the Tuesday, its always the least manic, and if you arrive at the Kick off at 8 am , you get a couple of relatively quiet hours before the hoards turn up.

    I always enjoy my visits, I have booked for Hampton Court again this year and the September London Show too.

    Thanks for the mentions too :o)

    Best Wishes, Zoë

  8. what are those alliums planted in at Heelis, it looks so cool? (totally lost interest in Chelsea now, just want to see more NEW gardens!!)

  9. Karen - thanks and good tag BTW

    Rose - good question, they're pretty hardy but...

    Matron - hi and welcome! There was more in the veggie line in the small garden categories and very good they were too. Unfortunately they only got a small amount of coverage, but I've drooled over them on the website

    Flighty - me too and no problem! x

    MMD - I like d that garden too, particulraly the water feature with George Harrison's photo of him holding an umbrella!

    Helen - thanks and give it a go - I am next year!

    Zoe - thanks for the hints and tips!

    Emmat - I've sent your answer already :)


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