For showing if not growing, the Chelsea Flower Show in London is the pinnacle of the garden year. To join the happy throng this week or mingle with unexpected celebrities on Press Day is to give meaning to the idea of a “pleasure garden.” What could be nicer than promenading through the tree-filled avenues of the Royal Hospital grounds in London SW3, gossiping about people and plants? Join us:
Photography by Jim Powell, for Gardenista.
Welcome to Yorkshire Garden
The first thing to get used to is overhead noise in the form of whirring drones and screeching parakeets (escaped birds that have made themselves at home in the tall trees of London parks). Making one’s way down toward the main show gardens, a sound of sheep takes over, accompanied by native bird calls of curlew and snape. It’s calming, if a little surreal, as it’s only a recording. Even more peculiar is the sight of sheep’s wool sticking to thorn bushes, unmown grass, and a tangled mass of country flowers that are also known as weeds. It’s the Welcome to Yorkshire garden, and it boasts a rugged trickling stream and proper Yorkshire stone walls.
Of course, nothing is considered truly surreal at Chelsea; outrageous theater is the oxygen of a pleasure garden. This year, however, anyone hoping to titter over lapses in judgement might be disappointed. Certain perfectly tasteful plants are repeated again and again, and these include thyme, crimson clover Trifolium incarnatum (shown), fennel, and simple poppies.
This consensus of planting may be due in part to a lack of nurseries who are prepared to supply on the grand scale to show gardens. It cannot be a coincidence that one well-known grower has had a hand in 32 gardens this year and that there are an awful lot of yellow lupines and orange geums. The luxuriance of pink poppies (known as “Beth’s Poppy” after the late, great Beth Chatto) may be due to something in the air.
One designer who demands special notice every year is Kazuyuki Ishihara. His planting palette invariably features small acers, water irises, mossy mounds, and exquisite little buildings. He never lets us down with his 360-degree vision, adding a wilder, shaggier rendition of a Japanese woodland garden at the back of his 2018 installation “O-me-te-na-shi no NIWA” (an homage to omotenashi, the Japanese tradition of hospitality) nestling under English yews. The only surprise would be if he failed to surprise us with his brilliance.
Shopping Alley regulars Suwada London tell us that many people buy their higher-priced clippers for display purposes. With handsome pumpkin orange handles and a spoon that opens in half to reveal two very sharp blades, the pumpkin cutter is a new product for the 2018 show. Garden style icon Alys Fowler, who pointed them out, says: “Everyone who is serious about pumpkin growing should have a pair.”
BBC Garden Host Monty Don
The Chelsea show gardens, including Best in Show, are awarded medals on Tuesday morning. Follow our Chelsea posts this week for a behind-the-ropes look at the most-talked-about gardens.