On Chelsea Flower Show and Conceptual Gardens: what is it all about?….
Would you believe that the picture below is not showing the crowd of football fans in front of the Arsenal Stadium but the hundreds of people who packed the main alley of the Chelsea Flower Show earlier last May?
A visit to the show is a true experience: it is not only about the host of visitors blocking your view in front of the Best in Show Garden, which you can only admire in the late afternoon after the BBC have finished shooting their live report from the garden, or about wandering around the paths and discovering the latest trends in urban gardening, it is all about a full and unique plunge into new visions and concepts having the nature as raw material.
The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Chelsea Flower Show is the greatest flower show in the world; its centenary edition took place very successfully earlier in the last week of May, marking the most crowded event in its history and presenting an exclusive line-up of Show Gardens as well as of new plants in the Great Pavilion.
The Best Show Garden award went to Trailfinders Australian Garden presented by Flemings while the Geranium Rozanne (‘Gerwat‘) was announced as the RHS Plant of the Centenary: thousands of people voted for the Plant of the Centenary from a shortlist of 10 – one for each decade the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been held.
Many observers have highlighted their surprise about the Best in Show award and a few major designers have criticized the jury’s decision, though it was an unanimous one: many factors affect the show-garden judging process, which comprises a rather complex procedure and forces the designers through a very tough selection method, for them to have a garden accepted at Chelsea and secure a place on the Main Avenue. The routine involves the presentation of a brief, which remains the base for the box-ticking system adopted by the assessors throughout the process, despite the fact that every design naturally evolves into further developments from the initial project. Finally the make-up of the judging panel, where apparently not enough international designers and women sit, and which is mainly made up of “also-ran”, judges who are designing gardens one year and judging their peers (and sponsors). Ah right, the Sponsors…..the actual huge thing about RHS Chelsea Flower Show is how the organization would exercise its patronage by matching the sponsors with the designers, leading to the result that the show gardens are mainly identified through the sponsor’s name rather than their title. RHS Chelsea is the main social event of the season, where the big names of politics, business and banking gather to seal deals in a relaxed environment, while sipping cocktails offered by chief executives of the City and indulging in lavish dinners under the exclusive marquees and host “chalets”.
My visit to the Chelsea Flower Show this year was a very quick one as I had to brave the pouring rain and the wintery weather – it was so wet and damp that I had to sip tea instead of the usual and much beloved Pimm’s – so that at the end of the tour I had the fastidious feeling to have missed something terribly important……Anyway the Show gardens were more sophisticated than ever, presenting subtle planting and ingenious designs: “A classic show with an Australian twist” as the Daily Telegraph has defined the centenary edition.
Whether you’re a fashion designer, an artist, an architect or a gardener and you’re looking for inspiration, the Chelsea Flower Show together with Hampton Court Palace Show are landmark appointments in the social and professional calendar you should not miss out.
Dressed in a lilac coat, the Queen visited this year’s preview accompanied by various members of the Royal family, including Prince Harry, whose charity’s garden, Forget-me-not, is one of this year’s 15 show gardens. Sentebale, the Prince’s charity, helps impoverished and vulnerable orphans in the African country Lesotho, and Harry, who founded the charity after spending part of his gap year in 2004 in the country, has been closely involved in the creation of the garden
For this year the Royal Horticultural Society lifted its customary ban on garden gnomes at the Chelsea Flower Show to celebrate its centenary year and raise funds for the next generation of gardeners. The RHS invited celebrities to paint and decorate gnomes to feature at the world famous gardening event, before auctioning the gnomes online to raise funds for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.
If Chelsea Flower Show is about glamorous outfits, posh openings and royal visitors, Hampton Court Palace Show’s trademark is Conceptual Gardens: Hampton Court is the only show within the RHS events that introduced the category of ‘Conceptual Gardens’ a few years ago, where innovation, design and creative planting melt to produce unexplored garden design solutions.
A couple od editions ago I was struck by the magnificence of the Glod Medal Winner Conceptual Garden “A Fable for tomorrow“ designed by Sue Radmore, Scarlet Wheaton and Elektra Sanders from University College Falmouth as well as by the minimalism and elegance of Journey to Awakening, an emotional itinerary through the human mind to discover the root of desires and forgo them or, in the Buddhist terms, be awakened.