It was a show that reminded us of the beauty of nature barely gardened, and of gardens tended intensively.
Whether you swoon for densely planted flower borders or for more naturalistic spaces, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show delivered on its promise of horticultural excellence displayed with dazzling artistry.
Chris Beardshaw’s Healthy Cities Garden, sponsored by Morgan and Stanley, epitomised the exuberant flower planting that had the Chelsea crowds sighing with pleasure. Dark purples and blues were popular, with spots of orange and magenta dabbed in as counterpoints. Photo - Robin Powell
A show garden at Chelsea is by definition showy, but the most accomplished of all were the gardens with the least razzle-dazzle. These attempted to create a naturalistic, looser vision of the garden. Dan Pearson amazed the crowds, as well as the judges, who awarded him a gold medal and Best in Show, by recreating some of the lesser-known parts of the grand Chatsworth estate. Seen from all sides, his creation was a vision of idealised nature, complete with great rocks moved from the rockery Joseph Paxton built on the estate in the early 19th century, mature willows, a burnt-out tree trunk, worn footpath and meandering trout stream. On top of all this were flowering shrubs and a wildflower carpet. Also lovely was James Basson’s snippet of the south of France, designed for L’Occitane and featuring perfumed plants loosely arranged around a grove of olives. Also awarded a gold medal, the garden told the history of the perfume industry in Provence while luring us with a dreamscape of peace and natural beauty.
Dan Pearson's incredibly complex planting and audaciously un-showy design for Chatsworth won him still more fans. Photo - Robin Powell
The Main Pavilion is a chance for nurseries to show off their catalogues in living, breathing colour and the way they do it is breathtaking. Bulb growers manage to manipulate their charges so that they are all at their peak of flower in the same glorious week. Strawberry growers peg each stem of deliciously fragrant berries; clematis growers wire each flower so that they all face the same way. As a visitor it’s like being at the Olympic Games and marvelling at the degree of difficulty the divers are attempting from the high board, all pulling off their moves with elegance and grace. Seen here, clockwise from top left: tk
Anyone for icecream? Chrysanthemum-flavoured displa. Photo - Robin Powell
As well as the art of the plant and flower displays and the gardens themselves, Chelsea is a showcase for garden art. Among the very many options: a sculptor who will capture your much-loved dog in bronze; a printmaker who presses plants from your garden and manipulates the computerised scans into a collage of your garden; and James Doran Webb who makes sculpture from driftwood. Webb uses driftwood collected in the Philippines and for every kilo he buys from local collectors, he plants a tree seedling on denuded hills in Cebu. Seen here is one of his hares racing through the perennials. Sean Murray used found objects in his sculpture too, though from a less precious source. The ring on a plinth in his garden is made from rusted and slightly crushed cans. Murray, a passionate amateur garden designer, was the winner of the BBC2 series ‘The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge’, which allowed him to fulfill his dream of designing a garden at Chelsea. Now there’s a reality tv show we’d like to see!
James Doran Webb's driftwood hare. Photo - Robin Powell