Gardens, flowers and faces at RHS Chelsea 2014
- Credit: Archant
Joy Hales reports on another dazzling display of horticultural expertise
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show reaffirmed its place as the best in the world with an event widely held to be one of the finest yet. It opened in glorious sunshine and the atmosphere was relaxed and happy, almost celebratory.
As always the Great Pavilion provided a spectacular display, growers defying any adverse conditions to bring only their finest plants to the event. There were 53 Gold awards: the Diamond Jubilee Award went to South West in Bloom for a charming feature which included spectacular vegetables, glorious vibrant dahlias and even a Punch and Judy Show; the President’s Award was made to Birmingham City Council for an impressive 1914 Remembrance display with bedding features including aeroplanes and a steam train and topped by giant poppies.
The Show Gardens, which garnered six Gold awards, combined refined elegance and lovely naturalistic plantings of vibrant perennials (claret, deep pink, purple and blue were popular colours) mixed with lacy umbellifers and slender grasses. Best Show Garden winner was the Laurent-Perrier Garden with a simple geometric structure and graceful delicate planting of foxgloves and verbascums interspersed with soft yellow lupins. BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award was ‘Hope on the Horizon’, the Help for Heroes garden that flowed from an overgrown section to perfect structure with granite blocks set amongst shaped box, grasses and perennials.
As a category the Fresh Gardens seems to me to improve each year, combining style and innovation. This year’s Best Fresh Garden, ‘The Mind’s Eye’, was an exploration of all the senses, created for the RNIB in partnership with Countryside, and was also the People’s Choice.
I always eagerly anticipate the detour to the Serpentine Walk in Ranelagh Gardens to see the Artisan Gardens and this year I was rewarded with a row of absolute gems, from the magical topiary and white planting of the gold medal Topiarist Garden and Ishihara Kazuyuki’s Paradise on Earth (Best in Show) to the bold Tour de Yorkshire (RHS/BBC People’s Choice) with its nod to hosting the cycle race this year, and the time capsule Potter’s Garden, abandoned for the war in 1914. There was even the extra delight of a Viking seated by the Norse Garden!
This year’s commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War was a recurring theme as Chelsea Pensioners strolled around the site – sitting in the sun on the sculptural silver bench in the London Square Fresh Garden, admiring the visiting model horse from the West End production of War Horse, or listening to a parade of speakers reciting war poetry at the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity Show Garden, ‘No Man’s Land’. The performers included Nigel Havers, Jeremy Paxman, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Caroline Quentin. This gold-medal winning garden, inspired by the way the landscape of the Western Front has regenerated, has a local connection. An integral member of the landscaping team was Chris Parrott from Derbyshire, a former member of the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, who was injured in Afghanistan. Chris said: ‘When you leave the Army, you have to adjust to a whole new way of life. In a way, it’s kind of like “No Man’s Land”, as I know. I felt a bit lost and quite alone, but I soon found my way, thanks to the support of my family and The Soldiers’ Charity.’
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Also representing Derbyshire were Derbyshire Bonsai from Hasland, near Chesterfield, who improved on last year with an outstanding display that earned them a Gold medal. Derbyshire-born Robert Hardy and his wife Rosy celebrated a 19th Gold for their magnificent Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants stand, as well as having more than one contender in a shortlist of just 20 for the Plant of the Year – won by Hillier’s Hydrangea macrophylla Miss Saori. Also in the Great Pavilion, Stowe-by-Chartley’s Eagle Sweet Peas produced a gloriously scented gold-winning display of cut flowers in baskets.
Designer and sculptor Rachel Carter (who moved recently from Ilkeston to a studio at Welbeck) displayed some of her new cast sculptures in a bowl that had been elegantly planted by florist Alison Doxey from Belph, who won a medal in last year’s Florist of the Year competition, and Derbyshire willow sculptor Carole Beavis created a joyous figure for the Groundwork UK exhibit in the Discovery section.
Many visitors keen to make a purchase made a bee-line for the stand of Ashbourne firm Pachacuti, intent on finding a panama hat to protect them from the sun, while the timber thatched buildings of Leek firm Breeze House offered a tempting retreat from the crowds. Finally, Stoke on Trent pottery Moorcroft provided stunning giant floral decorated spheres for the city’s exuberant and romantic show garden.
All in all, it was another unforgettable and inspirational event to reflect on in the months to come.