This year the sun shone again for Chelsea. There for just after 8am the hoards had already descended (although this year it felt like far more people were there - not far off of the 150,000 people expected for the week). As a designer Chelsea has become a place of pilgrimage, but was it worth it?
The answer is most certainly yes, but I was for the first year left slightly wanting.
I have analysed this - and on reflection it did not result from not being able to use Diarmuid Gavin's slide! It was I think that many of the show gardens were not really gardens as I would define them. That is not necessarily a negative - simply not what I hoped for. My expectations were not met because this year more than ever before most are instead more self-consciously works of art - designed installations using natural materials to inspire or evoke memories (an aim which, conversely, is what a good garden should achieve!)
As an example I could use Adam Frost's garden: very well executed, with fine naturalistic planting, evoking Cornish memories - but very difficult to recreate without many hours of maintenance. Contrast this with his QVC garden in 2009 - which was much more a garden that I could envisage designing for a client.
Or from 2009:
So this year the overwhelming theme was of blousy naturalistic planting in landscape installations (inspired I am sure by Gold Medal successes from previous years).
I think this is why Cleve West pipped the other contenders to Best in Show. His garden mixed formality against a blousy planting of perennials and annuals - not a low maintenance space but a wealth of plants for the horticulturally skilled RHS audience in what was intended as a gardened space.
My personal favourite gardens, and parts of gardens, at Chelsea this year will appear in my next post. Happy Gardening.
matt haddon gardens (based in East Yorkshire)
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