I will admit that it’s a tenuous link between Outside the Backdoor and the Chelsea Flower Show but, a week after the gates closed on the world’s most prestigious horticultural event for another year, the gardening blogs, magazines and emails are all focused on what inspiration you can get for your own small patch.
Chelsea is often criticised for being elitist and unrealistic but to counteract this impression the Royal Horticultural Society has published a book called “Take Chelsea home”. So can you really bring anything back into your own space?
I’ve only been to Chelsea once (so far!) and that was three years’ ago. Interestingly from planning our visit with a focus on plants, I recall that our first bit of real inspiration came from a hard landscaping idea, and not a very exciting one at that – a drain cover! Around the edge of our patio we have several metres of boring metal Acco drain but at Chelsea we discovered we could replace this with more stylish and attractive patterned steel drain covers! We particularly liked the wave pattern and, whilst this seemed a rather silly indulgence, we could see that these drain covers could also have the practical advantage of being less prone to filling up with fallen leaves. Of course we then costed up this idea and, perhaps not surprisingly, three years later we still have our rather boring Acco drains!
I didn’t really need to be inspired by some of the planting as many gardens featured plants that I already knew I liked, namely anything that’s purple! I really liked Nigel Dunnett’s Blue Water Roof garden which featured a striking bank of deep purple verbascum. This year it was another roof garden that caught my eye whilst flicking through the RHS website – the Sir Simon Milton Foundation ‘fresh’ garden which was a closely planted contemporary space with lots of classic Chelsea alliums.
I remember finding the Great Floral Pavilion rather overwhelming. As first timers at Chelsea I think we got a bit lost and certainly missed some things out judging by the TV programming. Whilst you can’t buy plants at Chelsea, many of the Floral Pavilion exhibitors had provided the next best thing – online catalogues, which could have made it far too easy to order a great deal that just simply couldn’t be fitted in once it arrived on your doorstep!
So last week I looked on enviously as a friend started posting her photographs from the show. Feeling all inspired, I have now booked tickets to attend the Hampton Court Flower Show in July. I’ve been to Hampton Court twice before but not for a long time and it’s changed considerably in recent years with many more show gardens to view. I dug out my Chelsea notes and discovered that we had wandered around for over seven hours! A timely reminder that flower shows require excellent footwear, not to mention regular stops for refreshment! And of course at Hampton Court you can purchase plants … need I say any more?