Monday, 25 May 2009

Wet, wet, wet

Chelsea had the odd shower - but nothing like the rain we are getting this past couple of days. Not so nice for those on holiday - but my garden is beathing a sigh of relief from the downpours. Check out my garden posts at

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Young person's 'Chelsea'

On the back of the Chelsea Flower Show, garden designers of the future will showcasing their own 'mini' gardens during the half-term break (May 23-31) at RHS Wisley. A number of schools across all age ranges have created 1 metre by 1 metre gardens, many following the theme of growing vegetables. 'The environment' is also another major theme with gardens featuring bird feeders, recycled newspaper pots and even a bee 'cafe' and frog 'hotel'. Blue Peter presenter Chris Collins will be judging the competition. Chris was on hand at Chelsea earlier in the week - pictured (right) on the Centrepoint stand with James Sheehy (a student from the charity). Centrepoint provides opportunity to study horticulture at Capel Manor College for homeless young people

Another school very evident at Chelsea Flower show was Writhlington School. Pupils embarked in March 2009 on a trip to Sikkim in the Himalayas to take part in the Gangtok Schools' Orchid project. This has furthered the work of the botanical team at the school and resulted in a stand in the Continuous Learning area in the Grand Pavilion. Pictured here is Luke Barnes, laboratory manager and pupil at the school, examining seedlings brought back from the expedition

Young florist of the year

A proud Joseph Massie (from Fishlocks) shows his Gold Medal after being crowned Chelsea Young Florist of the Year for florists aged 16-25. He beat off stiff competition from Heidi Lawley (Lindsay Barrow Designer) and Vicky Rymell (from Hubbards), both of whom also captured gold for their innovative designs. The British Florist Association (BFA) is responsible for finding contestants for this and all other major European design competitions

Learning to grow

It's great to see children actively involved in a garden at Chelsea Flower Show - Ranelagh School produced more than a third of the produce on the Learning to Grow small garden, including beetroots, spinach, swiss chard, carrots and potatoes. Peter Seabrook, gardening correspondent for The Sun and coordinator for the garden, said: "They've done a fantastic job. Many of the vegetables would put a seasoned gardener to shame. The potatoes are even ready to harvest now." Part of the role of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is to promote and fund education for garden design and techniques, particularly among young people. So it was no surprise that Alan Titchmarsh was on hand today to congratulate the children - he launched the RHS Campaign for School Gardening Alan Titchmarsh Award last month, which enables schools to apply for £500 grants to get them started growing fruit, vegetables and flowers from September 2009

Top florist

Neil Whittaker (from Design Element) has been named Chelsea Florist of the Year, beating off stiff competition from a host of mainly female competitors. He won a Gold Medal alongside Louise Roffrey and Saroch Promsiri (both from Southwark College) at the Chelsea Flower Show

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Gold again - and a new record

With all the cookery programmes on TV, we could be forgiven for associating herbs with just taste and smell - but they also look good as the display on Jekka's Herb Farm stand shows. Jekka and Mac McVicar first started planting organic herbs in 1984 at their home in Bristol and following this year's Gold Medal has set a new record for consecutive golds by a female floral exhibitor at Chelsea Flower Show, beating Beth Chatto's previous mark of 10. They have now amassed an amazing 62 golds, 14 of which have been won at Chelsea

World view to sculpting

Sculpture has always been a part of Chelsea Flower Show so it comes as no surprise that there are 55 stands exhbiting all kinds of shapes, sizes and materials made by home-grown and international talent. Scupltors from Africa were especially evident and I could have walked away with a number of the exhibits from, a studio based in Harare, Zimbabwe. I particularly liked this one...

Perennial problem

If last year is anything to go by, some 65,000 cups of tea and coffee, 54,000 glasses of Pimms and 5,600 bottles of champagne will be consumed by visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show. But despite additional blocks put in by the organisers, the queues to the conveniences still remain a source of frustration...

Durban strikes gold

On Monday, the Queen was quite taken by the City of Durban exhibit in the Grand Pavilion so I went to check out what all the fuss was about. It is not like anything I have seen before. There is a wonderful fusion of ideas. A modern metal arch representing the Moses Mabhida Stadium, which is one of the venues for the World Cup in 2010, hangs over contrasting cultural elements and environments. One is a coastal idyll, another ethnic Zulu art - all interwoven and bordered by rich flora from the province. After two years winning Silver-Gilt, they finally achieved a worthy Gold...

Floral art

I suppose it's the gardener in me that has always thought of flower arranging as just chucking a bunch of blooms into a vase and popping them on the wundow sill. My eyes have been opened by the incredible contemporary arrangements on the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (Nafas) stand at the Chelsea Flower Show. This stuff is not out of place in an art gallery...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A dream fulfilled

The appearance of the National Collection of Dahlias at the Chelsea Flower Show in the month of May is pretty unusual, if not outstanding. That was the 40-year dream of advisor to the collection, Jon Wheatley, who rightly earned a coveted Gold Medal and the President's Award, given to the best exhibit in the Grand Pavilion. The dahlia normally gives us that splash of colour late summer and into early autumn. Read the full story how he defied the natural cycle and got more than 70 cultivars to flower three months ahead of schedule at Times Online

Gardening Q&A

Look who I bumped into - Jane Owen, another Times Online gardening writer, beckoning me to join her in the RHS Gardening Matters Marquee, which hosts talks by gardening experts covering all aspects of gardening and design. Jane is compering these Question Time-style Q&A sessions along with James Alexander-Sinclair and Wesley Kerr. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis so visitors to Chelsea can go along free and hear their favourite garden expert expounding matters floral.

Less affluence - but feel the quality

Chelsea Flower Show had been hit by the economic recession, with eight less show gardens on display and a number of notable corporate absences. But those who did turn up have lifted the gloom that could have permeated the showground at London's Chelsea Hospital.

The designers of show gardens and floral displays alike have put real effort into producing exhibits that show what can be done on tight budgets - the results being thoughtful and often ingenious use of flora and less about dramatic landscape and avant garde structure.

The QVC Garden and the Laurent-Perrier garden illustrate sound design and subtle planting that is transferable to most people's plots of land. My favourite was the Cancer Research Garden, which was a little more challenging with its white walls and spherical sculptures - but even there, nothing was terribly overstated and there was a flow to the whole exhibit, whichever angle you came at it by.

That said, there have been some who have produced quirky and offbeat features, such as Tony Smith's 36,000 slates that make up The Quilted Velvet Garden or the sculptured tower of recycled material that forms the central part of the Future Nature garden.

Even in the Grand Pavilion, a sense of fun abounded. The Cayman Island Department of Tourism stand had an amazing underwater garden made of up humble sedums and succulents that mimic an undersea coral reef and the National Association of Flower Arrangers' Societies remarkable floral arrangements of cut flowers, in shapes that look like solid objects such as vases and screens. I could even forgive the fish tank of pirhanas that looked menacingly at me when I took a photograph of them.

The show is open to the public from May 19-23.

Huge medal haul

While only three gold medals were awarded to the main show gardens at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, exhibitors at the Grand Pavilion weighed in with 46 golds in what Bob Sweet, Head of Shows Development for the Royal Horticultural Society, described as a "firework display of floral brilliance"

Best in show

Swedish landscape architect, Ulf Nordfjell, has scooped up the Best in Show award at the Chelsea Flower Show (and a gold medal) for his modern garden which is a fusion between Scandinavian style and English planting. Take tour of the garden here

Monday, 18 May 2009

Picture perfect

After all the panic, power cuts, internet access disappearing, late night and early morning blues, the show garden pictures are done. Take a pictorial tour of the main garden exhibits at this year's Chelsea Flower Show (

Celeb spotting

I nearly got killed in the rush to take pictures and talk to Dame Helen Mirren (pictured right with BBC presenter Nicki Chapman). Dame Helen was looking forward to viewing the small gardens and has a passion for hydrangeas (or 'mop heads' as most people know them). I'm with her on that one...

Underwater odyssey

Mermaids? What are they doing at Chelsea? These two models (Rosanna, left, and Ursula) look right at home in the Cayman Islands stand. Guess where all the Fleet Street photographers were? Poor old Professor Robert Winston was feeling a bit lonely at his photocall which took place at the same time. He was there launching his namesake, a red rose from Harkness Roses...

Snail power

You need some serious slug pellets to deal with this snail. Fortunately this is not a scene from Dr Dolittle but one of the giant creations from Willie Wildlife Sculptures (

It's all gone dark...

Help - someone put the lights back on! First power cut of the day at Chelsea. Mind you, the shade loving plants in the Floral Marquee loved it. Journos in the Press Room were less impressed. All this technology and not a generator to run everything...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Batten down the hatches...

Exhibitors to the Chelsea Flower Show were bracing themselves for high winds that have been forecast for Press Day. The Met Office warned the Royal Horticultural Society that gusts of up to 45mph are expected on Monday afternoon, round about the time that the royal party will be viewing the show. Hang on to your hats - and the corgis...

Wet and 'orrible

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day! I pity the poor old exhibitors trying to do their final tweaks in this weather. Mind you, the Perfume Garden people are so behind that they may need swimwear by the end of the day (see picture). Speaking of water, a stand that caught my eye was the underwater garden from Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, in association with Newington Nurseries, which gives you an impression of a coral paradise a few fathoms under. Hopefully, it won't get that wet...

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Show preview

There is always an expectancy on the final weekend of set-up of the Chelsea Flower Show. The Saturday and Sunday supplements are packed full of articles tempting visitors and enthusiasts alike. Check out Times Online's coverage which includes interviews with Joe Swift and Alice Bowe, both who will be covering the show for the BBC. But if you are like me, you'll love getting a sneak pictorial preview of some of the floral debutantes to the show...