I was embracing the weather at Chelsea yesterday when Gardeners Question Time aired, so I missed it. But apparently there I was on Radio 4 – for all to hear.
And in the course of giving my considered opinion about the merits of the Chelsea Fringe, I threw in a casual reference to ‘symbiosis’. As you do…..
When Graham – who did listen to the broadcast – told me I talked about ‘symbiosis’ I thought he must have got it wrong. Because it’s not the sort of word I use in normal conversation. I’m not even sure I know exactly what it means. And I certainly had to look it up in order to know how to spell it…..
But he was right.
So there you go. It’s amazing what you can dredge up under pressure.
Clearly some of us are just meant to be media superstars……..
Remember that song of his. How did it go? ‘I don’t want to go to Chelsea.’ Well, as I got on the train to Victoria yesterday morning, for my third visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, that pretty much summed up how I was feeling. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I didn’t change my mind when I got there. Because I don’t know if you noticed, but it didn’t actually stop raining yesterday for the entire day.
Picture the scene. The skies are leaden grey, the rain is of the stair-rod variety. Under a sea of umbrellas as far as the eye can see the Chelsea crowd is wrapped in winter coats, scarves and gloves. And standing on the edge of Ulf Nordfjell’s show garden FOR SIX AND A HALF HOURS is me.
I’m there with fellow student Ioana handing out leaflets and answering questions.
We’re juggling umbrellas, boxes of soggy plant lists and flagging spirits. It’s cold, it’s wet and no I don’t know the name of the peony that everybody is asking about which isn’t on the plant list. It has to go down as one of the longest afternoons of my life.
But two things made it worth the agony. One was Ulf Nordfjell’s garden which continued to look utterly beautiful in spite of the rain. And the other was the Chelsea crowd. Who were just lovely. Friendly, interested, funny. They ebbed and flowed in a constant stream of unabated cheerfulness. They were the only thing that kept me going. Although after a few hours of answering the same questions I began to get the strangest sensation that it was the same people who kept coming round again – the man in the raincoat with the beard, the interested wife with the resigned husband, the group of smiling ladies. It was as if they were on a loop and I was an extra in a horticultural version of The Truman Show.
So the questions were…. Where was Prince Harry’s garden? (Sorry Jinny Blom!) Where was Australian Garden? (Head for the dead tree at the far end of Main Avenue.)What were the pointy trees on Ulf’s garden? (Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata Koster’ commonly known as Cypress Oak.) What was the shrub clipped into mounds? (Enkianthus perulatus.) The beautiful woodland plant with the lavendar backed flowers? (Anemone ‘Wild Swan’.) Where was the Ladies? (I sent people off to the far corner of the showground, not knowing there was one right next to us!) Did I want to head off into the sunset with Cleve West? (I made that one up but you’ve got to dream, haven’t you!)
And finally, at eight o’clock, when the longest afternoon of my life finally came to an end, my lovely husband was waiting outside for me. And he suggested dinner at Como Lario, which is one of my favourite Italian restaurants and happens to be just round the corner from the Flower Show. (Who needs Cleve West?) So I drank red wine and ate wild mushroom risotto wrapped in pancetta, and felt the warmth returning to my feet, and after a while began to feel that maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.
This year I don’t just get to go to the Chelsea Flower Show once. I get to go three times….
So yesterday found me back again. With a load more people than were there on Sunday – and a perishingly cold wind.
If I’m honest I’d been a little disappointed when I’d had a quick look at the show gardens on Sunday afternoon. So I wasn’t expecting to be wowed. But I was wrong. I just hadn’t been looking in the right places.
The garden I had been most impressed by on Sunday was the Artisan Garden by Kazayuki Ishihara. It was small but perfectly formed, and I was really pleased when it won Best in Show for its category. It looked even better on second viewing.
Is there such a thing as ‘pot envy’? Because if there is I’m suffering from it.
And Robert Frost’s garden for Homebase was simply gorgeous.
But my favourite of all was Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research UK. It had movement and life and vigour. The planting was exuberant and bold. The choice of sculpture and hard landscaping spot on. As I stood jostled by the crowds I felt breathless with admiration. Definitely my Best in Show.