This was a much reduced event – literally less gardens to see – however, the price of tickets was the same as ever, so was it good value for money? Many people make a huge effort to visit, coming from all over the country – what do they expect from the show? I think they want inspiration for their own gardens, they want to be surprised, delighted and, to some extent, they want their ideas on the art of gardening refreshed with new possibilities. Take the Yorkshire Beach garden seen above. It is pretty much a bit of Yorkshire lovingly transported to London – but is it a garden? I couldn’t see what it was trying to offer me.
Indeed, this kind of ‘landscape’ as garden appeared several times in the show. It was undoubtedly the stand out feature of 2017. While the Yorkshire garden did little to move the theme into the realm of gardens proper – (does placing a bench here make it a garden space?) – the M&G garden designed by James Basson did at least attempt to be didactic.
Based in the South of France, Basson has produced a couple of wonderful exhibits for Chelsea with a strong Mediterranean theme. This year his work was based around a Maltese quarry in which nature has begun to reconquer territory exploited by man. The designer has explained, ‘I want to capture the principles of ecological sustainability and the urgent need for action to preserve the fragile balance of our planet.’ That’s a noble aim but it left many people struggling in earnest to get any pleasure from it. ‘It’s just a graveyard with weeds’, I overheard one punter say. It won the Best in Show prize – and M&G sponsored the whole Chelsea Flower Show this year.
Here’s another way to be inspired by landscape – the Royal Bank of Canada garden by Charlotte Harris. This design was an evocation of the almost limitless Boreal Forest Wilderness of Canada which Harris visited along with local experts.
She has not taken a slice of wild or tried to do anything unfathomable but has understood the environment then allowed it to inform her garden design. And that’s the word – garden – she has made a domestic space with the glacial boulders, running water, charred forest and copper which runs through the landscape, judiciously added native pines and a sensitive plant palette which is unashamedly on the wild side but still attractive. This was the highlight of my Chelsea.
As for trendy flowers – lupins were everywhere – like here in Chris Beardshaw’s garden, which won the people’s choice;
and lots of salvia – especially Salvia nemorosa ‘Cardonna’ – purple streaks and flowing streams of them were to be seen everywhere as here, in the Breaking Ground Garden, by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam.
There was lots more, of course, like this £45,000 sculpture of a goat on boulders – but that’s another story.