Flower Power – Cheslea 2011

Wow.  My first RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  What a mad event it is.  I saw Ringo Star (no picture evidence, you’ll have to trust me) and contracted my first ever case of hay fever, so sound-tracking the entire experience with whooping sneezes.  The trends this year seem to be wild and loose styles, dusty and burnt shades, foxgloves and cabbage.

Alongside some seriously beautiful gardens with elements ordinary growers could definitely recreate, there are, of course, some more fantastical offerings.  A garden floating in the sky – well, an eye-shaped pink garden pod thing attached to a crane courtesy of Diarmuid Gavin – is probably the cream of the over-the-top crop.  Next door, B&Q has gone as far as installing a kind of tower block, highlighting how window boxes can be tiny gardens too.

It’s fairly odd to see so many mature gardens all lined up, labelled and roped-off in the grounds of the usually out of bounds Royal Hospital (where the Chelsea pensioners live).  The air is thick with pollen and every garden’s alive with furry bumbles, which are happily flying past those ropes and getting giddy on sweet nectar.

This annual event must be utter heaven for west London’s bee community. It’s also heaven for human eyes and each garden is the stuff of daydreams, if you can only get close enough to lose yourself in the flora and fauna.  It’s all especially wondrous and unbelievable to urban eyes that have only a snatch of outside space to call their own.

The human wildlife on display is pretty fascinating too – solidly middle class, but punctuated with some fabulous outfits that no doubt have been confusing the bees.  We most loved a tutu made entirely of red flowers.  A publicity stunt, but one that brought smiles to many an old boy’s face.

My favourite gardens include the Laurent Perrier’s dusty purple and bronze wilderness of long grasses and flowers, and the SKYshades garden, which looks like it has existed for years and features a tangle of nettles and daisies.  The Royal Bank of Canada’s New Wild Garden has the prettiest walls I’ve ever seen and I spent a long while staring at the hot pinks, blues and yellows of the Times and Kew Gardens’ Eureka creation. An elegant edible garden designed by Bunny Guinness makes cabbage and kale look anything but humble.

Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, the flower show is a well established part of London’s cultural calendar and is worth a look one year if you have a green finger among your eight.  Its roots are as the Great Spring Show, which first took place in Kensington in 1862.  It was axed in 1912 and replaced with the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition and has been taking place at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea since 1913.

The show has now sold out but there’s masses of coverage online and on TV, where you can indulge in the eye-candy without having to negotiate the crowds.

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