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RHS Chelsea 2017 : Top of the pots!

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year hit a high note as the beat of nature was celebrated and exhibitors embraced musicality to the full. Five Radio DJs were allowed to run riot in the BBC Radio 2 ‘Feel Good’ gardens centred on the five senses; touch. taste, smell, sight and sound.

Chris Evans’ impossibly neat veggie garden looked good enough to eat, and Anneka Rice’s cut flower garden designed by Sarah Raven proved to be a perennial heaven. We were encouraged to feel music through the vibrations of Zoe’s Ball’s ‘Listening Garden’ as 50 years of Radio 2 music played beneath the ground (unheard to those of us above).  And as the sun beat down it was tempting to dip our toes in Zoe Ball’s weathered steel water-baths.

Anneka Rice in her garden

Main Avenue itself at Chelsea is a perfect testament to the brilliance of constructors and designers who, working together (often through the night), manage to transform a bare plot of earth into gardening heaven in the space of just a couple of weeks.

Some of the gardens have more in common with the Turner Art Prize than many of our home gardens but they always prove exciting and thought-provoking.  This year the award for controversy went to James Basson’s ‘Best Show Garden’ for sponsors M&G.  Inspired by a Maltese quarry, this off-beat garden was filled with limestone pillars and blocks which, when viewed from the front, had the appearance of piano keys.  Basson’s beautiful grasses, evergreens, ground cover and perennials were wildly planted among the slabs of limestone to show the interaction between humans and nature on the island of Malta.

Chris Beardshaw’s under-marked classical garden was a crowd pleasing favourite, designed in three sections: woodland, loggia and terrace. The garden featured 3,000 herbaceous plants and was designed to mimic the fractal nature of music and mathematics. The oak and limestone loggia provided a perfect performance space for National Youth Orchestra composer Lauren Marshall and friends to play a piece specially commissioned for the garden.

Fiona Cadwallader, a Kent-based garden designer, brought a rhythmic bent to the artisan section of the show with her ‘Poetry Lover’s Garden’ deftly planted with muted shades and a delicate palette of blues, whites and yellows.  The four impressive lime trees (Tilia x euchlora) provided much-wanted shade as the sun burned down at Chelsea.

The Great Pavilion

Inside the Great Pavilion Kent stalwarts of the show; Brookfields Nurseries, Iris of Sissinghurst and Plantbase received medals for their efforts.

Brookfield’s Nurseries, based in Ashford, created a stand inspired by owner Paul Harris’s recent trip to Vietnam. A beautiful red Vietnamese bridge sat majestically at the centre of the stand and set off the perfect greens and whites of the crisp hostas helping to win Brookfield’s their fifth Chelsea gold medal.


A third gold medal was delivered to the Cayeux stand filled with Iris’s curated by Sue Marshall of Iris of Sissinghurst.  The stand was bedecked with beautiful peach, purple and pink iris’s but the stand-out iris of choice for us was the pure noir ‘Black suited’.

Graham Blunt of Plantbase in Wadhurst made the most of his blood-red backdrop to display a selection of deadly looking cacti and puntas.

Many of the commentators this year have laid the blame for the 50% drop in show gardens firmly at the door of Brexit.  It is true that many of the big-name designers took a sabbatical from the show in 2017.  It will be interesting to see how things unfold horticulturally over the next six months, and to listen out to hear whether the superstar designers missing this year will be vying for the number one spot at Chelsea in 2018.

Rock n roll

The Ellenor Hospice charity were supported by Chilstone Stone from Tunbridge Wells who created a ‘Giving Fountain’ at Chelsea this year.  Good Morning Britain’s Charlotte Hawkins, a patron for the Ellenor, unveiled Chilstone Stone’s sculpture Leda And The Swan  which was inspired by a statue in the grounds at Hever Castle and Gardens.   Leda And The Swan, handcrafted using Chilstone’s newly developed marble and resin mix stone, was narrowly pipped at the post in the ‘Product of the Year’ award by a frameless pure glass greenhouse.

Charlotte Hawkins and Cheri from The Ellenor at the Giving Fountain where proceeds will go to The Ellenor


This year’s pick of the pops proved to be lupins, alliums and salvias which, with the exception of Jame’s Basson’s Malta garden and Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Charlotte Hawkins, appeared in most show gardens!


Article and photographs by garden writer Vikki Rimmer and Neil Miller, head gardener at Hever Castle

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