Rewilding – the Chelsea Flower Show 2019

Chelsea is as much a fantastic event for people-watching as it is a place to soak up horticultural inspiration and there was a noticeably incongruous juxtaposition yesterday between some of the gardens and the punters. Glossy, shiny, fashionably dressed visitors* vs lots and lots of wildflowers, liberal use of the naturalistic planting style and rusty steel. There were several areas that looked just like the bottom of our garden or a slice of any hedgerow or riverbank in the countryside. Nature knows best. Cow parsley, ragged robin, grasses, foxgloves, birch and beech and other hedgerow shrubs and trees. Lush, relaxed and ‘wild’ and it was a joy to see. One wildflower that really caught my eye was Adonis annua (Pheasant’s eye) which has scarlet flowers atop bright-green divided leaves. It was used to stunning effect on the Dubai Majlis garden (which was one of my favourites of the show). The most popular cultivated flowers were irises, foxgloves, roses and geums. Shrubs or trees that cropped up a few times were Pinus mugo, Cornus and Pittosporum tobira. One unusual tree that was getting a lot of attention was Aesculus pavia, a small form of horse chestnut native the the US with lovely flowers that were covered in bees.

While it was mostly magnificent, as usual, there was nothing particularly startling or thrillingly unusual at the show. There were some gorgeous gardens with beautiful colour palettes, lovely planting combinations and clever landscaping – and there’s no denying the incredible skill of making these gardens in 19 days – but there was nothing that struck me as totally out-of-the-blue new. It could be that Chelsea has become too corporate and is not the place to find exciting new and challenging design any more. I’m sure commentators have been saying this for several years but I properly noticed it this year. Maybe the RHS has sacrificed the cash cow of Chelsea to the movers and shakers of the business world and it’s the smaller, newer shows at Malvern or Chatsworth where you’ll find new ideas…

Anyway, we still had a lovely afternoon out (day tickets are over £100 each, so we went for the 3.30–8pm tickets which was long enough) – we had a lot of fun and it was a treat to be looking at skilfully put together gardens. I took my camera with the wrong lens (annoying) so all my photos are quite cropped but here’s what caught my eye:

PLANTS AND PLANTING COMBINATIONS

PLANTS AGAINST A COLOURED BACKGROUND

You can clearly see the red flowers of Adonis annua against the sandy-coloured wall.

WATER

EDGES

IN THE FLORAL MARQUEE

*Overheard at Chelsea –
An immaculate man: “I took the kids down to the Cotswolds last Bank Holiday.”
His equally well-dressed friend after a long pause: “What do you do there?”
Two women friends discussing slugs and snails: “I find that eggshells baked in the Aga then crushed works quite nicely.”
I wasn’t eavesdropping, honestly 🙂

10 thoughts on “Rewilding – the Chelsea Flower Show 2019

  1. I would so love to go to Chelsea, just to say I had been. I went to Gardening Live several years ago and had a great time and mst of the gardens were walkthroughs so you got really close up to the plants, features hard landscaping which made for a much more informative experience than just looking from the front.

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  2. How lovely to see plants taking the foreground again – I have felt that the last few years there has been a bit too much ‘hardware’ in many gardens. Although last year I didn’t see much of the coverage at all. Gorgeous photos Sam. So many favourite and familiar plants in pretty combinations. Thank you for sharing your images and impressions. 🙂

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  3. As I am a) not smart and shiny and b) not in possession of a spare hundred pounds, I fear I may never make it to Chelsea. Instead I shall enjoy your lovely posts. Your photos are beautiful, even if it was the wrong lens.

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  4. The eggshells thing is nonsense. I tried it here and the slugs fell over laughing, before eating everything. About to try helix tosta…I shall report back.
    I’ve never been to Chelsea and am interested in your thoughts and observations. It made me smile that ‘designers’ are turning to the wild for inspiration. Long may it last, but I fear it may just be another fashionable fad. xx

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  5. This is such a treat for those of us far from Chelsea. Thank you for the detailed close-ups of the planting. (Zoom in. That was the only thing I learned on a far-too-technical, all men except for me, conversation solely about a) cameras and b) motorbikes weekend photo course in the far North West of Scotland). I’ve obviously watched enough coverage on TV to be able to identify most of the gardens from your close-ups! Am I the only one to feel dreadfully sorry for the designers interviewed who got less than a gold medal? They all share the same look of ‘I’m pretending I’m delighted but actually I want to throw myself down on the ground and cry’. And the poor garden which was the only bronze! Which seemed perfectly nice to me but it all seems to come down to delivering the brief/answer the exam question. I do wonder if the judges are unable to award some designers less than a gold, because then the horticultural establishment would be shaken and the temple would come crashing down. But maybe that’s the dour Scot in me!
    LOVED your overheard conversations! I have observed that Aga owners have the same trait as iPhone owners. Lesser mortals would say ‘eggshells dried in the oven’, and ‘this is a photo I took on my phone’, but if you have an Aga or an iPhone the make HAS to be mentioned. I am sometimes tempted to post on Instagram saying ‘this is a photo I took on my Samsung Galaxy S6’.

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  6. Thanks for grouping your photos, Sam – I enjoyed looking at thim in this tgemed way. Glad you had a good day – is it really £100 fir a full day? I hadn’t realised it was so much more exoensive than the other shows

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  7. You are fortunate that you still have the Chelsea Show. Our San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was excellent for a few years after getting established, but has been declining for the past many years. Horticulture just is not regarded as it once was.

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  8. I’m spending a wet afternoon catching up up on blog posts Sam and really enjoyed seeing Chelsea through your eyes. Fabulous photos. It’s been some years since I’ve been to Chelsea. We debated going this year but it’s a very expensive day out from this part of the world. I was interested in your comment that the evening ticket gave you long enough. We may do that next year although I will have to put my running shoes on.

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