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 🙂