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:



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




*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 🙂

Mrs Ford’s Garden



One of the great pleasures of being a gardener is visiting other people’s gardens and admiring their plants, planting combinations, garden furniture and ornaments, and overall design. (In other words, Being Nosey and Getting Ideas.) One of my favourite private gardens belongs to my friend Mrs Ford* and she very kindly agreed to let me take some photographs this morning to show you.

Her garden wraps around one side and the rear of her house, with an east-north-east aspect, and is mostly shaded in the winter but sunny in summer. Over the years she has been creating a beautiful, generous garden featuring a romantic English border which is at its peak in June. There is also a kitchen garden area with four raised beds, a small wildlife pond, climbing roses and honeysuckle clothing the house walls, two seating areas (one covered) and several fruit trees. She has very cleverly planted around the boundary with roses and fruit trees which gives the garden a very secluded feel. It’s an oasis of lush greenery and gorgeous fragrant blooms, and is the perfect place to sit and chat over coffee.


Inspired by many visits to Sissinghurst, the deep border is choc-a-bloc with hardy geraniums, lavenders, alliums, poppies, peonies (‘Bowl of Beauty’), grasses, roses (‘Boscobel’, ‘Charles de Mills’, ‘Thomas a Becket’), Philadelphus ‘Belle Etiole’,  Alchemilla mollis, Osteospermum, aquilegia, gladioli, Acanthus mollis, Bergenia… Her gardening philosophy is to pack in as many plants as possible, preferably scented, with glorious colours and foliage. I love the abundant planting with its contrasting foliage and pops of vibrant colour. While I was there, the warm sun came out, a couple of butterflies fluttered among the flowers, birds sang and I wondered how long I could eek out my visit before I outstayed my welcome.


The fruits in the top left photo are mulberries – although they look rather unappetising at this stage, they ripen to large berries that look like giant purple raspberries.

Adorable springer spaniel Patch and Tortoise, who both like to be where the action is, enjoying the garden, too.


*Mrs Ford writes the fabulous Mrs Ford’s Diary . She hasn’t posted for a while but is very much thriving and storing away golden nuggets of Village Life for possible future posts. Fingers crossed 🙂