The show gardens are one of the most popular attractions at Chelsea. They are often too expensive and sometimes too crazy for many people to relate to but I felt that this year there were some lovely ideas in the main gardens particularly planting schemes.
The first show garden on my little tour was one which had some relevance for me. It was the Arthritis Research UK garden designed by Thomas Hoblyn. I work at the University of Manchester doing research on the genetic basis of arthritis in a unit funded by Arthritis Research UK. The charity has recently rebranded, formerly the Arthritis Research campaign (ARC), and has just celebrated its 75th anniversary and this is its first sponsored garden at Chelsea. This is the second garden which is inspired by Italian Renaissance gardens, more specifically the Villa D'Este and Villa Lante.
It has three water features, a water cascade at the back of the garden, a shallow mirror pool with two step paths across it and a long fountain seat similar to one at the Villa Lante. There are 5 impressive Italian cypress trees, the planting is very Mediterranean with lots of silver foliage, some bright red poppies and some statuesque globe artichoke. Many of the herbs were grown by Jekka McVicar's nurseries. One link to arthritis is the use of Borage, whose seed oil can be used to ease the symptoms of arthritis.
The World Vision garden represents the ripple effect of the child sponsorship, affecting not only the child, but his parents and the whole community. At the heart of the garden is a ripple pool which is reached by a labyrinthine path, which is punctuated by tree ferns.
Next is one of my favourite gardens, designed by Arne Maynard, this is the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary garden. A very elegant garden with the most gorgeous planting.
The planting is very romantic of pale pinks, purple, greys and white. I love the way he has the roses trained over a hazel wigwam. He's also famous for using copper beech in his garden designs and this garden is no exception with a lovely pleached copper beech hedge.
The next garden featured the first caravan in a garden at Chelsea. Jo Thompson introduced us to her little vintage caravan called Doris!
Nigel Dunnett always designs thought-provoking gardens and this year he has gone for a more formal design, the focal point is a stone-roofed shelter, it is designed so that rainwater drains through the meadows at the side of the garden into linear bioswale drainage courses. The planting is meadow-like featuring different colours of the Lilium martagon (Turk's cap lily).
Another garden inspired by the countryside, by Adam Frost, this time highlighting the fenland landscape and the poet John Clare. There is an oak-framed shelter and a cool shady area at the back of the garden which opens out into paths, wild planting and a large rill which you can cross using stepping stones. I love the blue and yellow planting combination.
Now to the garden which got talked about the most and you couldn't miss it as you walked round the grounds. Diarmuid Gavin's garden, if you can call it that. I can see what he was trying to do which was to show that you can garden in small places on different levels. But for the Chelsea visitor you only saw the outside, only selected people could really see the garden properly so I think the message was lost.
The one garden at the show that really did make you stop and think was the Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden garden. This was created to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict. The watch tower and barbed wire highlight the remains of war, but this has been overtaken by nature.
Cleve West has now won best in show in consecutive years with his gardens, this year his Brewin Dolphin garden, like the Arne Maynard garden has a very formal style but with looser planting. This also has beech hedging but also yew topiary and an antique iron gate.
Joe Swift has put off designing a Chelsea garden for many years but finally gave it a go and won a gold medal with a really lovely garden. The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden. The garden is designed around two large cedar wood frames which dictates the colour scheme of warm coppers and gold. This is a refreshing change from the pink and purple colour schemes of many years.
I loved the planting of orange geums, dusky orange verbascums, bronze fennel and brown iris.
The Aussies always do a garden at Chelsea and for me they are often a bit samey, usually based round the garden as a room outdoors.