This piece was written a long time ago and was accidentally left off the new site. It was fun, though and may bring back some good memories. There may even be the odd intelligent remark in there. Anne Wareham
Chelsea 2009 considered by Anne Wareham,
photography by Charles Hawes
This year I asked people what they had learned from the Chelsea Flower Show 2009.
Ursula Buchan, gardener and writer
“That James May is going to make a full scale model of a spitfire out of an Airfix kit next week.”
Moira Stewart, broadcaster
“That I have a hell of a lot to learn.”
Tom Stuart-Smith, garden designer
“Have I learnt anything different from Chelsea this year than I learn every year?
(…if you see a trend maybe best avoid it…)
The Telegraph garden is very refreshing, the way he puts things together feels very different. The amazing thing is that that in such a tiny space you can build up a narrative, even if it’s a spatial one of sensations: as – introduction, heart, interior. Works again and again. As with the Eden garden, when you feel you’ve arrived at this little nest like space from feeling open and exposed.
That garden (Telegraph Garden) also bears out seeing things which are constructed counter posed with things that are natural, layers of semi-natural and more mannered things going on here and there – guess it’s done with more subtlety in this garden than all the others.”
Tim Rumball, editor of Amateur Gardening
“Expecting beer and sandwiches and got champagne and strawberries.
Laurent Perrier made hedges a feature of the garden, unusual, hedges are usually the background. Really works; it’s gorgeous.”
Lianne O’Donnell, safety officer
“Not a lot really. No-one can find the toilets from this entrance.”
‘This year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show gave rise to two important reactions to me.
The first was that mass, void, form, function…all those words you get taught at design school were, inexplicably, there in abundance. The implied cut and fill approach by Tony Smith in his ‘The Quilted Velvet Garden’; the relationship of the vertical, stepped box and yew hedge on one side of Luciano Giubbilei’s ‘The Laurent Perrier Garden’ in comparison with the heavier yet textured pleached hornbeams on the other side of his space; Ulf Nordfjell’s balance of low-growing, open space at the front rising to a black-edged glass summer house and hornbeam hedge at the back; and Robert Myers’ ‘The Cancer Research UK Garden’ sinuous curves in both plan and portrait, skipping along under rather leaf-less (unfortunately) Rhus typhina. (sorry, can’t illustrate all of those. Ed)
The other reaction was that things will have to change over the coming years. On the sidelines, gardens are changing – look at Tony Smith’s Impatiens and Cordyline concoction, James May’s plasticine garden and Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins ‘Perfume Garden’. They aren’t quite conceptual, nor truly installation – but they aren’t show gardens either. They are hybrids: visually stimulating (and challenging) they add a different dimension to the show – just as the Conceptual Gardens category at Hampton Court does. How Chelsea deals with them – maybe it shouldn’t allow them in at all? – will be the challenge, as the definition of a garden continues to develop.”
Sarah Raven, writer and broadcaster
“It’s confirmed my love of plants I knew already rather than introduce anything new. It’s not a dazzling show.”
Dan Pearson, landscape and garden designer
Jekka McVicar, of Jekka’s Herb Farm, nursery owner
“That plants are the most amazing things. Even when you feel the whole world is falling on your head they’ll suddenly sparkle and shine and you know, ‘hey, it’s going to be fine.’”
Penelope Hobhouse, garden writer and designer
“That Jekka’s Herb Farm’s exhibit is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I need to rush home and do it.” (so now we know what’s going to happen at Hadspen. Ed)
Erica Hunningher, editor, writer – Gardens of Inspiration
“I haven’t seen an allium, yet which is a bit of a relief. I like the grasses with other things, like the arum lilies, but wonder if it would work outside Chelsea.”
“Gardens which are doing ‘less is more’ are the most successful and there are too many gardens which are a throwback to the 1980s with too many plants.”
Mark Gregory, garden designer, landscaper and Gold Medal Winning exhibitor
“I learnt a word you use a lot – restraint. Not to lose sight of what you started to do by getting distracted by putting in a lot of extras that you think would look great. I’ve tried to keep it simple and to make a garden you really could use.”
Diana Ross, writer – Gardeners: Encounters with Exceptional People
“Every year I get more despairing of the white plastic sheds. There are more each year, growing exponentially. The point being that it kills plants. Any designer paints his greenhouse or shed black, not white.”
Nigel Colburn, garden writer and broadcaster
“I learnt that you can’t make a garden with plasticine flowers but you can make a strong artistic impression.
The main thing is it’s more diverse, the gardens in particular are more diverse: smaller budgets have actually improved the gardens. A lot of originality and imagination.”
Peter Seabrook, garden writer and broadcaster.
“I know who you are, you’re the person who ruined that programme on Channel Four last year. (it was actually Channel 5. ed)
I’ve learnt it’s pretty well impossible to come and exhibit here anymore; it’s a horror show. The bureaucracy, the mixed messages. We want these gardens exhibited as floral, vegetable and fruit, that’s what people want, spectacle which is horticulturally sound.
What we don’t want are these designers with long shirt cuffs who haven’t a clue about growing anything. In my view gardens are grown not designed.”
James May, TV presenter, maverick
“That gardening is a ruthless, competitive ‘take no prisoners’ arena and that plasticine melts in the sun. And I wish it hadn’t been so well watered because it doesn’t need it.
But plasticine gardens are the gardens of the future. They last forever and are very environmentally friendly, not like flowers which keep rotting and giving off methane.”
“That creativity is not dead: even though there is a recession on it doesn’t stifle creativity. I have an issue about the long term sustainability of the wall plantings but good to see more integrated use of vegetables and using water more creatively environmentally and functionally – as in the ‘Rain-Fed garden’, by Nigel Dunnet.”
Andrew Fisher Tomlin, garden designer, RHS judge and lecturer
“That it’s nice to walk along past all these expensive gardens and get inspired by a bit of scaffolding.”
Adam Nicholson, writer
“Makes you fall in love with wilderness a bit and makes you feel a bit vandalistic.”
Bill Nighy, actor
“I’ve only just arrived. I have learned very little about gardening in my life except that I love flowers. I’m excited to be here and I’m looking forward to a cup of coffee.”
Robin Lane Fox, writer, historian and actor (in the film ‘Alexander’)
“What a relief it is that the biggest gardens are in retreat and that the RHS have joined up the tents. What a terrific standard the small alpine plant nurseries are producing – I just don’t see that this has been torpedoed by the recession.”
Beales and Austen are still the most outstanding exhibitors in the UK. I’m loving every minute of it and have taken more notes today than I have in many previous years.”
Peter Beales, nurseryman
“The nice thing is there is more space: though sad that some people have pulled out it’s to the advantage of those left. The smaller stands in particular are excellent.”
Val Bourne, gardener and garden writer
“That orange is a much more acceptable colour than people think, because it really makes the moody blacks and purples come to life. We under use orange geums – Princess Julianne is a very good double. People are too scared of orange.”
Marcus Harpur, garden photographer
in chorus with Andrew Lawson: “Don’t come when the District Line is out of service.”
And: “I like the way your initial reactions change, over the days things grow on you.”
And Anne Wareham?
– I learned that plant people are filled with quite amazing venom towards garden designers. And that people don’t always answer the question…. oh, and (after I’d finished) that my make up was streaked…