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Guest post: A Canadian gardener visits Chelsea

Guest post: Canadian garden writer and editor Fiona Gilsenan, relocating to England, visits the Chelsea Flower Show almost as soon as she arrives in Britain.

Lovely tangly plantings in The RBC Blue Water Garden (Silver-Gilt). Image © Fiona GilsenanI didn’t exactly plan my arrival in my new homeland to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show, but I don’t mind that it did. Fresh off the plane from Canada (after a few days rest in lovely Northamptonshire) I joined the throng of RHS members  hurrying through the streets of SW3 to see Diarmud Gavin’s planty pyramid and find out who got the Gold. Here are a few of my highlights.

Naturalistic plantings. There was lots of mingling and drifting going on in the planting beds, with almost all the big show gardens going for the meadowy look. Capel Manor College (above left, click to enlarge) even had a display entitled ‘Mad about Meadows’, explaining the finer points of Bat Meadows (a new category for me).

 A weedy wall in the Plankbridge Hutmakers garden (Silver Medal). Image © Fiona GilsenanRoundup ready. All this wispy, crowded planting does lead to one inevitable result: weeds. I saw more weeds in the beds than ever before at Chelsea, most looking like an accepted part of the plantings. I was itching to put on my flash new gardening gloves and pull out a few.

Heliconia vellerigera ‘She-Kong’ doesn’t shave her bracts. Image © Fiona GilsenanFreaky flowers. Under instructions from my 11-year-old son, I looked long and hard for the  ‘weirdest flower there’. A few of the orchids and Nepenthes were among the usual suspects, but I settled on this tarantula-like false bird-of-paradise, Heliconia vellerigera ‘She-Kong’ (left, click to enlarge). I think my son will agree.

Favorite show garden. A toss up between the DMZ Spent bullet casings and buttons line the path of the DMZ garden (Gold). Image © Fiona GilsenanForbidden Garden and Jo Thompson’s Caravan Club. Designed by Jihae Hwang, the DMZ garden (riht, click to enlarge) represents the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, and is filled with remnants left from the conflict. Above all, it’s a garden with meaning and memory that is powerful and spookily evocative.

Aeonium ‘Logan Rock’ named for the raiser's favourite pub. Image © RHSNew aeoniums. Plant of the Year 2012 was a pretty foxglove (Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’), but I loved the two aeoniums from Trewidden Nursery, both of which made it onto the shortlist of 20. Aeonium ‘Cornish Tribute’ and A. ‘Logan Rock’ (left, click to enlarge) are compact and container-worthy. Also working in their favour: breeder Claire Batten tells me they are named after her favorite beer and pub, respectively.

Thank you to Fiona Gilsenan, newly arrived in Britain, for this view of Chelsea.


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Ian Cooke

Hooray - I'm glad I'm not the only person less than delighted with the wishy-washy-weedy meadow-cum-prairie planting that seemed to be prominent. If I want a 'damp meadow in May' I'll go to the countryside, not the Chelsea Flower Show!

Graham Rice

I know what you mean, Ian. Although sometimes gardens in this style can create a wonderful atmosphere. Dan Pearson did one for the Evening Standard ten or twelve years ago which was wonderful.

But, in a way, we're back to the old dilemma: should a show garden be "show" or "garden"? It's of course possible to create a meadow/prairie style garden that looks wonderful and moving and atmospheric for the few days of the show. But is that enough? If it was designed as a real garden that would continue to look good for months, would it be sufficiently dramatic on show day to gain a Gold Medal?

Oh, and check out what Anne Wareham has to say about Chelsea.

Fiona Gilsenan

I agree that gardens in this style can be atmospheric, but it can all seem a bit forced in a show garden that is small and clearly artificial. And because so many of the designers chose this planting style for their display gardens, there was also a certain amount of repetition from one garden to another. Gardening is a lot like fashion. That's why the Korean DMZ garden was so well-received I think--because it was utterly different.


I love to decorate my home with such beautiful arrangements of exotic flowers

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