Creative florist Ruth Monahan of Appasionata Flowers takes in the sights and scents of this year’s prestigious Chelsea Flower Show, where two Irish designers took home gold and silver RHS medals.
We arrived on the dot of eight after whizzing on our London Bikes to the Chelsea Flower Show gates, and still had to queue with thousands of garden and flower enthusiasts waving their tickets, excited about the inside inspirations.
Best of the Big Gardens
First stop: Paul Martin, who had just discovered his Gold Award for his Garden of Mindful Living for Vestra Wealth. It was great to chat to him as he handed out his planting map to the gathering madding crowds. What I loved about his garden was the theme of mindfulness (a recurring one through the show gardens), but also the texture of his planting choices. The heroes were the foxglove/digitalis and his irises and I thought his Mayo-made Mindful Productivity beeswax lanterns really added to the zen.
Paul Martin’s Garden of Mindful Living
Next stop, the Charlie Osborne Husqvarna garden, with breathtaking garden canopies of carpinus trees and the injection of Anjelica, lupins and salvia into his mixed bed planting. And then, the Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden stopped me in my tracks with its planting based on algorithms with a clever choice of geoms, lupins and then their unexpected hero with a yucca plant cut back so you could see the geometric forms of its trunk. A cottage style of planting juxtaposed with tropical succulent elements prevailed through all gardens with dominant colours of green and dark burgundy contrasted with grey and delicate white.
Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden
A true showstopper was the Silver Gilt awarded to the Harrods British Eccentrics Garden. When you walk by buxus bopping up and down, coned bay trees twirling like dervishes, followed by a pretty herbaceous border spinning at speed around a red brick round house, you know that Diarmuid Gavin is involved. Apart from the theatrics, the planting was really pretty, featuring more colour than most of the other gardens and his creation definitely pulled in the crowds. Foxgloves, eremurus, agapanthus and angelica stole the show and I really wanted to enter the gates to walk through this moving celebration of botanica.
Harrods British Eccentrics Garden by Diarmuid Gavin
Best of the Small Gardens
The theme of healing by all things green was the focus of my two favourite small gardens. Jekka McVicar who created the Modern Apothecary for St. John’s Hospice was on hand with lots of advice like drinking water infused with fresh rosemary can help maintain short memory, whereas sage is a good help for keeping long term memory alive. A wonderful medley of herbal planting that I would love myself at home.
And then, the Morgan Stanley garden soon to be in place in the Great Ormond Street Hospital by Chris Bearshaw was thoughtful in its choice of planting for a sheltered space. Hostas, aquilegia and a new peony called ‘immaculee’ sat beside unfurling irises in white.
The Big Pavilion
Nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking glory of all the stands in here, this is where growers have been breeding each plant as if it is a new member of family. Arrays of vertical allium varieties sit beside a wall of geraniums or pelargoniums.
I have never seen so many types of carnivorous plants and then the cascading orchids definitely would cause some of our largest Appassionata displays a lack of self esteem. Standout people for me were Claire Austin, a daughter of David whose irises kept unfurling as we chatted, in hues of burgundy, lilac and blue and then her peonies, as large as footballs. I wanted to be Claire’s friend so I could have access to these beauties.
Claire Austin’s Irises at the Chelsea Flower Show
David Austins’ stand (as expected) was glorious in its scented heads with the introduction of a new rose for Roald Dahl whose 100th anniversary is this year. From an aspirational point of view, Pennard Plants have made me rethink my home-growing strategies. Pristine raised beds of perfectly straight raspberries beside a kaleidoscope of lettuce and the herbs. We admired the ranges of food we should all be growing in a stylish way, the perfection in planting, the beehive and hen coop all surrounding a mirrored glasshouse filled with tools for the next day in the garden at home. This vision in green was a definite highlight for me in terms of inspiration and appearance.
Behind Every Great Florist Stand
The Chelsea Flower Show is a medley of trade stands with furniture and accessories from the whimsical to the practical, but what really stands out is the enthusiasm and love all the crowds have for their own gardens and growing pastimes, the patience and friendliness of all the garden designers and growers alike all bound together in their love of botanica and the positive impact flowers and plants have in their lives. The recurring mantra was about greening up the grey, and to make a form of garden for yourself, if even for your own mindfulness. It’s only another 364 days until I will be back again.
Photography: Ultan Devaney
For more great gardening writing and advice for your own patch, pick up the 2016 Garden Heaven annual in all good newsagents and garden centres.