Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Blooming brilliant

Flowers, facts and famous faces direct from Chelsea

Written by Young Ladies About Town

The Chelsea Flower Show has long been held in high esteem by the world’s horticultural heavyweights. Starting out as the Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show 1862, it moved to the grounds of Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1913 and has been held there ever since. Each year, upwards of 157,000 gardening aficionados flock to the show to discover the latest flower fashions, garden products and landscape design.

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The 2012 show does not disappoint. Entering the beautiful grounds of the Royal Hospital (the requisite red-coated pensioners already brightening the view), you step from a London street to a world where nature once again reigns supreme.

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The show gardens are as innovatively conceived and immaculately presented as ever. The Trailfinders Australian Garden, in particular, has the power of transporting you thousands of miles across the world to the understated elegance of the relaxed Antipodes. The Telegraph Garden is typically on form: it’s meadow flowers and stepping stone walkway are reminiscent of a fairy tale.

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The Great Pavilion has always been the epicentre of the show. From the audacious blooms of the Jamaican Horticultural Society to the clean-lined yet curious Mendip Bonsai Studio, the big white tent is a riot of colour and scent.

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McBean’s Orchids is one of only two exhibitors (along with Blackmore and Langdon) who have shown every year since 1913. McBean’s head horticulturalist Jim Durrant has been coming for 41 years, and reflects that there have been great changes in the show. ‘When it first started, it was very much the tail end of the Victorian era. Lords and Ladies would come and bring their gardeners to select plants, which have since tumbled in price.’ Jim reveals that when he first started coming, the cost of a Cymbidium [a breed or orchid] would have been enough to pay one man’s weekly wages.

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Around 70% of McBean’s Orchids are plants which they have created themselves, and it can take up to 6 years before a new breed is ready to be sold. McBean’s value Chelsea as a chance to display their catalogue of work – people will often take a trip to their nursery in East Sussex having seen their colourful wares in the show.

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For his part, Jim enjoys the yearly visit to London. ‘It’s nice to come and catch up with the other exhibitors. I look forward to seeing them every year.’

It’s not just flowers which are celebrated. Robinson’s Seeds & Plants have a popular stand showcasing a range of colourful vegetables. Susan Robinson is an expert in the vegetable field, her great grandfather having set up the eponymous nursery in 1860.

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‘We have a lot of older varieties of vegetables which are a little bit different, things like the red flower broad bean, and the purple podded pea.’ They certainly look sumptuous, Susan is eager to point out, they taste just as good.

Echoing Jim Durrant’s sentiments, she says the great event has changed over the years, but ‘Chelsea is Chelsea. You can’t beat it. It’s a spectacle, are you see people you won’t find at any other show.’

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Expert tips direct from Chelsea

Inspired to grow your own? Susan Robinson shares her advice for creating a vegetable garden

Green vegetables are particularly frost hardy. Even if you haven’t a lot of space, they grow in a container and they go all through the winter. Keep taking the leaves off and more will come.

But be careful with courgettes. They’re very prolific, and you get a lot off one plant. In fact the more you take off, the more you get. One or two plants are more than enough to keep anyone going.

Grow what you like to eat. It sounds like common sense, but it’s amazing how many people grow too much. There’s no point in having a row of twenty cauliflowers – what on earth would you do with them?

Famous faces

The Chelsea Flower Show is the ultimate garden party. Here are a few of the luminaries we spotted enjoying the day...

Bruce Forsyth enjoying a glass of champagne with his wife, Wilnelia

Nigel Havers, surrounded by a group of fawning females, at The M&G Garden

Alan Titchmarsh standing with Rachel de Thame in the Trailfinders Australian Garden, presenting for the BBC

Imelda Staunton and husband, Downton star Jim Carter, admiring The Telegraph Garden

Jerry Hall, resplendent in purple, wandering through the Great Pavilion with a friend

Piers Morgan charming the press in the Great Pavilion 

Cliff Richard, graciously chatting to cameras at every angle

Michael Caine, wandering down the Eastern Avenue and admiring the gardening gadgets

Twiggy, wearing M&S, chatting to Ringo Starr

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