The Crazy World of the Chelsea Build
I have spent the last two days in the crazy surreal world of build-up week at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to help Ann-Marie Powell with the planting on her garden for the British Heart Foundation. It was even more fun as I was doing it with several friends I had met through blogging and tweeting.
I arrived mid morning on Friday after a 3 hour train trip, oh to live closer. You walk along the Chelsea Embankment and in through the Bullring Gates and suddenly you are in another world. A world of high-viz jackets, lorries, construction vehicles, plants, noise, dust and highly creative people.
You look around you but there is just so much to see it if impossible to take it all in. Suddenly I’m at the garden and thrown straight in at the deep end. What are we doing? How are we doing it? I have no idea. I’m told we are planting the borders. These are the plants to use, these are the plants not to use, place them and then ask Ann-Marie is she likes it. So tentatively I set to, it is difficult to be confident in your own abilities in this environment but as the two days progress I felt more and more ‘in the zone’ so to speak. It was great to feel that you were contributing to the garden personally rather than following a strict planting plan.
It was not straight forward though. The pool had developed a leak the day before and had been drained and an afternoon’s worth of plant placing lost as all the pond plants had to be removed. Finally Friday late afternoon they started refilling the pool and we could start replacing the plants.
The other theme that ran through the two days was when to remove the protective hats from the Peonies. These, apart from some white Foxgloves and Aquilegas, were the only flowers in the garden and were a key feature intended to give a jewel like effect. But they are delicate flowers and it was getting warmer and warmer and whilst we were keen to see what they looked like we were also worried they would be damaged or go over too quickly.
By Friday evening there were four of us left planting away and we were getting more and more tired to the point that hysteria was setting in and we were creased up laughing about things that weren’t really that funny – time to go home and anyway they close the ground at 8pm so you have to leave.
Back the next morning and Ann-Marie had arrived early and was well into finishing off. The pool leak seemed to be resolved, the peonies were more or less placed and we were in to gap filling and tweaking. All morning there were photographers taking pictures, film crews walking past, people stopping to say hi and ask questions. A brief respite for lunch, to clear our heads and then back to work.
There is a huge level of anxiety and insecurity about how ‘your’ garden compares to others, how far they are from finishing, are we behind etc. On top of this the BBC were coming to film the garden at 9am on Sunday so we had to have it finished. Ann-Marie decided we would aim to finish it by the end of Saturday.
I spent the afternoon helping her with the pool planting. Which actually wasn’t as hard physical work as the filling in the gaps in the borders others were doing. It really involved me pointing out gaps and where the liner showed, passing things to Ann-Marie who was glamorously attired in waders. I also spent what seemed a lifetime trying to untangling some Carex with spiky seed heads (not sure of the name forgot to ask) from its unruly mess. I think it looked better when I finished but it was like untangling knitting – I had to employ all my patience and all the time the sun was beating down.
By this time the site was starting to be cleared and the lorries and van going past, just inches from us, were increasing. We repeatedly had to stop and move out of their way and rescue plants from disappearing under the wheels – although one hosta wasn’t that lucky and was squished!
Throughout the two days we would go for wanders to stretch our legs, to see what others were doing and trade plants – there is a lot of trading!! Also practical jokes – giving inappropriate plants to different gardens which was fun. We were given some Kangaroo Paw for our woodland shady garden by one of the Australian gardens, we returned the favour with Foxgloves and Hosta!!
Sadly I had to leave late afternoon but by then there was only one large plant to go in the close off the back to the public and the dye to go in the pool. I went for a last wander, took some photos and when I returned the hats had come off the peonies and the garden just sang.
I am so pleased to have been involved. It was hard work but it was an amazing experience which I would love to repeat again – if any future garden designers are reading?!