RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 - 1

First impressions

A Chelsea experience greatly diminished in terms of the number of sponsors and gardens, but the RHS are still managing to put on a top drawer horticultural event worthy of its heritage. Knowing how crowded Chelsea gets, and how quickly this year’s tickets sold out, many visitors might even welcome the increased space to sit, relax and mull over what they’ve seen. Here are some of my first impressions of the show.
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Before we get into it, I can’t bring myself to continue without any reference to the atrocious terrorist attack in Manchester last night, in the face of which, gardens and flowers could seem of little consequence. I have come to appreciate, though, that our awareness of the beautiful, the kind and the generous – in nature, and in the people around us – is what helps us to make sense of a world so otherwise devoid of hope and sense and justice. Keep sharing the beauty, as our talented friend, artist, photography and educator Grant Simon Rogers, frequently exhorts us to do.

Orange.

Almost everywhere I looked, orange leapt out at me, in various shades darkening to brown. It’s far from the first year that orange has been to the fore at Chelsea, helped no doubt by that every reliable Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ that manages to be floriferous, wafty and a bit attention-seeking, its bee-friendly flowers held high on long stems.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from  The Seedlip Garden , designed by  Catherine MacDonald

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Seedlip Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald

But irises weren’t to be left out of the russety orange vibe. Here’s one of my favourite, Kent Pride, on the Todd’s Botanics stand in the Great Pavilion.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017:  Iris  'Kent Pride' on the Todd's Botanics stand

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: Iris 'Kent Pride' on the Todd's Botanics stand

It wasn’t just the flowers though. A designers’ favourite when it comes to hard landscaping materials is COR-TEN steel, which ages quickly to a beautiful, rusty patina. James Alexander Sinclair used it for his water features in The Zoe Ball Listening Garden, for example.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from  The Zoe Ball Listening Garden , designed by  James Alexander Sinclair

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Zoe Ball Listening Garden, designed by James Alexander Sinclair

There was copper piping too, lots of it, on The Seedlip Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from  The Seedlip Garden , designed by  Catherine MacDonald .

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Seedlip Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald.

Not to mention a life-sized horse sculpture made from rusted horse-shoes on The World Horse Welfare Garden, designed by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The World Horse Welfare Garden, designed by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith.

And not only rust, but also an orange fabric chair on the wonderful Walker’s Wharf Garden, designed by Graham Bodle.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The  Walker’s Wharf Garden , designed by  Graham Bodle .

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Walker’s Wharf Garden, designed by Graham Bodle.

Orange works particularly well with green, which may be a reason why we see so much of it at Chelsea, May being a particularly verdant month, with fresh foliage all around the show ground, not to mention the numerous pieces of topiary and miles of hedging. Two of the three secondary colours, the other being …

Purple

Lots of this too, the final colour in the holy Chelsea triumvirate. If orange is championed by the geum already mentioned, the case for purple is most eloquently put by Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from City Living, designed by Kate Gould

Some in fact might find it too ubiquitous – Manoj Malde told me that in working on the planting palette for his excellent Beneath a Mexican Sky garden, he’d told the nursery supplying the plants that he didn’t want to see a single pot of it – the purple in his planting being supplied by a relative, Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ (he also eschewed the geum for the orange splashes dotted through the excellent arid planting of agaves and echeverias, instead opting for the californium poppy Eschscholzia californica and golden cosmos).

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from Beneath a Mexican Sky, designed by Manoj Malde

Chris Beardshaw did use Salvia ‘Caradonna’, but also chose lupins to provide a violet backdrop to orange geums and clipped yews and box on The Morgan Stanley Garden.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Morgan Stanley Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw

Pines

I love to see the textures of needled conifers incorporated into complex multi-layered planting. You expect to see this in the beautiful, highly stylised Japanese gardens of Kazuyuki Ishihara, and in this respect Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War did not disappoint.

Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara

But it was also particularly strong on the Walker’s Wharf Garden, designed by Graham Bodle, who used Pinus mugo (also a feature in The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, designed by Matt Keightley), and P. pumilla, as well as P. parviflora and P. sylvestris.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, designed by Matt Keightley

Chris Beardshaw added Pinus leucodermis ‘Nana’ to the mix.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Morgan Stanley Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw

Herbs.

Unsurprisingly, these are a feature of the rather wonderful Jo Whiley Scent Garden, designed by Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from TheJo Whiley Scent Garden, designed by Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill.

And the presence of aromatic herbs on The Seedlip Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald to tell the story of the botanical drink manufacturer also makes sense.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Seedlip Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald.

But it was also encouraging to see aromatic herbs incorporated in other gardens, including fennels on James Basson’s, alpine strawberries and parsley on The Poetry Lover’s Garden, designed by Fiona Cadwallader, and lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme on Chris Beardshaw’s.

 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from  The Poetry Lover’s Garden , designed by  Fiona Cadwallader

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017: detail from The Poetry Lover’s Garden, designed by Fiona Cadwallader

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