1 June 2012

RHS Chelsea Gardens (2012)

I was a late to the RHS Chelsea party going for the first time in 2010, and then it took a cash incentive to get me there.

But that was a lesson quickly learnt and I have been back in the two years since then, choosing to take a day's holiday each time to do so.

Chelsea means an early start, holiday or no holiday, and i was walking through the gates a few minutes before the official opening time of 8am.

Many people had the same idea and it was reasonably busy even at that ungodly hour.

The site at Chelsea is vast and a plan of attack is needed. I passed the shops that greet you as soon as you enter and headed for the main avenue and the main show gardens which were my main purpose in going.


There were a number of small gardens too and these were some of the more interesting, possibly because the smaller size allowed the garden designer to focus on, and deliver, just one theme whereas a larger garden needs more themes to fill the space and the mix of themes may not always mix well.

An early sign of what was to come was seen in this small garden.

The planting was wild and thickly planted with small subtle flowers that added joyous colour without swamping the garden.

And because this is Chelsea there has to be something else in the garden besides the plants and so we have the stepped hedge built in to the back wall and a spiralling  statue with coloured vanes that gradually change colour as they rise.

I really like the overall effect which is why garden makes it in to this brutally culled collection of photographs from the day.

Another small garden was possibly the most interesting.

The floating disks are the first thing that catch your eye. They have no visible means of support as they sit on columns of falling water.

Looking beyond the disks there is so much more to see, including (just off to the left) a presenter pedalling to power the garden.

As an aside, TV presenters is one of the hazards of taking photos at Chelsea as they are allowed to wander in to the gardens that the rest of us can only look at. On several occasions, including this one, I had to modify the shot that I wanted to take, or even move on to another garden, to avoid having a person ruin the shot.


There were some common themes among the large gardens too, such as a sunken rectangular pond. What is nice about this one is all the other water in the garden; there is a sheet of water falling down the grey stone at the back, those are little fountains along the hedge on the right and (hard to see) there is a series of fountains along the bench below.

Derelict buildings were popular too.

There were several sheds, greenhouses and even a caravan.

Likewise the wild meadow look was everywhere and the two prominent colours were orange and purple.

All the gardens were lovely but they were probably a bit too similar and that diminished the impact of each one.

Possibly my favourite garden followed most of the rules and somehow managed to remain special.


There is sunken water, white rectangular walls,wild planting and orange flowers but the blues of the summer house, water and flowers are distinctive.

This garden got a lot of attention for all the right reasons.

Yes it has sunken rectangular water, white walls and purple flowers but it also has a large amount of brown circular metal that breaks up the shape of the garden, provides contrast to the planting and creates interesting shadows.

That said, putting a large bit of metal in to a garden to make it interesting sounds like cheating, or at least an admission that the rest of the garden has failed.

Next door a similar trick worked better.


Again it's possible to argue that there is little that is original in the garden. What is different, however, is are the large wooden arches that help to zone the garden, give it some height and also a reflection of the browns in the planting.

Diarmuid Gavin can be relied on to be original and this year he provided a seven storey tower built from scaffolding with plants growing through it, on it and down it.

Its size alone was enough to grab attention and a closer look revealed all sorts of things going on, some of which had something to do with gardening.

I admire the concept but the scaffolding dominated over the planting so I found it lacking as a garden.

I would have loved to go up it though.

Of course there was a lot more to the gardens at RHS Chelsea than I have hinted at here. To fill in the gaps, simply go yourself. It's recommended.

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