24 May 2014

RHS Chelsea Gardens (2014)

I had decided some time ago not to go to RHS Chelsea this year. Having been there in 2010, 2011 and 2012 I left that I had seen enough of the grand show-piece gardens for a while and would leave it for a few years until fashions had changed a little.

I was also a little wary of going as it is quite an intense experience with so much to see, a deceptively little amount of time to see it all and with thousands of other people all trying to do the same thing at the same time in the same space.

Then I got the offer of a cheap all-day ticket through work and I changed my mind and went.

My plan was to go early when it was slightly less busy even if that meant getting up earlier on a Saturday than I would normally get up for work during the week.

The weather forecast was diabolical which I thought was a good thing. It was not going to stop me and it might deter a few from going or force them to shelter in the Pavilion. I was well prepared with plenty of warm clothing, a good coat, an umbrella and a bag filled with spare camera batteries and SD cards, and also a spare camera.

Plenty of other people were undeterred by the heavy rain too but it was quiet enough that I could get to see all of the gardens close-up and from any angle that I wanted.

The other bonus of the rain was that many of the people wore the free M&G cagoules which, being white, disappeared in to the background much better than most normal clothing does. People who go to gardens in bright red or yellow outfits are one of the banes of my life.

The Pavilion was the centre of the site with the main gardens and stall circled around it. With plenty of time available I took the safe option of going around the path around the pavilion twice, once looking at things on the inside and then on the second pass at things on the outside.

There were a couple of places where the path divided and I had to be careful not to miss anything. I think I succeeded but obviously there is no way of checking. I suppose that I could have bought a guide, but that would have been cheating.

The one thing that I did buy was a Daily Telegraph cloth bag. Technically I bought the newspaper inside it and the bag was free but I prefer to think of it the other way round.

M&G, the main sponsors, were giving bags away and it was fun to watch the ladies fight over them. There was no shortage of bags it was more a question of how long you were prepared to wait for one of the people giving them away to come near you. Of course, I got one of those too.

After a couple of hours the rain stopped and against all predictions the sun came out. Luckily by then I had a large M&G bag to put by now unwanted coat in. How had the Met Office got that so wrong?

The unexpected sunlight changed the conditions dramatically and so I walked all around the gardens once again to take even more pictures, which is OK as that is what I went there to do.

Walking the gardens was tiring work and I paused momentary once for a coffee and later for a beer. These were only pauses and I drank as I walked rather than fighting for one of the wet benches to sit on. The queues for both the coffee and the beer were quite short which reinforced the impression that there were slightly fewer people there than usual.

The surprising thing for me was the similarity between the gardens with almost off of them sporting wild flowers and rocks. There were fewer structural devices than I recall from previous years and certainly much less use of brash colours.

The days when Diarmuid Gavin plonked several tons of orange steel in to a garden seemed to have passed. I do not particularly mourn those days but I would have liked to see something a little more outrageous.

That's not to say that I did not like Chelsea, far from it. It kept me walking through the sun and the rain for a full five hours. And I took 367 photos along the way so there was clearly plenty there that I loved.

I may not go to RHS Chelsea again next year but I think that I'll be back before too long.

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