Centenary Chelsea is a feast for the senses

Deborah enjoying the incredible scent on the David Austin roses exhibit

Deborah enjoying the incredible scent on the David Austin roses exhibit - Credit: Archant

ON Monday of last week, I was lucky enough to go to Press Day of The Chelsea Flower Show. I have been to the show many times before, but I have never been on the Monday - which is a real treat, as it gives members of the press the chance to get around and photograph the gardens in relative quiet before the crowds of the rest of the week.

The Herbert Smith Freehills garden for WaterAid

The Herbert Smith Freehills garden for WaterAid - Credit: Archant

I got to the showground just after 7am - which is not a time when I would normally be up and about, but for Chelsea, I was happy to get up at what felt like the middle of the night!

Upon arrival I was given my wristband, and then given free reign of the showground. I don’t think I have ever been more excited - I spent the first hour rushing around the showground and the Great Pavillion, taking as many photos as I could before more people arrived.

The nicest thing about having this time meant that I had a chance to talk to the garden designers and exhibitors. One thing which I was really struck by, was that even though they were waiting for the judges at that point, and would have been really nervous, they were happy to chat to me about their gardens, and were all incredibly friendly.

I specifically wanted to speak to some of the exhibitors who are normally based in Hertfordshire, and I was very pleased to be able to spend some time with two wonderful women - Patricia Thirion and Janet Honour - who had designed the Herbert Smith Freehills garden for WaterAid.

The garden that the ladies had produced was heavily influenced by India, and was giving a very important message about the charity that was being represented. The planting in this garden was hugely based around marigolds, as you will be able to see from my photographs - and Janet told me that this is because marigolds are a very important flower in Indian culture.

When I first arrived at the stand, Janet was painstakingly threading marigold heads into garlands. She happily chatted to me about the garden, and when Patricia joined us, it was easy to see why they had been so successful in their garden design. Working together as “A Touch of France Garden Design”, the two initially met and became friends whilst studying at Capel Manor College in nearby Enfield. I got the feeling that there would be a lot of laughter when these ladies work together - there was certainly a lot of laughter on Monday - the whole feeling of their garden was hopeful; the bright colours bringing a smile to my face. I became completely over excited when I heard that Ringo Starr would be coming along later to open the garden! As a lifelong Beatles fan, this was almost too much - the combination of one of my idols, with a fantastic garden - almost too much to cope with!

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On Tuesday morning I feverishly checked the internet to find out how they had done - GOLD - totally deserved, and I know that they will have both been thrilled with that result.

The two things which really stood out for me in the day were the Herbert Smith Freehills garden for WaterAid, as I have mentioned above - the colour and vibrancy of which really struck me.

The second exhibit that I really loved, was the display by Horticolous in connection with various other people - including Suttons seeds, and Paignton Zoo - their garden was a celebration of 100 years of horticulture. Two different sides of a garden - each leading up to a beautiful gated archway - on one side of the arch was a modern cottage garden - including a bio-dome rather than the traditional greenhouse.

On the other side of the archway was an old-fashioned cottage garden - complete with allotment style vegetables growing, and a traditional wooden greenhouse like the one I have at home. I instantly fell in love with both of these gardens, and the image of the two of them together, was completely breath-taking.

There are so many of the show gardens - particularly the larger show gardens which I just can’t relate to - they are bigger than the garden I have at home, and they involve large structures, which I would never be able to accommodate in my garden - so I really appreciate the inclusion of the “Artisan gardens” which show those of us with smaller gardens, what we can do with the space that we have.

It is fascinating walking along the row of artisan gardens, as they are all so different from each other - all showcasing different plants, and different styles of planting - some of which are country cottage style, others which display gardens as they might be around the world, or even just a display of a different part of the United Kingdom - the Un Carreg garden by the Rich brothers being the perfect example of this - they bought their own slice of the Welsh hills to a corner of London.

So much work goes into the show gardens and the floral displays at Chelsea - and although I was sadly not able to be there to see all of the exhibitors receiving their medals, I watched the reactions on television, and it was easy to see just how delighted, or disappointed each person was when they received the result.

In addition to the success of Janet and Patricia in the Artisan Garden category, Kate Gould’s “The Wasteland” won a gold medal in the Show Gardens. Kate is also based in Hertfordshire, and her garden combines beautiful planting with the stark colours of industrial concrete and a storm drain. It is easy to see why she won a gold, and although I didn’t get to meet Kate at the show, I enjoyed her garden, and the idea of how plants can transform even a piece of disused industrial land.

Woolcott and Smith’s artisan garden for the NSPCC was also a medal winner - bagging a Silver Gilt Flora. Their garden with the message “What will we leave?” seemed to be proving very popular with everyone at the show, and the designers were asking celebs to sign a space hopper, which they were planning to auction off at the end of the show.

This year has been a particularly special year for The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, as it is the centenary of the show. So much must have changed over the years since it first opened, and I am sure it will continue to change over the next 100 years - but I have no doubt it will still be every bit as special.

Things to do in the garden this month...

GARDENS are really starting to come alive by this time of year, and there are plenty of things to be getting on with in June.

* When the frosts are finally behind us, you can plant out your bedding plants, and plant up any tubs;

* You can start to hang any hanging baskets that you have planted up;

* June is the time to cover your strawberries - with Wimbledon this month, it will soon be time for those strawberries and cream!

* Sweetcorn, squashes, courgettes can be planted into the garden;

* When your sweetpeas get tall enough to need supporting, you can start to tie them to canes, or plant supports;

* You will probably be mowing your lawns by now - it’s a good idea to go around with an edging tool to maintain straight lines;

* Don’t be fooled by the weather - even if it has rained, or not been particularly hot, you will need to water your pots and hanging baskets;

* For a prolonged flowering season, make sure you deadhead your flowers;

* Remember to take some time to sit down in your garden and enjoy what you have achieved!