Chelsea Girl: From Theresa May sightings to Iraqi refugee camp-inspired gardens, here's the buzz on this year's flower show
PUBLISHED: 10:40 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 29 May 2018
There's more to this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show than pretty plants, as our columnist Deborah McMorran discovered...
Sometimes when I go to the Chelsea Flower Show, I find that on the journey home, my head is swimming with all of the different garden designs.
It can be hard to distinguish one from the other, with similar planting schemes seeming to trend from one garden to the next – and I can recall different visits from the overwhelming plant which was used that year.
Due to the time of year that Chelsea is held, there will always be some plants which feature more often than others due to the likelihood that they will be in flower or not – alliums and irises always seem to be particular favourites.
This year, I have come away with a very different message.
Although there are always gardens which have been sponsored by companies to raise awareness of various charities, this year it felt as though the message was even stronger.
A greater awareness of the effect that we are all having on our planet was running strong throughout many of the gardens.
One garden which particularly captured my interest was The Lemon Tree Trust Garden – a garden which has been inspired by the refugees living in the Domiz camp in Northern Iraq.
The charity supports refugees to build gardens where they can grow food and encourage community. The plants used in this garden include edible plants which would be used in Middle Eastern cookery, and also a wall using objects which would be typically found around a refugee camp such as plastic bottles.
The designer was keen to point out that the gardens in the camps would look nothing like this one – well preened and immaculate as it was for the judging – but it does highlight the way in which the gardens typically have to be innovative about growing within limited spaces.
The importance of gardening being used as a tool to offer essential hope to people who have nothing, is a theme which also flowed throughout the RHS Feel Good Garden – designed to highlight the positive impact of gardening for mental and emotional wellbeing.
The planting scheme in that particular garden was very calming and designer Matt Keightley has created a wonderfully tranquil space.
The Space to Grow gardens were smaller show gardens, designed for urban spaces, but still managing to pack a punch when it came to an environmental message. The Pearlfisher Garden in partnership with Plastic Oceans, designed by John Warland and the Pearlfisher team, displayed a wonderful array of tropical fish tanks, corals, and planting which represented the beauty of underwater plant life.
With plastic consumption and waste being such hot topics in the news and the political arena recently, it was interesting to see the Prime Minister; Theresa May, walking around the show and looking at the Space to Grow gardens.
Other stands included a Thames Water free tap water area, where reusable bottles were being sold, and free water being given out - the emphasis on reusable water bottles echoing the recurrent theme of sustainability and ethical gardening.
One garden which really caught my eye was one of the Discovery gardens, situated in the Grand Pavillion - the Honeycomb Meadow Bee Garden designed by Kerrie McKinnon and Kathryn Lwin from riverofflowers.org. Talking to the lady on the stand, I learnt all about the importance of solitary bees, and how they are just as important for pollination of crops as hive dwelling bees.
The garden was aiming to raise awareness of urban planting for encouraging bees. If bees fly over towns and cities they can often have a long distance to go without any nectar, before they reach countryside and plants and flowers again. River of Flowers create honeycomb-shaped planters which come ready planted up with bee-friendly plants and flowers for immediate use in urban spaces.
Although you would imagine that the majority of gardeners would be eco-conscious already, I was really interested to see just how much effort is being made to bring these causes to the front of people’s minds. Unless everyone makes an effort to start planting to encourage bees, and seriously starts cutting down on their use of single use plastic, then we won’t have an environment that’s worth gardening in! With more RHS shows to follow now that Chelsea has kicked off the season in style, I shall be looking with interest to see whether gardens at the other major shows follow suit.
Inspired by the gardens that I saw at Chelsea, I have been thinking about planting to attract bees. The one thing which many people may not be aware of, is that you really don’t need much space in order to plant to encourage bees. The smallest of balconies, or even a window box, can be enough to make a difference to the ailing bee population. The work of the humble bee is so vital to everything on our planet - and food production would be virtually impossible if we lost this wonderful creature.
Bees like colourful, and fragrant plants, but they also particularly like native varieties. Plants which flower early in the year are a welcome addition to any bee which will have survived on very little over the winter months. If you want to buy plants specifically to encourage and attract bees - you might consider the following:
buddleja (also known to attract butterflies - so a great staple for any garden)