A few months ago, my sister-in-law Laoise asked if we’d like to go with herself and her husband, Sean, to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Weary from COVID restrictions, we agreed. We travelled to London out of Cork Airport to Heathrow. We allowed plenty of time and encountered minimal queues and maximum efficiency.
Flying again did feel weird. We wore masks on the aeroplane and while travelling on the underground trains, as did many others. It was good to be back travelling. Laoise booked an Airbnb and I booked the tickets for Chelsea. They were £85 each. The day before the show, they were £170! Laoise had all the research done about forward booking and so on.
Our accommodation was in Chelsea - about a 20-minute stroll from the show, through an area of restaurants and shops. One look at the prices on the windows, or no prices at-all, kept us out of the shops! Still the window shopping was fun. It is an expensive area of London.
The flower show
The queue to get into the show and the bag search took about 30 minutes. Bloom and the Ploughing Championships would put their organisation to shame!
The show has around 150,000 visitors over the five days. It is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, which is the home of retired British Army soldiers. It covers 11 acres. In short, it is a squished Bloom!
The vagaries of fashion dictated the dress code, or maybe we learned to be sensible during COVID! Everyone wore flat shoes. I only saw one girl in high heels!
The site has majestic, mature trees as a backdrop. One avenue of plane trees, that have joined together to form an arch, was particularly spectacular. In the centre of the show, a large pavilion housed beautiful flower displays.
Bloom and the Ploughing Championships would put their organisation to shame!
Many of them were celebrating the colour, shape and variety of single species such as alliums, hollyhocks, hostas, roses and grasses.
There was a music arena, a restaurant and food stands. An ice-cream cost £4! The show gardens formed the main attraction. Most of them featured water and/or sculpture and were English themed.
No bark mulch was used, instead the gardens were packed with flowers, leaving no ground visible. They were beautiful but it was really difficult to see them properly due to the crowds.
We had to queue at each one and then I found that I had only one view and it was impossible to speak to the creators. I did manage to get some of the plant lists. Seeing the gardens on the BBC and publications since, I realise I missed a lot of the experience due to the crowds. The result has been that I’m a little underwhelmed by the show.
The Best in Show garden was titled ‘A Rewilding Britain Landscape’. It was designed by Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt in support of rewilding Britain and featured the return of a beaver to the landscape with all the engineering habits of damming streams, organising food supplies and enjoying the rippling streams.
The garden aimed to show biodiversity thriving amongst wild and marginal flowers. Valerie Keating Bond from Cork was also on the winning team, giving us a strong Irish connection to the top award-winning, gold medal garden.
The theme of rewilding was evident in a lot of the winning gardens and consequently the gardens were less manicured, colours were subdued and that flowy, windy, grassy feel was more pronounced.
Take home message
Chelsea Flower Show displayed how gardeners are attempting to recreate the natural beauty we find from season to season on our farms. My take home message was a resounding congratulations to ourselves and many other farmers who mind the biodiversity and wild flower corners and ditches on our farms.
There are a few sites on our farm that would have given the winning garden fine competition. One in particular features a rippling stream, the logs and sticks, the wild flowers and the canopy of trees overhead. It is further enhanced by the herd of beautiful cows grazing nearby.
Going forward, we are going to garden differently. We will preserve and enhance the biodiversity on our farms and in our gardens. Chelsea, Bloom, Mallow and others can give us inspiration and new ideas to help us to garden beautifully without damaging the environment.