As we reach the middle of Chelsea Show week, it’s time to report on how Virtual RHS Chelsea Flower Show is shaping up. For me, it’s been a welcome change to see show grandees in the solitude of their home settings – RHS president Sir Nicholas Bacon in his flowery conservatory, James Alexander-Sinclair (suitably attired in grey suit and coral tie) standing on his sedum roof against the backdrop of a tantalisingly green and expansive country garden, and Raymond Blanc bouncing around on his diminutive herb and salads balcony. The RHS has done well to get so many videos up, even if some are too brief and others could have been trimmed. A bonus of it being virtual, though, is that you can skip/repeat, whenever you want.
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No gardens have been mocked up so far, though Charlotte Harris’s thoughtful video linked the plants she found in London’s Olympic Park to Harris Bugg’s pocket park garden for M&G. But we have been treated to close-ups of some of the plants that would have been in the Great Pavilion – clematis from Raymond Evison, gladioli from Pheasant Acre Plants, iris from Todd’s Botanics – and in the case of foxgloves, a gorgeous collection from The Botanic Nursery planted in a dappled spot in their garden.
Floristry has been well represented with ‘how to’ videos, with the emphasis on plants you can pick from your garden and in the wild right now. Sarah from Hiding in the City Flowers, who were due to make the installation at Garden Gate this year, gave an encouraging demonstration of how to make a floral arch – you never know when you might just need one – with birch stems for the frame and without using single-use plastic floral foam.
Not counting Monty Don’s three-minute dash through his garden to feed the chickens and Sarah Eberle’s seated talk in her woodland patch, we’ve had two garden tours so far. Mr Ishihara’s ‘Mihara Garden’, in his hometown of Nagasaki, turns out to be an amalgamation of all his Chelsea gardens (2020 would have been his 15th). His idiosyncratic commentary did not really reveal how he created the garden but it did tell us that even though the garden looks exquisitely finished in every detail, he thinks of it as ‘My Neverending Garden’. So, like most of us who have gardens, he expects to continue to tweak and change elements. A clip from inside the garden’s pavilion shows the beauty of a borrowed view (in this case the forested mountains), something real Chelsea can never offer.
Adam Frost’s tour of his walled Lincolnshire garden, parts of it familiar to viewers of BBC Gardeners’ World, had a wonderful soundtrack of birdsong (a plea here to the RHS not to add those irritating beauty-parlour tracks to silences during videos) which, he explained, had increased in variety and volume since he has started to reclaim the garden. The layered effect of his woodland area, where sawn pieces of tree trunk provide seats, is beautiful and reminiscent of several of his own Chelsea designs.
So far, the BBC coverage of the show is mainly a mish-mash of clips from previous Chelseas. To me, it confirms that it’s high time the over enthusiastic/congratulatory commentaries are ditched and Chelsea’s professional designers and growers are given voice and allowed to offer us insightful explanations of their creations, which we’ve seen from the RHS videos they’re well able to do.