Heart of Chelsea
Lovers think ahead and get to the pinnacle of garden shows next May
ence — at Chelsea, the nation of shopkeepers excels itself — there are stands and stalls galore selling everything from niche Japanese pruning tools, to mammoth, rearing horses, to sleek, sexy glasshouses, (pure.co.uk) to garden furniture, awnings, pavilions...the list is endless.
And then, to crown it all, there is the Great Pavilion. This is where God and Mammoth Onion meet in under three acres of tent in the middle of Chelsea Infirmary — the place to see the sacred art of the seed selector — a Mecca for nerds of the plant world.
Showing the skill, art and artifice of the truly devoted, this huge white tent has a familiar floral scent with an undertone of hay and a top note of ordure, enough to put the hayfevered into paroxysms of sneezing, crying and wheezing.
But to see the preening beauties of the horticultural world in a steroidal flower display? Worth it.
Forget about the flim-flam out- side — the soul of Chelsea abides in the doughty, unassuming, ultraexperienced plant breeders. And although this is about the retail too, perhaps that’s a stretch when seeds, for most of the flowers and plants on show, (those nouns are almost too weak to describe the flaming beauties), are selling for just two quid a packet.
If you must go hard or go home, you can splurge up to a fiver for the really rare varieties. Seeds for Monty Don’s blue Himalayan poppy, for instance, had sold out, but you could have gotten a half dozen plugs for a tenner — great value.
For those of us reliant on the kindness of Aer Lingus and Ryanair, seeds are the way to go, and as well as that, you can get some nice surprises. I had forgotten the lily bulbs I picked up last year, (they fit fine in a suitcase) and because it was late in the season, I held onto them at the back of a cupboard until sometime in Sep- tember. I literally threw them into a pot, (I was moving house at the time), and the pot was shoved under a huge old tree in my new abode, overgrown and forgotten until this month. Then, I noticed something blooming twixt the branches — the lilies I had forgotten about. Only, and I’m not exaggerating, the stems are 6’ tall and there are at least ten buds at the top taking their lovely time to burstforth.theyareginormous— total Triffids — that’s the quality of what you buy at Chelsea and they probably cost a fiver for the pair.
This time round I visited the Acer stand and picked up openpollinated seeds for a couple of pounds. The gold medal-winning breeder says I won’t know what they are until they come over ground, (and she also said to leave them at least half a year to show), but I have ten seeds and the potential to gift the gorgeous things to friends next year.
I also picked up some Delphiniums — again because they are the best you can find anywhere, and where I couldn’t find seeds, I took the names and brochures of the breeders, so I can source everything online, (that crinum Powellii I’ve always wanted is just a click away).
One of the more unusual seeds I found was for a New Zealand
Louis Walsh just happened to be passing “500 Years of Covent Garden” when he kindly agreed to this snap by our staff photographer, Dan Linehan.
“Hand over all the lupins you’ve got!” — the old cottage favourite was the star turn this year in a lot of show gardens. This gold medal winning display from West Country Lupins was showing well in the Great Pavilion. westcountrylupins.co.uk. Below: Some of the garden art available to purchase.
The range and variety of Peonias on offer was very impressive and there was an early run on certain varieties.