What a buzz at Chelsea
IHAVE never seen the Great Pavilion look so good and work so well as in what was, for me, the best RHS Chelsea Flower Show for years. It excelled in its core purpose —the celebration of flowers—from the tiniest alpine to huge and showy alliums, pale and subtle shades of pink and blue holding their own with vibrant purples and cardinal reds, and hollyhocks, lupins and foxgloves with the bonsai and the cacti. What’s more, this amazing presentation of so much variety is much easier to enjoy now that they have perfected the signage system. Each area is admirably delineated and you can find what to see easily and simply. The problem that remains is profusion. There is so much and so much of it is so good!
Yet, this time, there was also a subtle change of emphasis. For years, the RHS has used its influence to promote sustainability as well as education and the involvement of young people in gardening. These themes have been clearly present in its own house exhibits, but now they are much more integral to the show overall and there’s clearly been encouragement for exhibitors to campaign more directly. This is intended to sharpen the visitors’ appreciation of the health threats to gardens and the natural environment more widely.
A particular example was the Protect our Mighty Oaks stand, which strikingly illustrated the threats to our 121 million oak trees from pests and diseases. This onslaught is bound to increase through more extensive human travel and commerce, as well as changes in the climate. Such threats are carried more easily and encouraged by warmer conditions. Like other stands in the Discovery area, it provided a heady cocktail of celebration, education and warning.
That same mix was powerful in The Power of Bees!, where the contribution of pollinators to life was graphically portrayed by the charity Bees for Development. It has invented a Bee House that is so simple and yet so effective. It enables poor communities to provide a minihive for wild bees to populate and thus enable families to harvest honey to contribute to their livelihood and their children’s schooling. The encouragement of pollination also helps with the fertility of the crops upon which these villages depend. Backed by well-known commentators, such as Monty Don and Martha Kearney, the idea is an ideal mechanism to link our concern about pollination at home with the wider issues of poverty and dependence on subsistence farming. This is a very proper extension of the RHS’S education work, especially if linked with the domestic activities of fellow exhibitor Urban Bees.
This innovative organisation collaborated on the Honeycomb Meadow Bee Garden—also in the Discovery area—which highlighted the importance of bees everywhere, including in cities and high up on urban roofs. It was interesting to see that this presentation fitted perfectly with the Horticultural Trades Association’s The Great Escape—a clever demonstration of the importance of gardens to relax, grow, play, and engage with Nature. This was yet another example of the growing effect of the leadership that the RHS has given in recent years.
That’s the innovative part, but the real triumph of this year’s show was in its core business. The flowers were simply outstanding. From hostas to gladioli, growers had reached a new level of excellence. Some visitors may have been disappointed by the reduction in the number of display gardens, but that was more than made up for by the sheer brilliance of the Great Pavilion. What a British triumph. Let’s celebrate a unique achievement.
Stands devoted to saving oaks and bees provided a cocktail of celebration, education and warning