The corollary to fewer exhibitors at Chelsea is a little more space to breathe, at least in the Pavilion, if not round the show gardens: fewer means more necks craned round each.
A review of Trad’s annual Best Garden Award over many years betrays his partiality for the traditional, the nostalgic….. and specially for fake landscapes; reproductions of far-away or long-ago places. You will, probably rightly, never get the ultimate medal for chunk of seaside or farmland transplanted to Chelsea; modernity is deemed more relevant. How many gardeners actually prefer concrete to rock, or steel to wood, is an unanswered question. This one is still moved by a beautifully-made dry stone wall or stream among wild-flowers, the sort of thing that Mark Gregory created so convincingly this year for Welcome to Yorkshire. But perhaps this is too easy (however expensive) to imagine and bring off.
Chris Beardshaw’s garden for the N.S.P.C.C was wonderfully immersive, calm and even mysterious, glimpsed through the five peeling grey trunks of a magnificent River birch, Betula nigra, that travelled, he said, from north Germany, 8 tons of it, swaddled and cradled so that not a leaf was bruised. I see (next day) that it was voted the best by the (other) judges.
Several gardens showed off what seems to be an advance in tree-moving technology. On the Monument Stand in the Pavilion Tom Stewart-Smith and Crocus (who seem to have their green thumbprints on half the show) have whisked up a lime tree as tall as the monument itself. They must soon reach the limit to the size of tree you can take by road.
You get a long side view of the first site on the Main Avenue, the one that greets you as you arrive. It begs for architecture, and seems to work well with airy evocations of arid sun-baked places. Sarah Price designed such a scene for the main sponsor of the Show, M&G Investments, using stark adobe walls and bright patches of drought-resisting plants with admirable restraint. It was no surprise to see the Crocus signature here, too.
Trad has never given a gong to the best nursery stand showing its plants in the Pavilion. There is too much variety, and too much expertise on show to single one out. Besides, it is a matter of taste. Peter Beale’s Roses always draw one across the tent, but so do Raymond Emison’s clematis, Blom’s tulips, Kelway’s peonies, Norfield’s maples, Bowden’s ferns (tree ferns seem to be in fashion this year), Lockyer’s auriculas, and the unfamiliar exotic introductions of the Wynn-Joneses of Crug Farm Plants.
And am I deceived in thinking the proportion of plants (and gardens) to infinitely-assorted hardware goes down gradually year by year?