I am a sporadic Chelsea visitor, sometimes preferring the space, freedom and elbow room of Hampton Court, sometimes neither and watch from the comfort of my home. But every time I have visited I’ve kept the lovely leaflets from gardens that move or inspire me the most.
In my own tribute to the centenary year, I’ve tried to recall every show garden ever visited and two stand out for me, head and shoulders above the rest, but for different reasons.
The Daily Express’ ‘The Lull after the Storm’ Chelsea 1990 and Julie Toll’s ‘The Edible Garden’ Chelsea 1994.
“The Lull after the Storm” from the 1990 Chelsea Flower show, was magical, I kept running (early in the day) or politely attempting to get through the crowds to re visit. Inspired by The Great Storm of 1988, Jane Cordingley had been placed 1st in the Daily Express garden design competition. Based on her design, with contributions from the second and third placed entries, Van Hage constructed and planted.
The garden was a gem of natural planting amidst the fallen trees. I hadn’t seen a show garden like this before, it was quite moving to view from my allotted shuffling spot. Long grass and wildflowers, ferns and a boggy area, a large pond, log paths, all woven around trees that had fallen in the great storm. My overriding memory is the long grass, and thinking yes! This is what a garden should be, free and wild. Not constrained and uptight. Back in 1990, there really did not seem to be anything like this gorgeous and regenerating natural garden.
Four years later, I came across my other all time favourite garden; as a new mum of two children under two we had taken on an allotment, about a miles drive away. It was disastrous. Very young children want freedom and attention at the same time, not an absent-minded earth mother trying to sow, hoe, weed, dig, water, look jolly. We gave it up the day my youngest marched over to our car and bashed the bonnet with a metal children’s rake lovingly bought so that she could join in the allotment fun, clearly she wanted some of her parents time.
So welcome was the sight of Julie Toll’s ‘The Edible Garden’, in aid of St John’s Ambulance, we viewed and viewed, at each end of the moving shuffle we went back to the beginning again, making lots of notes of what we could take from Julie’s ideas. It was so inspiring and exactly what I wanted from any garden I have ever owned or would go on to own in the future. Borders were beautifully filled with wildflowers, herbs and fruits of all kinds, vegetables, native trees, shrubs and flowers. Brick scooterable paths linked each area and the centre a tapestry lawn, perfect for children to roll about in and collect daisies. A wonderfully planned and designed garden that could be translated and achieved by many and was the perfect solution for my young family. If the Peoples Garden award had existed then this would have been the absolute outright winner.