A phone message the other day left me feeling a little nostalgic. The new owners of The Walnuts our old house called to ask if I wanted to look at our old garden 6 years on. Would my curiosity overcome me, I wonder?
We bought the house from a lovely lady in her 80's called Vera Fry. Vera grew Chrysanthemums by the back door and a vast patch of leeks. She boiled pears from the orchard on a coal-fired Rayburn. I remember the house smelled of apples because she stored them in a room behind the kitchen. Her husband Mick kept pigs and betted on horses, he kept his winnings in the cellar which was so damp his money rotted. He died a few years previously and after two hip operations Vera had to say goodbye to the garden.
We had left a tiny courtyard garden in London. I have no idea where I found the bravery to take on that garden, some 1.5 acres, but I did and I loved it. It had magic, loved gardens have magic, don't they? Which leads me to another question.
Do gardeners make a garden magical or is the magic just there?
A couple of years ago I photographed a garden which was magical, well lots of the gardens I get to photograph are, but this one sticks in my mind. The owner, Rosemary was moving in a couple of weeks. The garden was full of colour, it was tiny. Paths weaved through bobbing flower heads, apples glowed in the mini orchard, water trickled over your bear toes and sunlight splashed and dripped through weaving stems and silky petals.
Later that summer, not much later maybe only a month, I popped back as the village had some open gardens. I walked through Rosemary's old garden but the magic had gone. Gone completely, vanished. It made me feel quite empty. Quite sad. Since then I have experienced the same thing when visiting a garden after the owner has moved on. So now I have my answer, gardeners really do bring a touch of magic and I like a bit of magic, don't you?
A is for Artisan Retreats, which took me all day to find, as the RHS failed to put up their signage on Press day until one enterprising chap pinched one of the restaurent boards and painted it himself, good for you mate!
Kaffe Fassett sat outside his wee shed which was a heady kaleidoscope of colour after the muted beauty of the show gardens.
Orla Kiely and her retro-inspired interior made me smile, quirky, quaint and rather fasionable these days.
B is for Buttercups, which popped up in almost every garden. What a joy, no more weeding, seeing them dancing in the breeze made me wonder why I ever bothered in the first place.
C is for celebrity, Cliff, Bruce and 'My name is Michael Caine' shimmied around the marquee. But my stand out moment was meeting Lorraine Pascale who kindly wrote a note to my daughter who has loved baking since she was old enough to wield a spoon. One tip though, don't agree to having your photo taken with a model, ex or not!
Or should C be for cold, which is certainly was, I even spotted a few gloves.
No, C is for Chelsea pensioners who bravely climbed up Diarmund's pyramid for a band of photographers to snap.
Ok, so it's a couple of days till the biggest horticultural show on the planet kicks off, Chelsea Flower Show. The exhibitors have been hard at it all year, but now they are all at the show ground frantically battling the elements to put together a show-stopping, jaw-dropping, rooting-tooting, all-singing-all-dancing horticultural extravaganza. Plants have been chilled or warmed to be in tip-top shape for the big day, gargantuan trees have been hauled from everywhere on fleets of flatbed lorries, a caravan named Doris has been polished and preened and gently placed on site, paths have been laid, walls built, hey even buildings constructed in this relatively small field in the centre of SW1.
My first visit was in the early 90's a the Publisher of Elle Decoration, back then I was bowled over by the extravant and what I thought at the time, somewhat false nature of the show. In the last 10 years, I have worked there as a photographer arriving on press day in anticipation of the judges arrival and watched as last minute nervous tweeks were made.
Each time I go I ask myself the same questions: is it gardening gone mad or, the greatest horticultural show on the planet? Is it all worthwhile or just a waste of money in our cash-strapped, food scarce world?
Last year, one of the gardening editors described her feelings about the event like this, 'It's a show, a piece of theatre, it wow's us with it's exhuberance, and excites us with surprises.'
I understand Chelsea, thanks to one of my favourite films, The Devil Wears Prada. The best scene ever (on this planet) is when Miranda Priestly explains the importance of a seemingly trivial choice of fashion items.
So this for me is Chelsea - it's not just 'stuff' - the flowers and plants, or who can build the show-stopping exhibits. No, it's taking design to the next level, challenging the boundaries, finding the plants that matter to our environment, creating beautiful 3-dimensional paintings with flowers, plants and landscaping. Then, one day somewhere in Westbury, West Bromich or Weston-Super-Mare someone will pick up a spade, dig a hole, plant something and change the way their world is for the better.
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