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Chelsea 2018 - Impressions from the competition gardens


Almost 1,500 photos in one day, about 15 videos and countless impressions, that's my conclusion to the Chelsea Flower Show 2018. Thanks to an invitation from Simon Crawford of Burpee, I was able to visit the exhibition early on press day, on Monday, and could, therefore, work with less stress. Work? Well, somehow you have to sort out and weigh the impressions. So what is there to say about the Chelsea Flower Show 2018?
One thing is certain: Chelsea remains Chelsea, and the British remain true to themselves. There is – as a Swiss man I have to ungrudgingly admit – yet another island in Europe besides Switzerland. And they behave just as strange as we do – but not always in the same way.


Picture: Raymond Evison, the well-known Clematis breeder, for me the English gentleman par excellence


Picture: War veterans and pensioners from the neighbouring Royal Hospital in Chelsea

Thus, class differences in the way people dress continue to show much more clearly than in our country. There are still ladies, especially older ones, who not infrequently admire hats, and there are gentlemen, who sit on one-legged "folding chairs" that are integrated into their walking sticks while having intense garden conversations with their wives. This is almost certainly only in England. Too bad that I only filmed it and did not take pictures. Another story on the same topic: my host Simon got dropped off at the Farmers Club in central London for business appointments, cheaply and conveniently. The special thing about it was this: only with a suit and tie could one get in the door, get a room and get a meal.
But let's get to the gardens. As always, their perfection is hard to beat. And sometimes you get the impression that in the design or especially in the perception of the design, the perfection of the execution, the beauty of the plants, the bold idea is obsolete. So for me (but as an amateur for landscape gardening I am probably somewhat very cheeky): the surprising ideas were missing, not the perfection!

Mediterranean is trendy

I was interested to find that Mediterranean gardens and plants are back in fashion. Of course, it can also be a coincidence, but it was pretty obvious in some gardens: citrus, Mediterranean vegetables, figs...In Trailfinders South African Wine Estate, the South is represented in different stages, from the burnt vegetation of the almost desert to the garden of the stately home. In another garden (sorry, only filmed, not photographed) there was even a gigantic lemon tree with lots of fruits to see – the thirst of the British towards the South is quite obvious and understandably unsatisfied.


Picture: Trailfinders South African Wine Estate


Picture: The vineyard


Picture: Was there ever such a perennial garden at a South African winery?

Perennials, perennials, perennials

As a fruit specialist, I have to say that I was rather offended to notice that fruit and berry plants, generally edibles, at least in the competition gardens were hardly represented, even in the flower show itself. In the large exhibition tent, the booths with edible plants could be counted on one hand. There were some strawberries (mostly June-bearing strawberries), there were of course grape wines in the South African winery and as I mentioned before, there were citrus plants. But the dominant group of plants in Chelsea are…the perennials. Of course, there is little to say against that. Only one thing: anyone who would ever plant perennials as close as they are exhibited them in Chelsea for the show, would make the perennial producers and perennial suppliers (yes, including us!) quite happy...

Copy paste

I've mentioned this above. Of course, with all due respect, even admiration for the performance of the English gardener, I try to think a little bit critically. What is missing, what could be better?
On the one hand, I miss the originality, on the other hand, however, another trend is that garden situations from nature, at best even from real life, are mercilessly imitated and displayed. For example the wonderful Welcome to Yorkshire garden, which is a perfect, idyllic cottage. There are still a few sheep missing, and then we could have a Baroque shepherd idyll. Maybe that is what the designer (and the merit of Yorkshire tourism advertising) wanted to achieve: to portray the place even better than it ever could be in reality.


Picture: Yorkshire Garden


Picture: The hawthorn dominates the English landscape in May and such white thorns bloom in masses on each hedge


Picture: Flowering hawthorn


Picture: Drought-resistant plants in the M & G Garden

Colours are only tone in tone

When I went through some of Chelsea's first videos with our video editor Reto Rohner, he blurted out: do they still have no colour concepts? And he's right: in terms of colour, there is almost exclusively the aristocratic tone in tone in Chelsea. Maybe because MORE would be too daring? Violet-purple-brown is by far the most popular combination.


Picture: Violet-purple-brown colour combination

Gardening and kitsch

The attempt to bring together fine arts and the garden often ends in kitsch. The rectangular picture and the garden really do not fit together, they do not correspond, they do not even argue. And finally, coordinated tone in tone with the plants: kitsch at the very most. Here is a particularly successful example of garden kitsch:



I like it much better when the picture, the sculpture in the duty of the garden, the garden art stands. The picture directs and centres the view. And in the foreground there is an enchanted place for perennials.




The rose garden by Peter Beales shows a similar effect with rose arches and the like nested one behind the other (in the exhibition tent, not in the competition gardens)



Successful marketing: The Wedgwood Garden – the Wedgewood sales booth

Chelsea is – inevitably – also a very commercial event. The individual gardens, which easily need a budget of some 100,000 pounds, are unthinkable without sponsors, most of which are also listed in the gardens. And that is basically nothing bad, except that the relationship between the garden and sponsor is often a very outward... however, the Wedgewood Garden is quite different: the high-quality tableware brand visualises their tea-dominated idea of locus amoenus, the lovely place where you can drink tee undisturbed, almost ceremonially, in the midst of landscaped nature, in a tranquillity-oriented place. The arched iron sculpture may be the only successful version of the combination of art and the garden: it sets the frame, tames nature to make the place of rest safer and even more beautiful.




And right next to it is Wedgewood's sales booth: on the one hand clearly designed and a bit minimalistic; it is minimalism broken through by the opulent floristry.








You can see it already in the number of photos: the interaction of the garden and the shop, the whole marketing concept has impressed me – and only the hand luggage regulation has prevented that I would have bought useless yet beautiful ceramics.

Are gardens useful?

Of course, gardens are useful! But were there also useful gardening ideas in Chelsea? For sure, I almost always missed a lot by using a camera or video camera in the Chelsea Gardens. This version of a “sunken garden” is quite practical, square, but it looks nice to me; an urban seating area and meeting place. Maybe, yes maybe it could be made a bit smaller, so that it fits into my (and your) garden!


What do the gardens do with us?

Enough of the comments and discussions, enough of the pictures for the time being. In the next few days we will gradually upload videos and interviews from the Chelsea Garden Show onto Youtube. But perhaps you still want to know what such a day tour through the Chelsea Flower Show does with someone and how it feels afterwards.

Very tired and actually very happy!


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