Some Chelsea memories that last. Luciano Giubbilei, Adam Frost and Chris Beardshaw for different reasons…

It’s Chelsea Flower Show time soon. It is a big treat to go, and I love the whole thing, beginning with scurrying along the road from Sloane Square tube with ladies in floral cardigans and umbrellas and ‘off-duty’ husbands daring Panama hats in often quite chilly mornings. I always look a bit like a cross between a sharply dressed bag-lady and a rambler, firmly believing as I do that soft, firm shoes and layers are required as anything can happen weather-wise. Practicality is my by-word, and a rucksack for all the bits that you accumulate. Makes me sound quite Marple-esque. Not quite! I hope.

As it’s only a month away, I spent some time looking through my photos of past Chelseas just to see what still rang bells for me. I admit it’s almost always the planting that gets me, but there are other great features to remember as well.

Luciano Giubbilei's garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009
Luciano Giubbilei’s garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009

I loved this planting by Luciano Giubbilei. It’s so fresh and sumptuous at the same time. The crisp green of the box, the relaxed wavy grass and then the knockout peonies in a brilliant ruby colour, mixed in with bronze fennel, a plant I love, and just a few wisps of blue salvia in the mix. Gorgeous.

Luciano Giubbelei won ‘best in show’ last year, and what a different approach he used this time.

Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

Cool, subtle, restrained and thoughtful, this lovely mix of creamy-yellow and greens, with tall lupins, foxgloves, just a little blue, this felt calming and meditative. It was a big risk to have an immense pool in the garden, but what an elegant pool it was. I loved the bevelled, stepped edges going down deep into the still water, with the substantial, oblong feeder rill leading to the pool.

The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

And sometimes, it is a small element of a design that remains with you, and you recognise why you took the photograph. For example, this bench was a small part of the overall design, but it is an object of beauty in its own right. Adam Frost’s Homebase garden, created a harmonious and enjoyable space which begged to be used.  It is always a shame, somehow, that you can’t step into some of the gardens, right there and then.

Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014
Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014

And a sculpture that was profoundly moving was included in Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research UK in 2013. Beardshaw, from his own experience as a rheumatoid arthritic, created a deeply engaging garden of surprising planting and superb sculptures by Anna Gillespie and Michelle Castles. This bronze crouching figure, covered with acorns, is doubled up with pain and fear at the beginning of the diagnostic journey. It took my breath away.

The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013
The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013

mmm….it’s only 4 weeks away.

Bright sparks for a slow Spring…

Well, maybe it’s not that slow. If I was a meterologist, I would probably say that and reel off statistics to prove it. But, right now, with deluging rain and winter temperatures, it all is a test of faith somehow. But, the lengthening light is helping some plants to make a show in any case. Yesterday, I bumbled out and almost fell over these…

Tulipa linifolia Mar 15

So red it hurts...Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15
So red it hurts…Tulipa linifolia, Mar 15

I had forgotten- as I am not a great list-maker- that I had bought these and actually planted them where they want to be. Species tulips are small gems, which generally prefer gravelly, well-drained conditions and then they must be left alone. Very slowly, they will clump up and come back each year, as long as you remember where they are, and don’t stick a fork through them when dormant. They withstand poor weather pretty well with their stumpy legs, and so are ideal for times of low morale, like these. Pillarbox-red doesn’t get close to the brilliance of the red. I didn’t buy these from Avon Bulbs, but I could have, and Avon Bulbs always have a stand to remember in the big tent at Chelsea. The link shows you their display which won a Gold again. And there you can see from the planting list, Tulipa Abu Hassan, which I have often read about and coveted. It’s a normal tulip, if you see what I mean, and it is quite gorgeous. And the name is enough for me!

And, whilst bumbling about outside, surely one of the finest activities in the garden, the sun came out and, for about half an hour, Spring was back. You could almost hear the energy in the garden changing. Blooming for once at the same time as the white Japanese quince, Magnolia stellata, the only magnolia I grow, had burst its buds. Looking for all the world as if a flock of tiny doves had landed in the garden, it is a delight right now. Against the papery last-year flowers of the Hydrangea quercifolia, it brings real life into the garden.

Magnolia stellata Mar 15
Magnolia stellata Mar 15

And just along from the magnolia, the big, fat, unfurling buds of the Paeonia ludlowii var lutea. This was a purchase back in Scotland from Dougal Phillip’s nursery outside Linlithgow. Which, by the way, has a really good tearoom, albeit no longer in the walled garden of Hopetoun House, soup and a cheese scone, fantastic. But back to the paeony, it was in a ‘lost and found’ section, for desperate, homeless plants that had lost their tags, and their looks temporarily. So, for £3 a total snip.

It is a stately plant. It may take some time to get going, but when it does, from the fat buds you get gorgeous papery bright yellow flowers and the most refined, dissected, bright emerald green foliage. in fact, it would win for the foliage alone.

Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15
Fat buds of Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea Mar 15

And then I turned round, and the sun had backlit my rather muddy coloured deep pink hellebores, and I had to breathe out. Really lovely.

Backlit hellebores, Mar 15
Backlit hellebores, Mar 15

And now, it’s raining again!

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