I’d been lucky enough to visit Gardeners’ World Live and Tatton Park many years ago. Two years ago, it was Hampton Court Palace Flower show, helping with the manning of the Rolawn stand, situated next to the turf sculpture created by Tony Smith. Imagine how thrilled I was to be asked to accompany our Sales and Marketing Director, Jonathan Hill, for my first ever trip to the Chelsea Flower show.
The day started with a chance meeting in the hotel with Adam Frost who is currently to be seen on Gardeners’ World revamping his new garden. Adam was filming at Chelsea for the BBC. He chatted to us about his new garden, the school behind that garden and possible future collaboration with Rolawn.
On entering the show, we headed through the floral marquee to get to the main show gardens as early as possible. Even at 0810 the crowds were starting to build up. First one up was The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden designed by Tracy Foster. Rolawn supplied turf for the garden which provided a nice border, although it was disappointing not to be named as a supplier, especially as we are a Yorkshire company. A coastal garden, it was complete with boat and a duck!
Onto Chris Beardshaw and The Morgan Stanley Garden which won Silver Gilt. He was robbed, as they say, as it was easily the best garden, in my opinion and many others as it rightly won the Peoples’ Choice award. Beautifully planted with herbaceous perennials a winding path took you to a covered seating area. All the planting was done into Rolawn Blended Loam, Medallion turf being used on the perimeter, nicely framing the garden. Whilst watching Chris being interviewed, we were entertained by a glamorous lady celebrating her 70th birthday and trying to get his attention, but sadly, she failed. We also didn’t manage to chat with Chris as Peter Seabrook turned up and he took precedence over us.
We then headed on to the Artisan gardens and Sarah Eberle’s The Viking Cruises Garden of Inspiration. Inspired by Gaudi, stone and mosaic was used with palms, succulents and Mediterranean perennials. Rolawn has supported Sarah for several years and were pleased to do so again. Sarah was absolutely lovely with her welcome and chatted away despite being exhausted.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had a lovely garden which invited a discussion with a couple over what plant we were all looking at. I thought it to be an Aquilegia, when in fact it was Thalictium ‘Black Stockings’. I was pleased they gave out plant lists as I fully intend to buy one. The Seedlip garden celebrated the art of distillation and whilst I loved the Geum ‘Mai Tai’, I’m not sure about non-alcoholic spirits!
I had no idea that an International Boatbuilding Training College existed until I saw the boat in the IBTC Lowestoft: Broadland Boatbuilder’s Garden. The boat was a ¾ size replica of a 900-year-old boat unearthed in 2013 beside the River Chet. The IBTC is open 50 weeks a year; if I ever get to Lowestoft a visit is on the cards.
In the marquee, 40 Sunbury Road was a modest, suburban, back garden, developed by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), working with Peter Seabrook and The Sun. As a ‘proper’ back garden, it featured a fabulous lawn, Rolawn of course. It featured a seating area, vegetables, a ‘man’ shed and made use of Wonderwall to create vertical gardens. I particularly liked the edible Wonderwall in the greenhouse.
Hillier’s had a lovely display, with Roy Lancaster signing books. The star of their display was Davidia involucrata, otherwise known as the ‘Handkerchief Tree’. A memory book was placed under the tree allowing you to reflect on your past and share what sparked your love of gardening. This is a special tree for me with my in-laws purchasing one for our 25th wedding anniversary. Nine years later, it, and us, are still going strong. Onto Bloms Bulbs, where we had a very friendly greeting and a long chat with Elaine Blom. Their tulip display was amazing, as was the turf. I wonder who supplied that… There was great interest in this stand with customers placing lots of orders and you could see why.
There was an amazing display of plants in the marquee. Carnivorous, where we had a lesson on looking after them. Basically, don’t start splitting them until the plant is about six years old as it sets them back. A bit longer and they split far better and the plants are much bigger. Onto ferns, dahlias, peonies, proteas and a wall of daffodils, to name but a few.
Decorum went to pot as various awards were given, with much popping of corks and raucous squealing from the flower arranging contingent.
We wandered outside to the sculpture area near the river entrance. We chatted to James Parker with his slate sculptures, displayed on little beds of Rolawn turf. A lovely chap, he had sold all his sculptures and seemed a little overwhelmed. Onto Brian Alabaster who also uses Rolawn turf to display his bronze sculptures. He and his wife, Franny, were delightful and their swans and girl with cupped hands were fabulous.
We had a long chat with Philip Harkness of Harkness Roses. A lovely gentleman, we talked about the vagaries of RHS judging. He was also robbed! His display was fabulous and very different to the others. You could walk around and in it and see the roses as they might be on a rear terrace. Years ago, I was lucky enough to be given a Virginia McKenna and he asked me how I prune it. I said that I hack it down each year, then hastily amended that to pruning… Oops, rude! He told me hacking was what it needed and I was pleased to admit I do it twice a year. He then told me that it is quite unusual in that as a bud it doesn’t have a scent but smells as it starts to open to attract pollinators but as it broadens out it stops smelling as job done. It’s a beautiful rose which seems to flower non-stop.
Apologies to all those gardens or displays I haven’t mentioned, there was so much to see, it was hard to take it all in. So, my memories of Chelsea are of friendly people with the same interests at heart and happy to engage in conversation. There were lots of weird and wonderful outfits, mainly worn by men. I loved the tulip tie and tulip shoes worn by Dougie McMurdo on the Bloms stand. My favourite garden, Chris Beardshaw’s. My favourite plant, no, can’t do that, my favourite plants were the proteas (Kelways), the peonies from Binny Plants, the roses from Philip Harkness (all of them) and that lovely Thalictium ‘Black Stockings’. A great day that will last long in the memory.
Davina Turner, Company Secretary, Rolawn