Virtual Chelsea Flower Show comes up trumps

Last week, in normal years, would have seen the start of what has been described as “The Greatest Flower Show on Earth” - the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

For most gardeners this is the start of summer when the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are transformed into one big show ground.

Since 1913 crowds have flocked to the show from all over the world to wonder at the exhibits.

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The centre of the show is the Great Pavilion, covering almost three acres. As a gardener one can only admire in amazement at the stands and how the growers have managed to achieve their displays. Considering the show usually takes place in the middle of May, the exhibits include bulbs which are usually flowering in our gardens in February or March and autumn flowers such as dahlias, asters and chrysanthemums.

Stephen Nightingale SUS-200804-171430001

The smell as one enters the pavilion is breath-taking, with the heady scent of lilies and roses and all the other perfumed displays. Every bloom has been lovingly grown to perfection.

I always spend a lot of time in front of the sweet pea stand where sweet peas are displayed in bowls of all the same colour and each stem has four blooms on it. Any gardener who has shown sweet peas will know this is almost impossible to achieve.

Come out of the Great Pavilion and walk down to the show gardens. It is hard to imagine that only two weeks before it was a bare lawn but now has been transformed into magical show gardens, some with mature trees which look as if they have been growing in that position for years and even brick and stone buildings which look at least a hundred years old.

Of course, this year, like all events, the Flower Show had to be cancelled due to the dreaded coronavirus but I must say the BBC really came up trumps and created a virtual Chelsea Flower Show, looking back at the events in the show over the past ten years.

It is every exhibitor’s ambition to win a gold medal at the show. Each year the gold medal winning show gardens are voted on by the public for the award known as the people’s choice, which is the greatest accolade the designers of the show gardens can achieve.

This year the BBC decided they would run a competition for the Best Show Garden of the decade, to which the public would be invited to choose the best Show Garden designed and created at Chelsea over the past ten years.

When I first started my own company nearly 40 years ago, one of my first enquiries, came from an Italian gentleman who asked if I could build him a patio. When I visited his garden he showed me where he wanted his new patio, it almost covered the area of a football pitch. I took one look at the job and thought this is going to be far too big for me. Having just started out and not wanting to turn the job down, I decided to ask my stone supplier if he could recommend anyone who could help me out with the work. He recommended a young Yorkshire man who had just started his own business. That man was Mark Gregory, who was voted the Designer of the Best Show Garden of the decade at this year’s virtual Chelsea Flower Show.

Let’s hope next year we will all be able to visit the show in person.