Royal touch for Chelsea show

Elite guests enjoyed a sneak preview of the greatest flower spectacle in the UK with the opening of the 85th Chelsea Flower Show.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh joined celebrities, including actress Joan Collins, Sir Michael Caine and Joanna Lumley, for a stroll among flower displays and show gardens on Monday.

The event, held in the Royal Hospital grounds in Chelsea attracts more than 160,000 visitors every year and is sure to have something for everyone.

This year includes more than 600 exhibitors, including 19 show gardens, 10 courtyard gardens and more than 100 floral exhibitions. Joan Collins told the Times: “The show is absolutely lovely, there have been some beautiful flowers on display this year. Shame about the weather though, but we are flying to the south of France right away, hopefully the weather is better there.”

Channel 4 News presenter and keen gardener, Jon Snow, also spared a minute to have a chat. He said: “This year, I’m here as a punter, just looking around and enjoying myself. The thing about this show is that you never know what you want until you get here, and this year I’ve seen some wonderful tall, thin, almost vertical oak trees. I’ve spoken to the exhibitor and he said I might be able to buy them off him at the end of the show.”

Another keen gardener who braved the bad weather was singer Kim Wilde, who officially opened the Town and Country collection of luxurious gardening essentials. She said: “I’ve come here for the last eight years and there is always something here to exhilarate you. This year I’m mainly here as a fan, I’m looking for loads of inspiration and different styles.”
The garden enthusiast, who won a gold medal at the show in 2005, is hoping to exhibit again next year. She added: “I’ve already started planning, but we’re still looking for a sponsor. We need about £150,000 to exhibit in the show garden category, let me know if you know anyone who’d be interested.”

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh is also a regular at the show. Speaking exclusively to the Times, he said: “This year has really brought back the English Garden to Chelsea. It’s wonderful to see more herbaceous borders this time, rather than just hard landscaping.”

A first-time exhibiter is Swedish gardener, Ulf Nordfjell, who is displaying The National Linnaeus Tercentenary – a tribute to renowned botanist Carl von Linnaeus (1707-1778).
The botanist, also known as the Father of Taxonomy, is celebrated for his system of naming, ranking, and classifying organisms – still in wide use today. Mr Nordfjell had the honour of having his design officially opened by the King of Sweden, Carl Gustaf XVI and Queen Silvia.
He said: “The Swedish Royal Family has been involved with this project since the very beginning and are helping to ‘sell Sweden’ in a way. This exhibit highlights the legacy of Linnaeus and the importance of his work to this day.”

But there are also more experienced exhibitors at the show. Celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin is exhibiting in the show garden category for the fifth year. The award-winning designer’s Westland Garden includes a pavilion clad in western red cedar with two wings that intersect, providing two glass studio spaces, each with its own deck overlooking a pond. Mr Gavin was confident his design would win him another award. He said: “We’ll definitely win a medal, it might not be gold, but I’m sure we’ll get something.”
Tuesday and Wednesday are reserved for the Royal Horticultural Society’s 350,000 members.

The general public – those who have managed to get their hands on some much sought after tickets – will be able to enjoy the wonderful flower extravaganza tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.