Alan Gray reports on Chelsea Flower Show where the standard was as high as ever.

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The Chelsea Flower Show has been and gone again and I expect that many of you, like me, have watched it on television. Personally, I think that this is one of the best ways of being able to see everything but, the downside is that you have to see just what the television company wish to show you and we have to put up with the presenters!

Nowadays it is the show gardens that really stand out, for there appears that there are less exhibitors in the grand marquee than there used to be and I think that some of the stands are smaller too. I suspect that the reasons for this are purely economic for it costs a phenomenal amount of money to exhibit in this area, not to mention the staffing costs. However, there is still a lot to see and the general standard is as high as it ever was.

The outside gardens were stupendous as you would expect for they are sponsored by large companies that generally have a budget to match their size. The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Cleve West was really fantastic; it was very grand with large topiarised specimens of finely clipped yew supplied Hortus Loci, a nursery that specialises in large plants, these were shaped as obelisks with circular, bun-shaped tops.

A very grand and rather special stone Well Head, some spectacular stone paving and a pair of gate piers with very impressive, rusty, metal gates. These I should have preferred to be painted for I do not share the current passion for rust – to me it looks as if the object has been neglected!

However, the most charming touch in this exquisite garden were the two rills that flowed out from the base of each brick pier alongside the paved path, just a small trickle of water but, it brought a liveliness to the whole garden that was stunning. The under-planting to all of this was a soft palette of loose layers of herbaceous plants which was chosen deliberately so as not to undermine the architecture. Is it any wonder that this garden cost the astonishing sum of £250,000! I hope that it finds a suitable permanent home after Chelsea for it truly deserves one but, it will have to be in a suitably grand location with the benefit of a rich benefactor!

Ian Roofe and I had the opportunity to look around the show on Monday before the judging had taken place as we were there for BBC Radio Norfolk and we both agreed that this garden should get the Best in Show award which indeed, it did.

I had a long chat with Chris Beardshaw about the garden that he designed which evoked the spirit of the Furzey Gardens that are nestled in the heart of the Hampshire’s New Forest; it recognises the work of Furzey’s Learning Disabilities Team. Chris worked closely with Furzey’s team to create an evocative design that incorporates a large collection of acid- loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, acers and primulas. This is the kind of garden that harked back to the good old days of Chelsea.

There was some concern that such a garden would be thought of as old-fashioned when so much of today’s planting is so very different being less formal with the addition of many species of grasses and species plants. However, it was highly regarded earning Chris and his team a well-deserved Gold medal.

Refreshingly, many of the plants that were used had been propagated from Furzey’s own garden and had been meticulously cared for by the students.

The garden was a magical dell that was breathtaking in its structure and design and the star plant for me was a low growing rhododendron called ‘Loch Leven’. This had, unusually for a rhododendron, shiny leaves which are a plus but, it was the flower buds that I really loved. These were a very bright rusty-cinnamon, they were almost better than the flowers which were a clean shade of creamy-white.

The garden was funded by donations and in-kind support and will be rebuilt after the show at the Furzey Gardens.

Gardeners are always on the search for new plants and there cannot be too many gardens of around two acres that contain as many as five thousand different plants. Christine and Phillip Greenacre invited me to see their garden at Furze House in Rushall near Dickleburgh a few weeks ago. They are opening for the National Gardens Scheme on June 23-24 and August 4-5.

The garden here is carefully crafted with an informal layout consisting of a series of island beds which are raised and neatly edged with log-roll, this allows for perfect drainage for the soil is built up and the planting then is mulched with bark.

It is only four years old but already there is an air of permanence about it with some plants running around hither and thither although Christine is quite a strict task master and I suspect that if any of them overstep her rules, their wandering will be severely curtailed! One plant that I had not seen growing but had heard of was the charming ‘Snow Poppy’, Eomecon chionantha, which comes from Eastern China; this was produces its snow white poppy-like flowers intermittently all summer long. I was generously given a piece which has rooted and will, I hope, soon adorn the garden here at East Ruston Old Vicarage.

There are some witty touches too such as the alarming sight of a full grown, ornamental crocodile basking on the rockery near a large pond. It provides amusement for the couple’s grandchildren encouraging them to enjoy being in the garden – which is the first step to some of them showing an interest in this absorbing hobby.

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