Friday 27 May 2011

Farewell to Planet Chelsea....................

Farewell to Planet Chelsea.....................
My last day at the show is always a happy but sad occasion. Something that has been so much a part of my life for the past few weeks, or was it months, is about to be left behind. At this stage I have an overwhelming desire to keep Chelsea and Feel Good about Gardening alive – but I know that next week when the next project emerges Chelsea 2011 will just drift away.

It’s been an interesting show – and as the dust settles some of those amusing moments come back to me. The meeting of two Royal parties in the middle of the exhibit on Monday night. What do you say when two Princes come face to face, and don’t expect to? Do you know each other? Can I introduce................? How many times did I get asked how we get the Monument into the Pavilion. I take that as a compliment – at least it looks part of the exhibit. The torrent of water flowing through the Pavilion on Thursday evening and that wonderful Dunkirk spirit of the Brits wading around in Chelsea awash.

Friday started with a riotous train journey to London with three lively ladies I met at the station on their way to the show. The conversation hopped from French gites, to cup cakes, to ‘Made in Chelsea’, B&Q bedding, the St Cross Summer Fete and a dead purple clematis. This is the garden cognoscenti and they are ebullient form planning their hit list for the day. Needless to say a little garden retail therapy lubricated with the odd glass of prosecco.

So has all the effort been worth it? We’ve had so many lovely comments and compliments throughout the week that I really believe that we achieved something special with this exhibit. Organicstone, M&M Timber, Jim Keeling and Tom Stogdon all helped us so much to achieve what we did. The team from Scotts Miracle Gro, our Chelsea partners have worked with us and are now very much a part of the Hillier Chelsea family. They’ve recorded countless video clips, and certainly the Chelsea visitors have been very willing to tell them what makes them feel good about gardening. Visit to find out.

The plant material has held up brilliantly and the exhibit looks almost as good on Friday as it did on Monday. Some things, such as the deciduous azaleas have got second wind, enjoying the cool weather and relieved to be far away from the cold store. Their next stop is the Chelsea sale at Sunningdale on Sunday morning – then hopefully on to someone’s garden - a real garden.
There is always too much to cram into my last few hours on site – visitors, goodbyes to fellow exhibitors, making breakdown arrangements. That’s the worst bit – arranging for the garden to be raised to the ground – but go it must and so must I. I always leave later than intended – I forget that visitors are arriving as I am leaving. I finally tear myself away and dive into the tube – Planet Chelsea fades into the distance....................

What am I doing next year? – Well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Shrubs are the new herbaceous...........

The word at Chelsea, and hopefully throughout the gardening world, is that “shrubs are the new herbaceous”. Wispy grasses and fragile flowering perennials are making way for bony, leafy structure. Interestingly in the past few years as Chelsea Show Garden structures have got heavier, the planting has got lighter and fluffier – a low haze punctuated by alliums, bearded irises and spiky yuccas and dasilyrions.
Flowering dogwoods with their creamy butterfly bracts have spread from the Hillier exhibit through the showgardens that surround the pavilion – a welcome relief from the walls of hornbeam that have provided the main structure in recent years. Maybe they will be followed by a broad palette of woody plants over the next couple of years. I understand why perennials have been at the forefront of the garden catwalk. They grow quickly, and as a designer you have a good idea of available height and spread. Larger shrubs take years to produce so it’s harder to change the trend. If your design depends on large philadelphus in flower – and they fail to perform- what do you do?
I’ve always been a shrubby myself and its reassuring when Chelsea visitors come onto our exhibit and comment that ‘it’s nice to see some shrubs after all those perennials’. I also think that gardeners are recognising the value of good garden basics which work rather than those new flash-in-the-pan plants which might – or might not. Let’s get away from plant snobbery – plants become “common” because they succeed in a variety of situations. On the other hand some plants are good in a garden, but struggle in pots. You’ll rarely see these at Chelsea or in garden centres so look out for them in real gardens and seek them out.
It seems my shrubs course which is part of the on line programme is rather timely. See you in class and find out ways of using, cultivating those shrubs which provide us with flowers, foliage and structure throughout the year. I wonder what some of these Chelsea herbaceousy gardens would look like in winter?
For that matter I wonder what they will look like for the last two days of the show. Today, Thursday has been cold and showery. Showery that is until around four o’clock when the heavens opened. Thunder, lightening, gusts of wind. Never seen anything like it. After two hours and several attempts to escape I left the Pavilion with a river flowing through the centre, and water pouring from fallen downpipes. Don’t think my Panama will ever be the same again, and I can feel my suit shrinking as it dries out on the train.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Almost back to normal - a more serious note.

Almost back to normal. Left the show on Tuesday afternoon and headed for home. It is difficult getting away as more visitors arrive, including many familiar faces, for the last few hours of the day. In some ways it seems crazy heading back to Hampshire only to return tomorrow – but the incentive of a night in my own bed and a look at the garden is overwhelming.

It’s great to be home for a few hours and my wife and I take a tour of the garden with a glass of wine in hand. The grass has grown, as it always does, but maybe not as quickly because of the dry weather. A sprinkling of rain has brought the flowers on in the meadow – the orchids are popping up with their pale lilac spikes amongst the clover, buttercups and vetches. I don’t think there are as many this year, certainly not as many early purple orchids – they did not like the dry spring.

The cooler weather has started to even the season out a little. The Cornus kousa and Cornus ‘Porlock’ are loaded in blooms again and will be at their peak in about a week – not far off last year. The perennials are just starting to happen and roses opening. The spring might have been incredibly early but now things are getting back to normal.

Away from the show I think all exhibitors reflect on the activity that has consumed their lives for the past few weeks or days. During staging the Chelsea showpeople establish their village community. Although we are all there for media attention it is easy to resent the invasion of press and cameras when their focus is not upon what you want to talk about.

I have become more resigned to the fact that the outside gardens get far more attention than the Pavilion. However I still resent the fact that the Designers and Sponsors of the outside gardens are considered suitable to speak about their own exhibits on camera at the show, while the inside exhibits are often presented by well-meaning presenters who haven’t a clue what they are looking at. I find this approach insensitive and arrogant. Matters are made worse if you are asked to be on your exhibit at a certain time for filming only to discover that all you are required to do is stand by and watch another agonising and excruciating performance. But as one producer told me –“That’s television” – hmm.. That makes me feel much better!
Because those involved in the show are on such a high there has to be a downside – and if a little media aggravation is it, then it’s a small price to pay for the warm reception we get from the show visitors. I never tire of meeting them and talking plants and gardens. Jim Keeling spent Monday and Tuesday on the exhibit alongside his sculpture and really enjoyed talking plants – I think I’ve got him hooked!

And now it’s on with the show – and more chance to enjoy the company of friends old and new amongst the exhibitors, visitors and the RHS Chelsea Show Team. Haven’t said much about them to date. They really are brilliant and balance everyone’s needs and points of view.
Click here to view the Chelsea Live pages from our website.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

66th Consecutive Gold Medal.............

Tuesday evening - The past 48 hours is all a bit of a blur. This morning we recieved our 66th consecutive Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show. Texts pour in from members of the team and friends who follow our progress - all delighted and relieved.

Yesterday disappeared - lots of waiting around but time passed quickly through press day, Royal visit, Gala, and dinner at the Ivy. Beyond tiredness by the time we reached dinner but cannot say I had a second wind.

Slept late - Rick Mark, Graham and Elenor went in early to open up shop with the manning team today has been a fun day - Lots of old friends and plenty of plant interest. Comments amazing as ever - It never ceases to amaze me how supportive and interested our gardening friends are. Thanks to all for making it happen - Now its time for bed but will tell you more in a day or two.

66th Consecutive Chelsea Gold

I am delighted to announce that we have been awarded our 66th Chelsea Gold Medal this morning. More later, but you can read the press release here

Monday 23 May 2011

Tone up Trail

With the exhibit pretty much finished yesterday afternoon, we had some time to try out the exercise equipment. Here's my very first exercise video... I think I'll stick to the day job, and i'm sure you will agree. However being on the deck garden was a very pleasant experience and I must say I would enjoy having a space like this in my own garden. The M&M coolfit Pavilion is a wonderfully airy structure which gives the impression of protection without cutting blocking any of the vistas and you still feel very much part of the garden.

I think if I had an exercise space like this I would use it rather than going to the gym. Although you lose the social aspect of going to an exercise venue it is convenient, you can enjoy the open air and the changing seasons and there is so much to look at.

Sunday 22 May 2011


Well I think so, it is nearly 4pm and I am sure that's almost it. The signage is being put in place, the edges are being repainted, and I just heard Steve assure Cindy, that "that is the last label". Press Day tomorrow, and judging, ready for the results on Tuesday morning. I would love to know what you think; what makes you feel good about the exhibit. Let me know..

Early Start..

Up and out early this morning, for some filming with the BBC on the exhibit; that went well, and we're now into the home stretch. Paul, the electrician has been working all night to complete the lighting that really highlights the plant material, with spotlights and uplighters.

Theres still lots to do this morning - sweeping and clearing the paths, finishing the lighting, and completing the final planting in a couple of areas.

The team have worked really well together and i think our team photo, taken yesterday, really does them justice.

Must get on, lots still do....

Saturday 21 May 2011

Feelgood Factor

The teams made excellent progress this afternoon. Nigel and Neil seem in relaxed mood as the exhibit really takes shape. These guys work flat out during initial construction and staging. As the staging teams take plants from around the exhibit there are trolleys to move and break down, materials to shift and the finishing touches to make to the hard landscaping. This needs plenty of discipline and organisation and Nigel and Neil make it happen.

Here are a couple of videos to keep you up to date with progress.

the Feelgood Factor Garden.

and "Core Values"

Indulgence...the finishing touches

The indulgence garden is complete, and to bring it to life all it needs is those little accessories that personalise any garden. If you like what you see log onto our online shop ( and you will be able to buy (almost) everything you see in this video

Saturday lunchtime; unveiling the Golden Cypress

Jim Keelings Golden Cypress sculpture looks fantastic now its in place, and we unveiled it a few moments ago. As the wrapping came off the sculpture was transformed as the afternoon sun lights up the gold leaf.

We are now working on completing the planting around the monument and putting the finishing touches to the yellow planting under the lime avenue. There already seems to be plenty of media interest around the show; one of the storylines is highlighting the most extravagant displays at Chelsea.

With our magnificent golden centrepiece I think we may hold a winning card. At this stage the paving is still covered with polythene, bags of bark and plants that havn't found their way into the exhibit yet, but as soon as we finish filling all the gaps with bark, tucking in a few ivies and ferns around the edges, the polythene will come up and organic stone's salvation paving will see the light of day. I know that this is the moment when the exhibit really comes to life.

Without the clutter around and through the centre of the exhibit the finished product will look double the size and we will really be able to see the full effects of the planting. You can see some larger photos of the finished areas on our website here

What a wonderful place to be

Chelsea, the weekend before the Show opens is full of excitement. As well as the fabulous plants and gardens there are the remarkable people creating the show that over 200,000 people will visit next week and millions more will see on television and in magazines for months to come.

The job of those on site is to rise to the challenge of entertaining, inspiring and informing the public and they seem to relish it.

Once inside the Great Pavilion, the Monument is hard to see behind the impressive mature trees that Hillier is so well known for. The largest of these amazing trees in 2,000 litre containers. This year, Hillier Nurseries also have an exhibit outside to display Hillier trees and celebrate our being voted International Nursery of the Year in 2010.

On the exhibit Pip has been joined by husband Dave for the weekend. Together they are putting the finishing touches to the Core Values garden.

Fiona is stating on the hard work of barking up the exhibit. Tons of bark are used to cover pots. It makes the exhibit look more natural and just like mulching your garden at home, it will help retain water and keep roots cool if we have hot weather next week.

Lucy is pruning before staging. So much easier to tidy them up before they are stuck at the back of a border. Come judging, every plant is expected to look its best or we could so easily miss out on a coveted Gold Medal. Everyone has to be careful around the show. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to damage irreplaceable plants just before they are needed!

By the weekend there are over 20 people staging on the exhibit. Things are going well and some areas are starting to near completion. Time for a short break and recharge before the final push!

Friday 20 May 2011

The Power of Yellow Planting...................

Now that the planting is in place around the deck the power of yellow is clear - it certainly makes an impact and has the effect I had in mind. whether you like yellow in the garden or not there is no denying that its an attention grabber. The theory is that it raises your metabolic rate - do I feel that - I'm not sure but I do find it uplifting.

Gary, Lucy, Emily and David (with us for the day from Wisley) have been working on the planting in this part of the exhibit. They have sneaked in a little copper and purple foliage which I have to admit only intensifies the surrounding yellow and helps it to link with the planting behind on the Monument. Ricky managed to come up with three light, lovely Robinia 'Frisia' in flower - these are great at extending the yellow theme vertically.

Gary tried out the tone up trail - looked a little nervous on the balancing logs if you ask me.

Rick has been working with John and Fiona on the Tone up trail and planting along the stream . This is bound to be a crowd pleaser with its foxgloves, rhododendrons, ferns and hostas punctuated with dainty aquilegias - hope to show you more of that tomorrow.

And the video.....................

Taking shape!

Its Friday - Its five to five and its....taking shape! Today the whole exhibit is really coming together and looking like the series of gardens I envisaged. Emily and Lucy planted up some of the pots this morning - phormiums, heucheras and yuccas in the yellow scheme and chamaerops, variegated mint and thyme for the blue and silver garden. These containers really start to give a garden the finished look.

I gave Nigel a little instruction on the sit up bench and he soon found another use for it by taking a nap under the Union Jack.

Steve cracked on with the labelling - he makes lists and hands them to Cindy who hand writes all the labels each year. She has a superb hand and personally I think our hand written labels - around 750 of them.

I think the team are really getting into the planting detail now.
Its amazing when they start using some light height in the foreground how the pace appears to grow. Finding the right plants is like finding the missing bits of a jigsaw puzzle - as they fall into place the incentive to find the final pieces become greater.
Some parts of the exhibit are already looking so good I feel quite emotional about it - just hope we can maintain the standard to achieve that final polish.

And now the video.........................

Thursday 19 May 2011

ts video time.....................

To give you a bit more of an idea of how things are looking Nigel and I shot a few short videos this afternoon - This is where the fun really starts as the exhibit takes shape.

In all the excitement as Thursday draws to a close its easy to take your foot off the gas. In some areas it feels as if the planting areas are filling fast - however I know the exhibit will still take a lot more plants to complete the look.
For some larger show plants the party is already over - we don't need hem and they are heading for home - sorry guys - maybe next year.
Because we are trying to reate specific looks in ifferent areas of the exhibit its easy for theteam to get distracted by smaller plants that fit into their particular scheme - this can mean they forget to get those big structure plants in place first. Interesting - because that's what goes wrong with most real gardens. I escaped at lunchtime for a meeting over lunch at The Chelsea Physic Garden - cut quite a ash in my High Viz vest amongst all those elegant garden goers. Lovely vases of sweet peas on the tables.
anyway enough said - here's the first video - Core values

Tried out my exercise deck....

And the Garden of Contemplation.......

a little indulgence.....................

share the Feelgood Factor....

Chelsea - Get the Look

The plants are rolling in today, as trolley upon trolley wends its way up the M3 from Hampshire, and the staging team are all hard at work. (If you want to see their happy smiling faces have a look here...)

Weve already given some thought to some of the planting combinations we will use in-situ, so here's a sneak preview of what we will use. For pictures of the combinations of plants on the actual exhibit,'ll have to wait a bit longer:

Lavender Papillon combined with Astelia banksii, and convolvulus cneorum in "Core Values"

Viburnum plicatum "Mariesii", with Cornus contraversa 'variegata' and Viburnum Davidii in the Garden of Contemplation

For that bit of Indulgence, how about Heuchera 'Peach Flambe', Physocarpus 'Diable d'or' and Rose 'Munstead Wood'

You can see a few more combinations, and pictures when we get ' - go on "Get the Look"

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Wednesday - our first day on site staging plants. This always seems a slow day - lots of big heay plants move into position. I am alwaysreluctant to make final deisions at first - "We'll move it later" seems like a good idea - but I really know it isn't. This year the space is more fragmented by the hard landscaping features. This makes itmore interesting but more challenging. The hardlandscaping team Neil, Nigel, Pete and steve have done a great job getting the hardlandscaping finished by tuesday evening - this makes our job so much easier when the plants arrive. We are all very grateful for the immense help we've had from the lads from M&M and organicstone.

Three lorries of plants from glasshouse and cold store arrive during the course of the morning. This puts the pressure on to get as many of the biggest shrubs and trees into position as quickly as possible - otherwise we will simply run out of space!

Tom and Rebecca arrive with Tom's fantastic slate sculpture - this is assembled on site as the centrepiece of Core Valus - it works! Neil, Raf and Jose concentrate on stream construction. We need to get the liner in place and the stream filled with water before we leave - If not the chelsea fox pays us a visit and will often shred the liner in the night
No kidding - one he stole my space hopper! More later

Follow and win........

Just been looking at some of the Chelsea Show Plants - more about those tomorrow - but tonight I thought we'd have a bit of fun. Here's something special - We showed it last year but I know it will be a show stealer again this year. It you've been following you could win one - especially if I'm in generous mood in the morning..............So listen carefully and have a go. Andy

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Packing our bags.....

Nigel has spent the morning packing up ready for an early dearture tomorrow. The lorry is just about loaded and everyone seems to be in remarkably relaxed mode. I caught up with Nigel to see if he'd got everything - Cement mixer, wheelbarrows, hosepipes, tool kit, flat trucks and the good old plastic chairs - what are they for?

In the meantime Mark and I have been updating the plant list. This year this will be available via the Shoot website - This means that you can access descriptions of the plants and in most cases pictures that wil act as a useful reminder of what you saw and liked at the show - or on the Chelsea live website. You will also be able to order the plants then and there from our online shop.

Tuesday afternoon update ...................

Well its all quiet from London - so I presume all goes well! Spoke to Neil early this morning and khe seemed happy. We had a bit of a puzzle over levels - the transition beteeen the pathway and the paving in the Feelgood Factor garden. This is not unusual because we cannot dig into the ground and change the levels - at this point anyway we are building over a roadway. I know that the lads will sort it out anyway - we have to be adaptable and its no good going into this project with a fixed idea.

Nigel sent some pics through - the pink Rosalie Pavilion lookd great - although I don't remember it having a brick red roof - ouch! I'm sure we'll manage to make it work with a good dollop of purple foliage!

The large slabs being used for the Feelgood Factor garden are one of Brian's creations for organicstone - these look really amazing and will be a great contrast to the random smaller sizes which make up the pathway. Its hard to believe this wonderful flooring is largely made from recycled materials!

I'll touch base with the team later and then of course I'll see it all for myself tomorrow morning - can't wait!

Out from the cold..........

Tuesday afternoon - and a grey and chilly one it is too. We had our Chelsea team briefing this morning - everyone is very excited - especially those with a 5.30 start tomorrow morning! Essential supplies have been loaded onto the minibus - along with our giant Union Jack - more about that later.
Just been down to the cold store - Rick and the team are loading the third and last lorry of the day - the first from the cold store. Large cherry trees, big viburnums, cornus and lilacs are stacked in with some smaller plants: ceanothus, azaleas and the prized sinocalycalycanthus.
This is a chilling job working inbetween a fridge and a larry. The cool conditions are in our favour today - but what will the coming week bring? Plants are dry from the aircirculation fans in the coldstore so most are watered before loading - we'll give them a good soak when they are unloaded tomorrow.

Here's a short video showing plants moving out from the cold............

Before we left for London - one that got away!

This is one that got away - it's now a bit out of date but I thought I would publish it anyway - Tells you a bit about the loading and the plants - Andy

Nigel has spent the morning packing up ready for an early dearture tomorrow. The lorry is just about loaded and everyone seems to be in remarkably relaxed mode. I caught up with Nigel to see if he'd got everything - Cement mixer, wheelbarrows, hosepipes, tool kit, flat trucks and the good old plastic chairs - what are they for?

In the meantime Mark and I have been updating the plant list. This year this will be available via the Shoot website - This means that you can access descriptions of the plants and in most cases pictures that wil act as a useful reminder of what you saw and liked at the show - or on the Chelsea live website. You will also be able to order the plants then and there from our online shop.

Monday 16 May 2011

Just another Magic Monday

The team have had another good day on site. The lads from M&M Timber have done a fantastic job with the buildings and decking, and have even got some of the timber edging in place. The Rosalie Pavilion is now being painted - a delicious marshmallow shade called Sweet Pea - not proving a favourite with all members of the team but I think it will work once the lilacs, roses, red-leaved acers and silver elaeagnus move in I think its going to look quite delicious!

The blockwaork of the stream is in place. This could be the highlight if we get the planting to work. Its long, its graceful and I think it offers great opportunity to create a wonderful perspective. The staging team need to work a little magic. Those magical foxgloves will certainly come into their own drifting through this lot.

Positioning the pull-up bars is proving a challenge and we may have to drop them. This would be a pity because M&M have done a great job making them and Sue found some lovely rope to bind the bars. We'll still have a bit of fun with them during staging anyway - maybe I can find someone else's garden to stage them in?

Nigel's produced another video for you and these are a couple of his pics from today - not a bad effort - I'll make a media luvvie of him yet!

It has been brilliant keeping up with the lads and their progress on Skype. Back in the good old days (God I sound old!) before mobiles we used to have to queue for one of 3 phones in a cubby hole outside the Pavilion - sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't. I remember doing my first Radio Solent report from one of them 20+ years ago.