Generally speaking I am not the kind of person who wins lotteries or ballots. I don’t even come out of tombolas or raffles particularly favourably. I am the man that walks away with the cider vinegar or the oversized tea cosy fashioned from yarn that looks like it would induce an electric shock. But today fortune was smiling on me as, for the very first time, I managed to get my hands on that most precious of prizes, a Chelsea Flower Show Press Pass. Rather like turning left on a plane, once you’ve experienced preview day at Chelsea it is hard to go back. There are film crews, photographers, hacks and celebrities galore, but compensating for that is the space and time to take in one of the greatest celebrations of horticulture on the planet. It was as if all my birthdays had come at once. Of course I will be back tomorrow for the first member’s day, but the experience will feel decidedly ‘economy’ compared to today, even though I only had a couple of hours to spare and an iPhone in my pocket.
Despite the inclement weather (high winds and drenching showers), most of the show gardens on Main Avenue were holding up well. I felt for the designers of the Hidden Beauty of Kranji garden who had bravely bedded out orchids beneath palm trees almost bent double by the gale. My highest hopes were for Dan Pearson’s Laurent Perrier garden, but, exceptional as it was, I am not sure it’s a shoe-in for Best in Show. So skilled is the garden’s execution that it appears to have been torn straight from the Derbyshire countryside and pasted into the grounds of the Royal Hospital. It is wild and authentic, but is it a Chelsea garden? We’ll know what the RHS judges think first thing tomorrow morning. If the accolade does not go Dan’s way, My top tips for the big prize would be The Retreat, designed by Jo Thompson for sponsors M&G investments, and Matt Keightley’s Hope in Vulnerability garden for Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale. Jo Thompson has created an archetypal English garden (above), with a contemporary twist. Matt’s design (below), inspired by the Mamohato Children’s centre in Lesotho, made my heart sing with it’s colourful planting and warm, friendly atmosphere: if not the top honour it deserves serious recognition.
Given my rare good luck, I think it’s only fair to share with you the highlights of my afternoon at Chelsea. Whether you are visiting, watching the TV coverage or admiring from afar, I do hope you enjoy the show. Check back throughout the week for more pictures, analysis and my top 10 Chelsea plants for 2015.