Chelsea Flower Show

Nature meets fun and edgy

Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display. The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors. A floral headdress on show. Prince George and Princess Charlotte (bot
The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE, REUTERS
Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display. The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors. A floral headdress on show. Prince George and Princess Charlotte (bot
Prince George and Princess Charlotte (both above), the two older children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in a garden which their mother co-designed.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE, REUTERS
Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display. The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors. A floral headdress on show. Prince George and Princess Charlotte (bot
A chrysanthemum display inspired by the Rainbow television show.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE, REUTERS
Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display. The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors. A floral headdress on show. Prince George and Princess Charlotte (bot
Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE, REUTERS
Potted bonsai are among the different plants on display. The Harmonious Garden of Life (above), designed by Laurelie de la Salle, aims to provide a calming experience for visitors. A floral headdress on show. Prince George and Princess Charlotte (bot
A floral headdress on show.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE, REUTERS

Designs for this year's display gardens span those focusing on climate change and child-friendly spots

LONDON • The Chelsea Flower Show - the most prestigious, most over-the-top floral exhibition in the world - opened on Tuesday with a visit from the Queen to her granddaughter-in-law's luxe-rustic kiddie treehouse set in a pop-up English countryside simulacrum, next to the champagne and gin tents, already doing brisk business in the morning sunshine.

This year's show ends today.

Carrying on since 1913, with brief pause for two world wars, the Chelsea show in London still manages to be fun and besotted, fuddy-duddy and cutting-edge.

It marks the beginning of the English summer social season and draws sold-out throngs of plant obsessives to stroll the transformed greensward of Royal Hospital Chelsea and smell the patent-pending roses.

Beyond the loss of empire and the looming Brexit, nobody does puttering in the backyard quite like Britain, still the globe's greatest gardening nation.

This year's big display gardens featured an homage to the Yorkshire countryside, complete with a working canal lock; a sand-dune flavoured lounge-thing from Dubai; several "urban gardens" for clients with penthouse spaces and big bucks; a Resilience Garden, a first here that focuses on Britain's changing climate; and a quiet, cool, green one for the show's sponsors, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), called the Back To Nature garden.

This last work was co-designed by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wife to a most likely future king, Prince William, and mother to Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte.

Her "woodland space" was "inspired by childhood memories... a place to retreat from the world, to play, learn and discover as well as create special family memories", as described by the RHS.

The forests, the pamphlet informed, are good for a child's mental health and development.

A treehouse perched on an ancient stump, clad in staghorn oak, was the centrepiece. There was a flowing pebbled brook to play in, a swing to swing on and a hollow log to crawl through.

Queen Elizabeth II, dressed in a green coat over a purple and green floral frock, gave it high royal marks. "It's very tidy," she said on Tuesday, according to royal pool report.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's children visited last weekend and were photographed frolicking about in bare feet.

These showpieces and feature displays - the biggest gardens occupy 260 sq m, the floor plan of an ample home - can take weeks of feverish work to assemble, completely from scratch, with "planting teams" going at it almost 24/7, erecting mature (transplanted) elms, sequoias, cedars.

One of the gardens this year featured a temporary giant redwood at 12.8m tall, perhaps one of the tallest ever at Chelsea. It will live here until today and then be transferred elsewhere.

A veteran garden designer confessed that they used to compost most of the plants, which were at their peak for the show - though that practice has ended, and many survivors now find new homes in charity gardens or posh new settings.

England has been nuts for plants since the Victorians made it an obsession.

The Chelsea Flower Show is "a shop window for the world", said Mr Raymond Evison, who has been cultivating clematis for decades. He sells two million plants a year, almost half to the United States.

The latest trend?

"More leisure time, but less time for gardening," he said.

Clients want plants that burst into summer-long bloom, but do not require a lot of pruning.

This was the first Chelsea show since the death of Mr David Austin, Britain's most famous plant breeder, credited with restoring fragrance to the modern rose. But his family and company carried on, with two new roses and a Secret Garden-themed display.

Designer Sarah Eberle made the Resilience Garden for this year's show. "I wanted to deliver a message: Come on, climate change is real, it's here, it's coming," she said.

Ms Eberle has been a garden designer for 40 years. She offered an observation.

Early in her career, the wisdom went, a gardener here cut down her herbaceous perennials to the ground in late October. They would sleep through the winter, grow again in the spring. But now?

"They're growing waist-high by Christmas," she said.

"This is just in my years. There's no hard winter anymore. Many people might miss it. But a gardener? A gardener sees it with her own eyes."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2019, with the headline 'Nature meets fun and edgy'. Print Edition | Subscribe