RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 - the one with all the irises

Regular readers will know that RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of my very favourite shows of the year.  I just love the thrill of wandering around the huge site and seeing all the new and exciting things intermixed with some favourites that return from year to year.  There are still some favourite stands that have not returned (I hope the word to insert here is 'yet') following the pandemic but this has created new space and new is good too.  Anyhoo, I shall start with looking at some of the gardens that particularly caught my eye.

This is my favourite garden: the Nurture Landscapes Garden designed by Sarah Price which is the creation of the artist Cedric Morris's 'lost' garden at his home 'Benton End'.  I am more than pleased that this garden has won a Gold Medal.  What I love about this garden is that it completely invokes the feeling of a Morris floral painting.  It has the most wonderful muted palette and it looks quite different from any other garden at the show.  It stands out.  
It is a masterclass in planting and the use of colour.  The irises are a crucial part of this garden: Morris was a breeder of more than 90 cultivars of iris, some of which are currently lost but collections are being built up of them and notably at Beth Chatto Plants and Gardens.  I love the colour of the iris used in this garden.  I would not usually have looked at such a colour, far too pastel for me and yet.....  This is a triumph of a garden.

It is not alone in being a great garden.  Let me now move on to the 'A letter from a million years past' garden.
A 'gosh' of a garden designed by Jihae Hwang representing a 'herbal medicinal colony' in Eastern Korea where there is the last primeval forest in the country.  
The garden is planted with native and rare species from Korea and it is just magnificent.  One of those gardens that just calms you as you look at it.  This garden also won a gold medal.
Photo c/o RHS

The RSPCA Garden designed by Martyn Wilson is one I made a bee-line to see.  Sadly these are not my photos as for some reason the one I took of this garden was rather (very) unfocussed!  Regular readers will recall that Martyn, recently took part in my interview series 'The Questions', so it was a pleasure to see the completed garden and meet the man himself.
photo c/o RHS
This is one of the stunning 'dead hedge' containers, that contain dead sticks wood that are so useful for wildlife and yet look very beautiful too.  You can sit on them as a bench and it has hedgehog holes so that creatures can rest in them safely.  I really like this idea, I do have dead wood around the edges of my garden but not everyone wants to do this.  They might want to be wild-life friendly but within their own style; so to have this as a central feature like this is fantastic.  Many of you will know that I have a cat or five and the work that the RSPCA does is incredible.  The garden won a silver gilt medal, I hope it wasn't my blurry photography that caused that.....  but word 'robbed' sprang to mind and Martyn should be very proud of his and his team's achievement.
This is the RBC Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Paul Hervey Brooks.  On press day you often get 'stuff' going on to attract photographers to a garden.   I do not know the names of these two young people, but I had a serious 'League of Gentleman' moment when looking at them and kept thinking of Legz Akimbo, I admit it was that they did just seem to be all legs but it sent me down a rabbit-hole in my mind.  I saw from a distance Reece Shearsmith later on my travels which did not help me shake this idea.  I wonder if Inside No 9 could write a flower show episode.....  This garden won a Silver Gilt medal and in my purely subjective judgement, I thought it should have been a gold.
Photo c/o RHS

I particularly liked how the snowball heads of the viburnum (is it a viburnum?) pick up the white sculptures on the far side of the garden.  I got quite transfixed by this.

Moving on....

One of the great things about Chelsea is that many of the gardens are sponsored by charities that just could not buy the amount of attention that a show garden gets.  Yes the gardens cost a huge amount to make, but to have your name all over the press for a week would cost far more and would not reach the huge audience that a garden at Chelsea does..  The Samaritans are a really important charity who offer life-saving and life-changing services.  They are there for people 24/7 whether you are in a crisis state or just need someone to talk to.  I am a huge fan of what they do, they have helped me in the past and they are a charity I support with a monthly donation.  So their garden was one I was going to make sure I saw.
The Samaritans' Listening Garden is designed by Darren Hawkes and starts with dark, spikey edges leading into a calmer, safer space.  It is all about being listened to.  I think the garden gets its message across well and the planting is very well done.  The garden won a silver gilt medal.
The Myeloma UK Garden: A life worth living garden was designed by Chris Beardshaw and won a deserved gold medal.  This is another garden with a good use of irises.  Myeloma is a type of blood cancer and not curable but it is treatable.  This garden is about calm and being restored by nature.  As you would expect (well as I would expect anyway) from Chris Beardshaw, the planting is second to none.  It is a great garden.
The Centrepoint Garden designed by Cleve West also won a gold medal.  It is about nature taking over a partly demolished house and it is about homelessness and the impact on young people in particular.  It is superbly planted and a lot of the plants are, well, weeds; which is what you would expect when nature is reclaiming.  If it was to be a picture of my house being reclaimed by weeds it would be largely brambles and hawthorn trees.  I think it is very beautiful and it is making a very important point.  
The Memoria and Greenacres Transendance Garden was designed by Gavin McMillan and Andrew Wilson is at first sight dominated by this huge structure.  However the closer you get the more the planting starts carrying you along.
Lots of white poppies and, of course, irises.  These iris are the most incredible colour and the combination with the white is just perfect.  
This is the last garden I will feature today, this vision of bright colour and beauty is possibly the most special garden of the show.  It is a feature garden so not in the medal competition and it is the RHS Eastern Eye Garden of Unity designed by Manoj Malde and reflects his background in the fashion industry and his Indian heritage.  I really love this garden, the colours sang to me and the planting is exquisite.  But why is it the most special garden I hear you ask?  Because on Monday Press Day morning, Manoj married to his partner, Clive Gilmor.  This is the first wedding to take place at the Chelsea Flower Show.  I was not there at the time and it was before many people arrived which I was told by someone who was there made it have even more of a special feel about it.  My sincere congratulations to the happy couple, I wish them every happiness. 

I shall write of more highlights in my next post, until then I leave you with my very favourite moment from the Floral Pavillion
There is a large display of eight 'Heroines of Horticulture' by The Monument, that the RHS selected to feature.  I recognised some of them straight away and some I had to get closer so I could read about them.  It is a fabulous celebration of some incredible women from the history (though it should be the herstory) of horticulture.

Take care and be kind

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  1. What a lovely review of the show gardens! I've been watching the BBC coverage and like so many others, fell in love with Sarah Price's garden. I'm sure it must be even more beautiful in person - thank you for sharing these photos and the other gardens as well. The 'Heroines of Horticulture' - what a great idea, I'll have to look that up as I only recognize a few.

  2. Thanks for sharing some of the highlights of your visit. I can see why the Nurture Landscapes Garden is one of your favorites. The structures and designs of all the gardens are fascinating.


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