19th May 2014
Well I have now been assessed. This is the first stage of the RHS judging process. I had two minutes yesterday morning to run through the main elements of my garden and then the assessors spent half an hour discussing it before leaving, with me wondering what they thought! They were very inscrutable! This morning the full judging panel will be on my garden and then tomorrow we will know whether we get a medal.
To get to this stage we have all been through one of the most arduous final weeks of a process you can imagine. I have not slept a lot, nor have any of the rest of the planting team as we juggled with a palette of plants which is quite unusual.
Occasionally we begged, stealed or borrowed to supplement stocks as views changed about what plant should go where and what it best relates to. There is a real feel of camaraderie at Chelsea Flower Show and everyone tries to help out. I was able to supply a few Lysimachia and some ferns to a couple of gardens at the last minute to help out.
We have also had to struggle with really bizarre weather this week. On two days we had heavy storms including real hailstones. The next day the temperature zoomed up and the sun came out putting all our delicate Trollius flowers under extreme stress and strain so that canopies had to be erected to protect them from the sun. Luckily we only put our peonies and irises out at the last minute.
We started the planting on Friday (nine days ago) and kicked off with the tricky area around the grass mound. The team took two days to three small areas with wild natural planting. The reason? The planting had to go into steep slopes and we needed to achieve an authentically natural look. Well, nobody in their right mind designs undulating slopes and mounds into a show garden like this and few people try to create an ordered wilderness within an artificial space. But we did! This point has been made to me by a number of my peers who have visited the garden this week. In future, I will keep the levels flat and even.
Then we moved on to the water area which again presented a huge challenge as we were working with an unusual palette of plants and had some issues regarding layout. It was crucial that this part of the garden looked really good as it is the first area visitors will see when they arrive.
I was lucky to have not just the planting team of Juliet Hutt, Caroline de Lane Lea, Louise Cummins and Christine Poppelwell but also the support of a great friend, Annabelle Nabarro who is a gardener but also has a great eye for detail. She spent a couple of days with us going through options with our plants and the final effect is lovely.
Finally, in the nick of time, we laid out the Lost Gardens area with a mix of ornamental plants and some wilder species spreading in from the grassed area and from our water area.
We also put in our planted rills of chamomile and thyme and finally completed our planting on Saturday evening, leaving enough time to clean up ready for the assessors.
Today has been the preliminary press day with hoards of media all over the place, taking photos and asking questions. We had a number of BBC TV and radion crews, Channel 7 from Australia and lots of other national and international media.
Extract from Sir William Orpen’s memoirs: An Onlooker in France
The Somme Summertime 1917.
Never shall I forget my first sight of the Somme in summer-time. I had left it mud, nothing but water, shell-holes and mud the most gloomy, dreary abomination of desolation the mind could imagine; and now, in the summer of 1917, no words could express the beauty of it. The dreary, dismal mud was baked white and pure dazzling white. White daisies, red poppies and a blue flower, great masses of them, stretched for miles and miles. The sky a pure dark blue, and the whole air, up to a height of about forty feet, thick with white butterflies: your clothes were covered with butterflies. It was like an enchanted land; but in the place of fairies there were thousands of little white crosses, marked Unknown British Soldier, for the most part.