26th May 2014
We have won a Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show 2014.
Five days later I am still somewhat shocked and it really did not hit me until I got home on the night of the announcement of the awards on Tuesday 20th and watched the TV footage which showed the film the BBC made of me in the Somme retracing my Grandfather’s movements when he went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. Simon Pass the director did a brilliant job. I actually had a lump in my throat as I watched the short film which was strange as it was me who was talking! I turned to my old man and said Oh my God. We won a Gold medal! It had hit home, finally. We were not really expecting it as it is unusual for a first timer to get Gold.
The week had started with a bang on Monday’s press and celebrity day. We had organised a number of people to read poetry and prose extracts from the First World War. Actor Nigel Havers started the day, followed by Rowan Atkinson who read a number of poems throughout the morning, then Stephen Fry, Caroline Quentin and finally Jeremy Paxman. They did a wonderful job and drew enormous crowds each reading was announced by a bugler and it was very moving. Even the paparazzi went totally silent as these wonderful pieces were read. It really had impact.
In the middle of the readings, there was a little diversion as Joey, the horse puppet from the National Theatre’s production of War Horse arrived and really created an enormous impact. Instead of galloping on, Joey quietly climbed the steps up to my Lost Gardens area of the garden and softly sniffed the flowers, twitched his ears, harrumphed and slowly moved his head up and down. The audience of press and VIPs was entranced, it was so, so moving. The actors playing the horse fell totally in with the reflective and emotional mood of the garden. And it was only when Joey went down the stairs again at the end that he made a little rear and neighed, and the sound reverberated around the show ground.
I think the events of the morning were totally in keeping with the quietly sombre but hopeful mood of our garden. There was no over the top stunts, it was very stylish and respectful and resulted in our garden being featured in a number of media including the BBC News that night.
After the VIPs and press had left the whole showground went quiet as the sniffer dogs checked out all the exhibits in preparation of the royal visit. I had visits from Prince and Princess Michael of Kent who also brought Emma Kitchener Fellowes who of course was thrilled to see the Peony Lord Kitchener I had on my garden and subsequently from the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The Duke, a trained architect, showed great interest in the garden and went straight up to the top of the mound which was fun as I loved showing people up there and most people did not realise that it could be walked.
Finally, I awaited Her Majesty the Queen who I had been told was coming to visit too. I was secretly rather sad that she did not get to see Joey as I know that she adores the play and she would have loved that. She came and looked and we talked but I can’ actually remember what I said now.
What a whirl of a day. But not finished yet. We had the Gala preview in the evening with all my sponsors, Coutts, Bechtel and ABF the Soldiers Charity’s guests and we were so very lucky. The weather was perfect.
I did not sleep much that night as I wondered what medal we would get the next morning. I had been a bit of a whooz and had not agreed to be filmed by the BBC TV crew being handed the award by the RHS as I did not want to have that disappointed look on my face. So I was assuming that my team who were there would tell me. The next morning I looked on line at around 7am. The RHS site was down presumably as they uploaded all the medal announcements and finally at 7.15am I saw the announcement of Luciano’s Best in Show but then desperately looked for info on ours and at first could not find anything so we all thought we had no award at all. Finally I spotted it and I was able to phone Chelsea to tell my team.
We were all totally exhilarated. My landscape contractor, Brian Herbert was quite literally speechless and not a little emotional! I was simply in a daze the whole day. It felt rather like my wedding day with people texting, emailing, tweeting all day and the next saying congratulations. I have very little recall of who I saw for the next couple of days.
As soon as I got to the showground, I was interviewed by Monty Don for the TV package that night and then the week continued to be really busy with visitors very complementary about the garden. It had clearly hit a spot in a lot of people due to my close personal history which the BBC film wonderfully portrayed. Most people in the UK have a close relative who went through the Great War so it resonates.
During the week I also attended two really lovely parties on the garden hosted by my sponsors Coutts, Bechtel and ABF Soldiers Charity as well as a number of breakfast briefings when I went through the inspiration behind the garden. I also attended a magnificent Regimental Dinner in the beautiful State Apartments in the Royal Hospital. The guests of honour were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and General Sir Michael Jackson, former Chief of the General Staff and now President of the ABF The Soldiers Charity, made a very touching speech about the whole No Man’s Land project. I felt very proud to have initiated the whole thing.
Finally yesterday it was a final day of the Show. I went to the showground very early, before 7am, as I wanted some time to be on my own on the garden. After 18 months planning and preparation, it was the end and, although parts of the garden will be re-used and recreated elsewhere, it will never again exist as an entity. As I drove to Chelsea I had a lump in my throat as I thought of my lovely Grandfather, Rupert Cary, who would have been so proud of me and of the whole initiative. When I got there it was pouring with rain and walked around and absorbed it for the last time before the crowds arrived. It was a sad and poignant moment.
My thoughts today are with the wonderful team (they know who they are and what they did) who helped me over the past 18 months. It has been truly a team effort and I cannot really express how grateful I am to them all for their support.