Thousands will descend on the six-day festival between May 22-26, to witness the spectacular flora and fauna vying for the judges’ attention.
In a huge nod to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, there will be more than a hint of patriotism running throughout the displays.
Flying the flag for Down Under will be Jason Hodges, fresh of the set of TV’s Better Homes And Gardens, and the landscaper is promising to wow Londoners with his take on a Sydney backyard.
Down Under dreaming
The iconic Australian backyard is wilting in the face of over-development, but Hodges, with his working-class roots and an invigorating Aussie bluster, has bowled into London to champion a place that defined every Australian’s childhood.
His show entry, The Trailfinders Australian Garden, features a lemon tree, a fire, and a pizza oven as the main elements, has already been subjected to much hype.
“I feel like I’ve already won,” the 39-year-old says. “My theory is I’ve got the gold medal because they accepted my design. It can only go wrong now on account of skills and the weather, and I’ve got a great team – I just picked my mates. There’s not much
I can do about the weather.”
The garden pays homage to Hodges’ hometown, Willoughby, on Sydney’s north shore, with pergola beams clad in fence palings, a pavilion with a barbecue and pizza oven, pillars clad in recycled corrugated iron, and a rear garden wall made of sandstone, constructed at an angle reminiscent of the piers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Of course, there’s plenty of lawn, too.
“I always say I learned more standing at the barbecue with dad than I did at school, so there’s a lot of fire in my garden,” Hodges says. “You can sit at a fire and speak your mind. When you go camping, the highlight is sitting by a fire, with a guitar, with loved ones. Even when everyone’s gone to bed you can dream by a fire – without sounding like
a pyro. I call it nature’s therapy.”
The pizza oven reflects Australia’s multiculturalism, he says. “I grew up around a lot of Greeks, and with Italian neighbours. They all had a pizza oven, so in every house I own I always build a pizza oven. Everyone gets a kick out of making pizza, so it really is
a great communal feature.”
Hodges is only the eighth Australian involved in the Chelsea Flower Show’s 99-year history, and even if his garden doesn’t win, at least he has given homesick Aussies a taste of home, however fleeting.
“When I was growing up, all I wanted was a ute and a dog, and not to have a boss, so I’m pretty happy with my lot.”
Enter a virtual world
RHS Glamourlands: A Techno Folly is a dynamic, abstract spectacle designed to represent the Dorset coast. The installation, within a mirrored industrial steel chamber, combines moving animation, a computer- game soundscape, and abstract structures covered in sparkling jewels. There are also gnarled, wind-blown pines, and partially laminated plants to give the impression of being both alive and preserved.
Behind the concept are Tony Heywood and Alison Condie, who live in Paddington, and are otherwise responsible for beautifying many of London’s leafy squares.
“I want to take people into another dimension, the way gaming devices do,” Heywood says. “We are all living in highly exaggerated and intensely bright atmospheres, getting lost in TV and computer games, and I want people to walk in here and equally lose themselves.”
Capability Brown, the heralded 18th- century English landscaper would be turning in his grave, Heywood reckons. “This notion of reflecting the untouched, wild aspect of nature in our gardens challenges the expectation that a garden has to have that romantic aesthetic, woodland and roses.”
Hodges has set the bar high in the new Fresh Gardens category and, as a result, the field is packed with creations of boundary-shifting horticultural proportions.
The Easigrass Garden is a verdant metaphor for jealousy and desire, with
a cage at the centre to represent the feeling of entrapment when the green-eyed monster strikes. Delve inside and you are confronted with a jungle of green Perspex rods, artificial grass, and white orchids, surrounded by ferns emerging from a carpet of white Sutera.
Have your phone at the ready: gardening has just entered the cool kids’ world. In this garden, a wall of vertical planting has been meticulously constructed to form a QR code, so when you scan it with a smartphone, you are directed to a website that tells you more about the creation. This is a bold design from Scotscape Ltd and Treebox Ltd, and is the first time the show has dabbled with such technology. Moving on up, kids!
The Chelsea Flower Show is May 22-26 | From £22
Royal Hospital Chelsea, Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4SR
Tube | Sloane Square
- The Royal Horticultural Society’s first Great Spring Show was held in 1862 at the RHS garden in Kensington.
- Not even the first half of World War I could halt the show. However, it was cancelled in 1917 and 1918.
- There are 250,000 flowering species of plant out there. Only 85 per cent have been catalogued.
- Some 160,000 people attend the show each year – a number limited only by the capacity of the 45,000 sq m (11-acre) ground. All tickets are pre-booked.
- The oldest known flower, Archaefructus sinensis, dates back 12.5 million years. Discovered in China, it is thought to have grown in the shallow lakes at the time of the dinosaurs.
- It will take about 2500 man hours over 17 days to build the Trailfinders Australian Garden this year, with 38 tonnes of tools, equipment and materials sent from Australia.
- In 2011, Diarmuid Gavin’s Irish Sky Garden was the first at Chelsea to be suspended in the air.