June 2016

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show over for another year - My life, for so many years now, has been punctuated by this event - come rain or sunshine (this year was mercifully warm and dry) I have stood the show for what in effect amounts to my entire adult life - With this in mind I thought to share a few images of both our stand and the show happening around us, to give you a view as I see the show.

We (Mark, Dave and I) arrive from the Cotswolds after an early start to our pitch, being a small patch of grass in a rather smart park in central London. I have been up two days before with Simon and John to build the fencing - its tradition! By the time we are allowed to begin work on our stand the show build is already in full swing with marquee up and show gardens in excavation overdrive mode. Over the next ten days we are back and forth until all works completed in time for all important Monday press day and judging - As a side show to the main judging we, as trade stands, are also appraised and I am pleased to say this year we moved up a notch to 4 gold stars, thanks in no small part to my wife Katie's wonderful planting. After the press at 4pm comes "The Queen" who, at 90, processed past our stand and around the show taking in all the show gardens and plantsman displays, as well as paying her respects at the poignant hand knitted ANZAC memorial poppy field in front of the Royal Hospital - a view newly opened up after being for years hidden behind a none to tidy hedge. And always surprises - this year there was a train carriage used in Michael Palins' around the world in 80 days, tucked in a corner Tom Hoblyn's amazing Indian garden, and a garden in a cube of granite!

A small tradition of mine, just before the show starts proper, is to pop into the tent and in the tranquillity that is in the eye of a storm, quietly look around the show. I stand in wonderment at the Bonsai display (I tried it once and my tree died in a week!), sniff long and deeply filling my nose full of scent from the roses of David Austin (my mother's garden now having a bush from so many Chelsea's that we have lost count). I like to look at the fruit and veg just to remind myself that it really is still just a flower show and ponder the insect eating plants which being so wonderfully weird both appeal and appal in equal measure. Before leaving the tent I just take a moment, take a breath and stand quietly in front of the fields of colour looking upon the Alliums, the Narcisi and the Irises as I would look at a painting in the Tate - perfect! Back to the show outside and the main event for most; the show gardens. I feel privileged to watch them come together from a jumble of cranes, cement mixers and toil, to blossom into the horticultural works of art they truly are. Andy Sturgeon's best in show, a slice of Provence with James Basson's garden built to a gold standard by my fellow Gloucestershire Chelsea stalwarts Peter and Angela of Peter Dowle plants and gardens, the Fibonacci garden which came to life when everyone had gone home! And of course Diarmuid Gavin's clockwork eccentricity - some, but by no way all, of the highlights and of course Chelsea would not be Chelsea without the Pensioners, always happy to stop, chat and have oh so many photos taken.

Not forgetting we are a trade stand, the show begins in earnest when the Queen leaves (Small Royal Joke.. Queens's mobile rings - Equerry says - Ma'am you should answer that, it might be someone important!) and Gala Night begins, though it's not so tough with glass of bubbly in hand. It is here, I start talking and where in daylight I do not stop for six days - Katie and Laura my office manager are on the stand with me in relay for the duration and we all happily talk, sell and hand out brochures until the show ends with the ringing of the bell at 4pm on Saturday. The Show then erupts with activity - no longer the slow meandering crowds snaking lugubriously in the heat, now the steps are urgent and the sound of genteel haggling can be heard all over from those wanting to get to all the bargain priced plants. We sell all ours in concert with our neighbours, apart that is for the plants destined for our own garden! Pleasantly exhausted we drive home that evening leaving the organised chaos that is Saturday night breakdown to others (I have been there done that). I return to a calmish Monday morning at the show with the Team (Brother Adam, Mark, Dave and I) to break down the stand, load the lorries, clear the pitch - For me the show only truly ends when we are signed off and I leave with my white 'permission to leave' ticket in hand. Another year over, another year older and another Chelsea to look forward to..

Best regards

Alex

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Alex Puddy
Architectural Heritage

phone: +44 (0)1386 584414

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