Rose News From Around The World
POOR WEATHER AT CHELSEA CAUSES PROBLEMS
The Royal Jubilee rose looks worryingly floppy and the Turk's head lilies won't open on the penultimate buildup day
It was a mild, calm day at the Chelsea flower show on Friday, which is more than could be said for the gardeners. With a bitterly cold winter followed by a hot, dry March and the wettest April on record, plus the odd slash of hail and sleet in the last weeks of the buildup, their nerves were shredded.
Nigel DunneTt's rainwater-saving drought garden was built while rain was coming down in torrents. Now the rain had stopped, he had to fill the pools with tap water, and it was so dark that his swaths of Turk's head lilies would not open. "They will open," he said determinedly, "and if they don't, they look very nice as buds."
According to young David Austin, his arms full of a rose bush almost as tall as himself, this was "the worst Chelsea, no question, the worst". Old David Austin, founder of the eponymous rose-growers and still a flower show regular at 86, would be along any minute to check his work. All their show roses had to go back into heated glasshouses to persuade them to bloom in time, and some did not like the treatment at all – including Royal Jubilee, a new rose that is looking worryingly floppy before the Queen's visit on Monday evening.
"A lot of patience. A lot. But no swearing," Darren Share, head of Birmingham council's gardens, said firmly. The centrepiece of the Brum garden is an old Mini, confiscated from a colleague's wife and now planted all over with sedum. "Done her a favour. I reckon we saved somebody's life when we took the engine out of that."
If the plants all die in Tony Heywood and Alison Condie's Glamourland, it would be an artistic statement more than a disaster. Their concept garden is about the struggle between natural and artificial worlds, with a soundtrack nightmarishly mixing birdsong and computer game noises. So far nature seemed to be winning, Condie conceded, down on her knees tidying the ground-cover plants that were being pecked to pieces by birds, and breathing in a heady reek of fox pee.
Diarmuid Gavin was reclining on a sofa 12 metres (40ft) up in the air, giggling. "Anywhere you like – astonish me!" he chirped as one of his gardeners staggered past, weighed down by pots of lilies. Last year he created Chelsea's first and almost certainly last flying garden, hauled into the air by a crane. While working on that he was walking along the river past Albert bridge, which was swaddled in scaffolding while being refurbished, and had a brainwave for this year's show: the hanging gardens of Babylon, on five levels and 24 metres tall, involving 4.2 miles of scaffolding and trees sprouting out at wild angles.
The way up is by alarmingly swaying lift past the first-floor vegetable garden, second-floor bar and third-floor potting shed, to the rooftop. Down, for the brave, is by stainless steel tube slide, inspired by Carsten Höller's at the Tate. "I'm going to do something really special next year, I've got it all in my head, just you wait," Gavin said. "It'll be a surprise."
In truth, the only way he could surprise Chelsea is if he brings a neat rectangle of nicely mown lawn, with a few daisies to add excitement.
She probably would not say it too loudly in front of the gardeners, but the weather struck the deputy show manager, Sarah Easton, as pretty perfect. "No watering this year, so we're really happy," she said, "and the result of all that rain is that it all looks incredibly lush for visitors."
In the wretched weeks of April, she had a mud crew scraping the top level of soil off the show garden sites and a puddle crew on standby to pump out developing lakes. "Incredible camaraderie" developed as a result, she said.
Early visitors included Daniel Chamovitz, American author of What a Plant Knows, and a bit startled by the trench warfare of Chelsea on the penultimate buildup day: "Wow. More plywood than plants." He was charmed by a tiny Japanese-designed, moss-covered cottage. "What does moss know?" he pondered. "Moss doesn't really care. Give me water and light and let me just sit here and hang out and photosynthesise, that's what moss knows."
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