May is a write-off for me every single year. I always seem to leave normal life somewhere about mid-spring, and then wake up again when the summer’s arrived, slightly bewildered and wondering what hit me (and the garden, which is by then knee-high with weeds).
The main reason for this is a particularly nice one, which is the massive workload I get in the run-up to and during the Chelsea Flower Show. I go there every year with a much-prized press ticket and have a ball. I loved it this year as much as ever: you don’t need me to go on about which garden was best (plenty of others have done it better) but all I’ll say is that my favourite won it. I had Cleve West’s lovely confection as an outside bet for best in show – he said he was hedging his bets by making one side a tapestry of rich, purple-and-burgundy colour while the other end was all soothing greens and whites. I thought it just meant you had two gardens in one, so double the bang for your buck, so to speak. The amazing thing was, it held together as a whole, too, which is quite a feat.
The only other thing I’ll go on about is the Great Pavilion, which is by far my favourite bit of the show, and the bit that makes me feel most humble. Avon Bulbs, Hilliers, Barnsdale, Kirstenbosch, Grenada, David Austin… the roll call of my all-time favourites is nearly the same every year, but there is a reason for that: these are the ones you can depend on to put on an exceptional show of horticultural fireworks, and you always come away bursting with new ideas and marvelling at new plants.
Anyway, that’s quite enough of a show long past now. I brought my annual souvenir away too: I’ve been buying a plant from a Chelsea garden every year since I started going. So far the tally is a Helictotrichon sempervirens (2006), a Heuchera ‘Brownies’ (2007) and this year two: a shining silver Astelia and (impulse buy this one) a fabulous purple-and-green canna which cost me six quid for a five-litre potful from the confusingly-named Gavin Jones Garden of Corian, which was alternatively titled “Elevations” and was in fact designed by Philip Nash – dunno who Gavin Jones was. The garden was OK – not my favourite style, as it was kind of modern and spiky with lots of white hard landscaping mixed with steel and glass – but the planting was fantastic, with a really rich textural mix of exotics and unusual forms of more commonplace plants. I loved (and nearly also bought) the Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ they used and it’s now on my list of plants I must grow before I die.
But there I go, on about Chelsea again, and it’s a week gone by since the last day. Back to work, back to the hedgetrimmers… normal life again.