You can overdo the anniversary thing, you know.
Hillier’s have, this week, scored their 70th gold medal in 70 years: an astounding and unrivalled achievement all on its own.
But they can’t just stop there, can they. Oh no. This is also the 25th gold medal winning garden for the exhibit’s spectacularly-shirted designer Andy McIndoe. And an astonishing 50th for the less high-profile but nonetheless equally indispensable Ricky Dorlay, responsible for the daunting task of growing 4000 plants to Chelsea standards each year. They don’t do things by halves, this lot.
Hillier is (I hope they don’t mind me saying this) the grand old man of Chelsea: a reassuring presence wrapped around the great monument at the centre of the Pavilion, a landmark by which you can always orientate yourself and a hallmark of excellence by which everyone else measures their own efforts. You want to know what Chelsea standard plants should look like? Pick any one of the plants on the Hillier’s stand, and that’s what you need to do.
What I’ve always loved about their displays is that even if you don’t like whatever is right in front of you (the garish magenta rhododendron ‘Nova Zembia’ was a wince-inducing moment for me this year) there’s something you do like – really, really like – not far away. In this case, the translucent pale lemon raindrop flowers of Corylopsis sinensis var. calvescens f. veitchiana. Hell of a name, hell of a plant.
The theme this year – Crossing Continents – was a gift for Hillier’s trademark set piece style: a journey around the world in plants. You’re in Africa one moment, then a few steps later it’s Japan, looking at a rivulet of water cascading into a still pool, or Europe itching to settle down on the little seat nestled at the end of a delphinium-lined path in a quintessential cottage garden.
It was, as usual, genius. Happy anniversary Hillier – and may you have many more to come.