Great to see the veg back at Chelsea. We had a brief flurry of edible love back in the mid-noughties, when the GYO trend was riding high, but in recent years they’ve gone back to hiding behind the skirts of flouncier irises, alliums and other glamourpusses.
No longer. This year there were pistachios on the Best in Show garden and potatoes in the Pavilion (to be fair, they never really went away). Even the RHS Plant of the Year was an edible (the genuinely ground-breaking dwarf mulberry ‘Charlotte Russe’). For a dedicated food grower like me, it was heaven.
The Chris Evans Taste Garden
I really liked the Radio 2 Feel Good gardens this year. They had all the Chelsea pizazz but were more accessible than the more highbrow show gardens: these were true crowd-pleasers, and unashamedly so. None more than the Chris Evans Taste Garden, designed by talented edibles specialist Jon Wheatley and packed with astonishingly perfect vegetables grown by Suttons Seeds’ secret weapon, Terry Porter, whose slightly arcane specialism is producing show-standard vegetables out of season for the flower shows.
I loved everything about this garden: and particularly the big trough full of cutting flowers at the back (including a ginger dahlia, ‘Cheyenne’, in tribute to Chris Evans’s famous carrot top). Just goes to show, you can squeeze a cutting garden in just about anywhere.
The Viking Cruises Garden of Inspiration (gold)
My favourite of all the Artisan Gardens this year. And just look at that orange tree. I have seen orange trees in Italy, France and Florida. But never have I seen one as perfectly orangey as this one. Mouthwatering.
The Potato Story (gold)
Morrice and Ann Innes
Into the Pavilion now, and potato enthusiasts Morrice and Ann Innes became the first exhibit in the history of the show to win a gold medal for a display of potatoes. But what a display. I thought I know a bit about spuds, but came away from this realising quite how far I have yet to go. Morrice (resplendent in his kilt) told me he grows every single one of the 140 varieties on display each year. Only six or so tubers of each, granted, but they take up about half a hectare of back garden. Now that’s dedication.
Robinson Seed & Plants (Silver Gilt)
Loads of unusual veg on the immaculate Robinsons stand. Many, like achocha and cucamelons, I’ve grown already. But these snake gourds turned my head. Apparently, as well as eating them or making medicines from them, you can also turn them into didgeridoos. Who knew.
Also on the Robinsons stand was a rather fabulous edible wall, planted in pockets. This lot included American land cress, watercress, parsley, red-veined sorrel, Bull’s Blood beetroot, rocket, two types of lettuce, electric daisies, New Zealand spinach and asparagus peas. Not bad for a ‘wall’ that measured no more than about 3ft wide by 2ft high.
Tom Smith Plants (Silver Gilt)
And I just had to give a mention to the hottest exhibit in the Pavilion. One for masochists, sorry, chilli lovers everywhere, ‘Dragon’s Breath’ was bred pretty much by accident by Mike Smith, owner of Denbighshire nursery Tom Smith’s Plants. He sent the fruits off to Nottingham Trent University, and much to his surprise they returned with a scorching 2.48 million reading on the Scoville Heat scale. Just to put that into context, the current world record holder, the notorious Carolina Reaper, hits a mere 2.2 million. Mike is now awaiting confirmation from the Guinness Book of Records. Apparently if you were actually stupid enough to swallow one of these little fruits – just a couple of centimetres across – you would be fairly likely to die of anaphylactic shock. The law of natural selection in action, you might say.