2017 – CHW
I discover we have another gold medal at 6.45am. Very well deserved by the whole team. Blood, sweat and tears (over the echiums) along the way!
It would seem that the standards in the Great Pavilion have been exceptionally high overall and we are not alone in winning gold. Or is it that there are so few outside gardens this year of such absurd and poor quality that the judges have been more generous in the tent? Only seven show gardens rather than 23 last year. The main show garden which of course won gold for M&G, the main Chelsea sponsor, is two huge piles or columns of imported rock from Malta and a few deadish plants. The Silk Road garden is neither a road nor silk and the plants are dull. I must stop being rude! This is what the local press had to say about Chelsea.
2016 – CHW
Despite the new barcode and photographic ID security arrangements his minder seems to have managed to gain entry to stop him being asked awkward questions by the press. Most of the press start bullying him to find out whether his garden centre chain is going to buy out Dobbies. He sort of refuses to answer but it is pretty clear to all what the answer is.
Our celebrity Naomie Harris, the black Bond girl sensation, arrives half an hour late for the press photo call. She has been having £700 of make up and hair done at home. The media have assembled in huge numbers, crowding round the stand, but are quickly bored. Suddenly Jerry Hall and Mr Murdoch appear in the distance and they all hurry off leaving poor Shelley, our PR person, looking a bit destitute. Eventually Naomie turns up breathless and in hot pants and the press throng descends. No time even for an introduction about where she is and what she is doing. We plonk her on the steps of our stand where she smiles sweetly.
Then we grab a rhodo from the RCMG (Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group) stand which causes much squawking by Sally and thrust it in Naomie’s hand, dripping bark mulch onto her fine attire. So at least we get a bloody rhodo in the shot. We then drag the poor unsuspecting Naomie off to the RCMG stand with Rupert Eley, David Millais and myself, the great grandchildren of the founders of the Rhododendron Society 100 years ago. She looks particularly pretty and Mr Eley spends some time admiring her heavily made up legs. Then we dragged her back to our stand again where we manage to get her posing so you can actually see the bloody Burncoose sign.
Hugely embarrassing moment when the press want to interview her about how she is enjoying the show etc. Since she had no idea whose stand she was on the TV interviews were not a huge success. Finally we get rid of most of the press and actually do the shots which we want of us, Guy Hands, Naomie Harris and the Burncoose sign. Karol has developed the journalistic technique of barging other bastards out of the way rather than being barged out of the way himself and the shots we now get are really rather good. Even better is that we have avoided the press pinching most of the drinks. Guy Hands says this particular vintage has been discontinued on the advice of a French vineyard owner who says Italians have no clue how to grow grapes. In consequence he has 80,000 bottles of this exploding pink champagne to get rid of and the rest of the exhibitors are delighted to give him a hand. Finally we drag Naomie off to actually look at the stand and have a chat. It has all been the usual media shambles but Naomie is on the front page of the Evening Standard with a bloody rhodo.
Jim Gardiner and another very smart RHS party arrive at the stand and I have to give an impromptu talk while they look sniffily at us drinking pink champagne before 10.45am.
One of the nozzles of the fountain is quite clearly misdirected and squirting water over the stand – nothing we can do now. Major Rayner collapses with heat stroke and has to be tended by the Red Cross.
Then we get to the royal visit. The RHS say they will bring the Queen to celebrate the Rhododendron Society centenary and will present us to her on the stand. Huge excitement and we even get an extra ticket – unheard of. She duly arrives at the RCMG stand and is given a posy of rhododendrons by Sally Hayward on behalf of the RCMG. Quite a bit of chat and she is then introduced to David Millais one pace away from John Hill and I. The RHS president, Nikko Bacon, now realises the Queen has spent too long wittering about rhododendrons – she is just explaining how she prefers ‘floppy’ ones rather than the group’s choice of Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’ as their favourite. The president’s eyes say to me: ‘I haven’t really got time to introduce her to you, Charlie. Do you really mind?’. I smile and shake my head – I do not really care – and they march on. John Hill is rather put out but I explain that this is not the moment to be pushy and get told off by the beefy security people. The only problem is that the security people have removed everyone a long way away and it remains to be seen if we have any decent photos of the Queen’s inspection.
So now on to the gala evening where Guy Hands’ guest list seems to have grown from 12 to 26 and he decides to stick it out on our stand and to let people come to him rather than wandering amongst the great and good from the City. The RHS gala evening champagne is filthy, the eats are better than usual but of course no one would think of buying any plants. Suddenly Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius arrive in a panic because they are two tickets short for their esteemed guests. So the usual ticket skulduggery and swapping to get them in and huge relief and kisses. Then Balston says he wants to talk to Hands about his company bidding for the roof garden on Hands’ new house in Guernsey so I introduce them to each other and Michael Balston makes his sales pitch. We will be looking for serious quid pro quo for two acts of business generosity which are clearly beyond the pale. My nephew, George, also makes good chat with Hands about his plant search app (slightly tipsy). Tom Cross-Brown emerges giggling into the evening and we have good laugh at the railway carriage and the story thereof. My brother (Savills do not have a garden this year) and Ed Clarke are standing claiming ownership of the M&G (RHS sponsors) garden which does not win best in show and which I tell them looks pretty scruffy. Our rhodos are flopping badly and various people tell me this in whispers but we do not care as the judges have finished and do nothing about it. Justin appears having been notably absent and is clearly too tight to stand up having been chucked off the Tregothnan stand. It is soon clear that he and Guy Hands are not going to enjoy each other’s company in this state so he needs to make himself scarce. How he can be so pissed by 6pm remains unclear.
It appears we got very good coverage on the Chelsea TV on Monday night and the BBC have promised to come on Wednesday to film the RCMG stand and the Eley/Millais/Williams combination wearing tweeds.
2015 – CHW
Escape at once to avoid the wedding on the lawn. The groom’s parents are reading the FT outside my study as I write but fortunately they cannot see in.
The plan is to inspect the new plantings of old fashion Ghent azaleas bought from a tiny nursery in Belgium four to five years ago and planted in nine groups of nine to try to give the public a good late season show in Kennel Close new planting which is still too windy and exposed for rhododendrons to thrive.
Only three groups are out so far and they have bizarre names as you would expect.
Nearby is Crataegus ‘Pauls Scarlet’ which has always been one of my favourites. Perhaps the only hawthorn worth growing. I first saw this at Anthony Woodland garden decades ago.Two more newly planted enkianthus flowering for the first time in Kennel Close:
Enkianthus cernuus recurvus – not in the reference books, not looking at all like Enkianthus cernuus perhaps but definitely ‘recurved’ bells so a welcome new addition to the growing collection.
Enkianthus cernuus rubens – quite clearly red and equally clearly not at all like the true species viewed yesterday. Nurseries have been importing Dutch plants for years which are wrongly named but people are usually fooled by the colour.Then a quick catch up of newer rhododendron hybrids seldom seen properly before because of Chelsea absences.
Rhododendron ‘Cetemayo’ – bought from Millais Nurseries
Rhododendron ‘Glendoick Velvet’ – plastered, but not my colour.
Rhododendron ‘Norfolk Candy’ – Millais. Shy flowerer. Looked better at Chelsea last year.
Rhododendron ‘Grazelia’ – Millais. One good plant survives from three planted three years ago. Clearly Rhododendron roxienanum in its parentage.
Rhododendron ‘Poleris’ – pleasant texture
Rhododendron loderi ‘Topaz’ – absolutely stunning although its foliage often looks a bit chloritic. Pink in bud opening to a huge white scented flower.
Nearby I spot the unusual Caragana arborescens ‘Walker’ – a top grafted plant now 24 years old and still trailing nicely. Its yellow pea flowers are a delight. A good patio tub plant.
1943 – CW
Rho auklandii at their best and azaleas – Crinodendron well out. Trade forms of Mag conspicua over – took 1000 seed pods of Parviflora – a lot of fuschias good. Also some of the 40 Acre Maddeni hybrids still covered with flower. Bluebells are over – Primula forresti very good.
1934 – JCW
Auklandii’s at their best. Camellias have been better than I ever saw them. The Azaleas are very good indeed. Trade forms of Magnolia conspicua are excellent. Mag nicholsiana is about the best of the family.
1909 – JCW
Mrs Butler is very good. Auklandii’s on the turn, C montana rubra going, Roylei very good, sweet scented azaleas are nice.
1907 – JCW
Auklandii’s going back fast. Mrs Butler opening. R roylei is very good. Edgeworthi is open in the wood, bluebells at their best, Gibsoni opening.
1904 – JCW
Moved some daffs yesterday a bit early.
1898 – JCW
Auklandii partly open also Royali and Fortunei and Gibsoni. Maples just at their best, most of the bamboos have made a move. About half the tree ferns have started. No daffs quite fit to move.
1897 – JCW
Laydikeri R opens in the big pond, no other yet, Viburnum at their best.