Elitist or an inspiration?

FAMILYy FUN: The gold medal-winning Homebase Garden, Sowing The Seeds Of Change. Below, The SeeAbility Garden.
FAMILYy FUN: The gold medal-winning Homebase Garden, Sowing The Seeds Of Change. Below, The SeeAbility Garden.

VIPS and show gardens costing a fortune – the RHS Chelsea Flower Show can be elitist – but there’s ideas for every pocket.

THE Chelsea Flower Show is an assault on the senses – and the wallet.

This was my first visit and I gawped like a child and openly scoffed at times.

After seven hours on press day surrounded by frantic exhibitors and celebrities, I got back to my hotel and seriously thought: “What can I write about that’s any use to people on a budget?”

After several days, my brain began to sieve the wheat from the chaff.

A record-breaking 92 exhibits won gold medals, including 10 show gardens, with Fleming’s Nurseries, from Australia winning Best Show Garden.

If you saw the TV coverage, this was the garden with a billabong, waterfalls, a rusty circular artists’ studio and dancers dressed as lizards crawling over it.

Try recreating that in Sunderland or Shields! I hated it. It had nothing you could adapt for your own use and summed up an elitist side of the show.

However, four gardens did capture my imagination, with their imaginative use of plants which you can translate into your own plot.

* The Homebase Garden, Sowing the Seeds of Change, in association with Alzheimer’s Society, designed by Adam Frost.

I’m usually anti-DIY stores, but this gold medal-winning concept has me won over.

It’s a modern family garden with space to relax, entertain, provide a wildlife habitat and grow fruit trees and veg alongside ornamental plants.

Key plants include rhubarb Mitchell’s Early Albert, Conference pear, cardoon Cynara cardunculus Bere and the shuttlecock fern Matteuccia struthiopteris.

The store has plants used in the design on sale in its Chelsea Collection, visit www.homebase.co.uk.

* Get Well Soon, sponsored by the National Botanic Garden of Wales, designed by Kati Crome/Maggie Hughes.

This silver medal winner, in the artisan garden section, illustrates the ways plants can improve your health.

The design captures the uplifting feeling that visiting a beautiful garden can bring. Every plant and herb used has a medicinal value.

The circular pond, stone and rendered walls and rill take their inspiration from the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

Even the pebble path is designed to be walked on barefoot; it stimulates reflexology pressure points, so it does not always provide a comfortable experience.

Maybe that’s why it missed out on a gold. For information, log on to www.gardenofwales.org.uk.

* The gold-winning Arthritis Research UK Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw, was also voted the People’s Choice award. It reflects the personal journey and emotions of someone with arthritis, from confusion following diagnosis to a point where they are informed and able to manage their pain. There’s three key areas. A shady woodland with black birch, royal fern and Scots pine has a glass retreat and sculpture.

A stepping stone pathway leads to the Lucid Garden, planted with euphorbias, hostas, lilies, Rosa glauca. This open, formal area features a reflective pool with a focal sculpture.

In the Radiant Garden, vibrant planting in orange, blue and purple provides warmth and confidence as the person with arthritis learns to manage their condition and keep active. There’s Californian poppies, lupins, angelica, iris and the gorgeous Echium pininana, which will never grow for us in the North East (although Alys Fowler did suggest our native variety).

For a full plant list, log on to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.

* The SeeAbility Garden, sponsored by Coutts, designed by Darren Hawkes, has a serious message – sight loss.

With paths leading to three interwoven circles made from different materials and handmade opaque glass screens, the design offers sighted people a perspective on conditions including glaucoma.

Planting features contrasting colours and silhouettes, with a large Robinia tree in the centre surrounded by a curtain of stainless steel balls and cascading water. A key plant is no-prickles Mahonia Soft Caress, voted RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2013.

Other notables are Heuchera Obsidian, Ginkgo biloba, Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb and Sorbus arnoldiana Schouten.

It’s the charity’s first time at Chelsea and chairman of trustees James Deeley was delighted with its silver gilt award – I think it deserved gold.

For more information, log on to www.seeability.org.