Saturday, 19 May
Sizing up the global competition
Show gardens this year are truly cosmopolitan, with designers from Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the US, Canada, Russia, Japan and Australia taking on the best of British.
Mark Browning, designer of the Flemings and Trailfinders Australian Garden, comes with a history of success at the Melbourne International Flower Show. But even he confesses to having butterflies.
"There's the intimidation factor of seeing what everyone else is doing," he says. "There's a lot of stuff here which I wouldn't do myself, but I admire it for what they're creating."
Another long-distance traveller, Kate Frey of Fetzer's Vineyards, has done it all before, but says Chelsea is 'a mecca' for American gardeners.
"It's a paradise for the horticulturally-minded," she says. "The most important part for me is the teamwork - being able to work with so many like-minded people."
International designers often transport everything from home, and don't have the holding yards and nursery facilities of their British colleagues. Ulf Nordfjell, a Swedish designer at Chelsea for the first time, confessed to a certain despair over the sheer difficulty of it all.
"It's a killer," he says, with feeling. "There are some very complicated logistics to bring such a big garden from abroad."
But despite everything, for top-level designers all over the world, Chelsea is one of those things you just have to do. As Mark Browning says, "It's right up there with your wedding and your first child - it will be the highlight of my life. I don‘t want it to end, to be honest."
Friday, 18 May
A learning curve for first-timers
Chelsea is a nail biting affair even for seasoned designers who have done it all before: but for first-time exhibitors, unsure what to expect, it can be a rollercoaster ride. This year an unusually high number of the gardens are by people who have never built a garden at Chelsea before - seven of the 20 show gardens, and more than half the 26 small gardens.
Small gardens have traditionally been a way into the show, as they're less daunting than a full-sized show garden. Many first-timers aren’t even designers by trade: some, like Janet Honour, run plant nurseries. She says coming to Chelsea with co-designer Patricia Thirion to build her courtyard garden "A Touch of France” has been “a learning process".
"That’s part of the fun of it really - just finding out what’s actually going to work," she says. "If it was all plain sailing, it would be a bit too boring!"
Others, like designer Wayne Richards, come to Chelsea after success at other shows, like the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
"I'm feeling pretty calm at the moment,” he says as he and his team put together his astronomy-inspired roof garden, "Ad Astra per Aspera". "But come back later in the week and ask me again!"
It's a well-trodden route for designers aiming at Chelsea glory: Philip Nixon and Marcus Barnett, for example, are now familiar names at the show, but began with a tiny but perfect gold medal-winning Chic garden in 2005. They may be newcomers this year, but some Chelsea debutants will undoubtedly be the garden design stars we’re all talking about in years to come.