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Chelsea Flower Show: Kent gardeners and designers flourish

By Lesley Bellew

Weather extremes from -13C to 28C this spring sent some RHS Chelsea designers into a spin but Kent lavender grower Dr Simon Charlesworth found himself with the

most vibrant plants to go on show in the Grand Pavillion.

The judges were also knocked by the brightest display of lavender that the show had seen for years and awarded Downderry Lavender a well-deserved RHS Chelsea gold medal for the eighth time.

Dr Simon Charlesworth at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West
Dr Simon Charlesworth at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West

Simon could not keep the smile off his face as his new lavender cultivars Purple Panache and Pink Panache not only made it through the tricky temperatures but were in their absolute glory for the show.

He said: “We couldn’t believe how large and bright the blooms were coming through,” said Simon, whose display of dazzling white, lilac, blue, purple and pinks also peaked at the right time. “We always grow two sets of plants for Chelsea, just in case there’s a problem, but this year the first batch which was held back by the cold was perfect.”

Paul Harris, of Brookfield Nurseries in Ashford, had doubted he would grab gold because his hostas suffered in the changeable weather. “Some leaves got scorched and it has been a really difficult time,” he said.

Paul Harris of Brookfield Nurseries, Ashford Picture: Ian West
Paul Harris of Brookfield Nurseries, Ashford Picture: Ian West

Quality, though, won through and Paul’s stand, with a tranquil water feature and new specimens including Dancing Queen and the unusual with red-stemmed Valley’s Sushi, looked an oasis of calm, even if Paul did not feel it.

In the Space to Grow gardens, former Tonbridge student John Warland created the showstopper.

John, who has created strong World Vision gardens at Chelsea, turned his attention to highlight the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.

The Pearlfisher Garden visualises a planet drowning in waste – on first look it is a glamorous garden but goes deeper to tells the story of destruction in our oceans.

The complicated design could easily have bombed but John’s eye for colour, shape and form, plus support from the Plastic Oceans charity brought him solid gold.

A sculpture of a pearl diver by Dover-born Jason deCaires Taylor topped the garden in winning style.

The Pearlfisher Garden Picture: Ian West
The Pearlfisher Garden Picture: Ian West

John said the garden had been ‘a huge, but immensely rewarding creative challenge’.

He said: “We’ve brought the hidden beauty of our underwater world, and largest garden on earth, to the very heart of London SW1.

“It challenges perceptions on both an aesthetic and intellectual level to drive home its crucial message about what we are set to lose if we don’t take immediate action.

“Mother Nature is the ultimate designer and we should all be thinking about the impact we are making and how we can work with nature to create a better, more beautiful and more sustainable world for us all.”

Sue Marshall and Sophie Leathart, of Iris of Sissinghurst, worked with the Cayeux family to create a display of iris grown for Monet and Giverny by three generations of the Cayeux family. Complete with a ‘Monet’ bridge in the exact Pantone green, the historic display was awarded a silver-gilt medal.

Cayeux Iris Picture: Ian West
Cayeux Iris Picture: Ian West

“The weather had not been kind to iris this year,” said Sophie.

“However, we have attracted immense interest because of the amazing link to Monet. Visitors can see the iris that Monet ordered and that is so special.”

Sophie Leathart at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West
Sophie Leathart at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West

Jo Thompson, whose garden design work began in Kent and grew into a business with world-wide commissions, took gold in the Main Avenue with the serene Wedgwood Garden.

The Wedgwood Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West
The Wedgwood Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West

It has taken many years for Jo and her all-women planting team to be duly recognised at RHS Chelsea but she is now the Queen of Romantic Planting.

The Wedgwood Garden, complete with weeping willows, water feature and Jo’s signature seating and sculpture looked as if it had been there for decades.

Jo Thompson with journalist Lesley Bellew at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West
Jo Thompson with journalist Lesley Bellew at the Chelsea Flower Show Picture: Ian West

Backdrop woodland planting and a gentle swathe of soft planting including aquilegia, astrantia, nepeta and centuarea from pale blue to midnight purple, contrasted with pastel yellow Californian poppies, trollis and lovely Primulas sikkimensis which echoed the mellow shades of the Kent Pride iris.

Congratulations Jo, you are now very much part of the establishment.

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