Anything possible from Chelsea's new faces

An injection of new blood at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show is adding to the excitement surrounding the annual event

Designs: exciting show build-up - image: © Charlotte Rowe Garden Design
Designs: exciting show build-up - image: © Charlotte Rowe Garden Design

It is a brave new century for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 and there is a feeling that anything is possible.

Garden designers and landscapers are not yet sure what to make of the 101st Chelsea, with few willing to venture strong predictions.

Mediterranean, particularly Italian, planting is said to put in a strong appearance and there has been greater interest in going big - a possible reflection of increased economic confidence - while commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One is a popular theme.

But this year the usual excitement in the build-up to the show has been augmented with the thrill of a leap into the unknown. There are so many new names at Chelsea that people feel, and hope, that anything could happen.

Selection panel chair Andrew Fisher Tomlin says: "Everything is up for grabs this year with new designers on Main Avenue and new ideas hinted at in 'Artisan' and 'Fresh'. Even the ubiquitous Chelsea plants might not appear after such a warm start to the season. Definitely a year for something new but where it will come from is anyone's guess."

Fellow garden designer John Wyer welcomes new blood at the show, saying there have been some "quite conservative gardens" in recent years.

"It's great to see a lot of new faces," he adds. "It's been the same old faces for the last 10 years. There's a very predictable layout and it's very good when people move away from that. The RHS reinvents itself every so often and that's all to the good."

The injection of new blood is likely due to a combination of many top names wanting a rest after doing last year's 100th anniversary, a drive by the RHS to promote younger talent and an improvement in the economy.

"Through the recession there was a lot of pressure on sponsors to use old hands," says Wyer. "Now there's a bit more money, they're prepared to take more of a risk."

There are new sponsors coming in too. Global fashion brand Gucci is sponsoring a "Fresh" garden designed by Sarah Eberle. "I'm hoping it's going to be quite mixed, which I think will be refreshing," she says. "I think what people call a theme is a lot of reproduction of plant material. You see it as a function but it's what's available.

"There is a natural progression (in garden design) and to have the confidence and experience to get to Chelsea takes years. There's bound to be some a bit long in the tooth but having new people is encouraging."

Cleve West, who is designing a contemporary paradise garden inspired by Persian, biblical and other gardens through time, says: "I think it's fantastic. They should boot out all of us oldies and get the young ones in. I'm really interested to see what they will all do. The Rich brothers - David and Harry designing for Bord na Mona - are exciting. I'm all for it."

Meanwhile, the RHS communications team has decided to ape the famous "selfie" photograph taken by Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres - shared so many millions of times on Twitter that it crashed the site - and has started a trend for uploading #RHSchelseaselfie pictures on Twitter. New show manager Saul Walker can be seen, complete with his distinctive and fashionable beard, grinning in many of the Chelsea selfie photographs.

While this kind of thing may be incomprehensible to older fans of the annual show, it can do no harm in attracting a younger audience and their spending power, particularly when there is nothing against Chelsea exhibitors using Tweets to drive traffic to their websites.

It also brings the faces behind the TV presenters and top designers to the fore as well as the landscapers, the nursery folk and the real stars of the show - the plants.

Wyer says: "Chelsea's real market is the 19 million people who watch it on TV and the way in which Chelsea trends in the wider horticultural market. The RHS is very aware of that. Chelsea is constantly moving forward and it needs to do that all the time."

Warmer weather Relief for plant suppliers

Chelsea growers are expressing relief that the long winter of 2013 has been replaced with an early spring. The warm weather means that last year's muted tones are likely to be replaced by "a bumper year of colour", says Mark Stranger of wholesale nursery Hortus Loci.

"Last year the grasses weren't in flower but this year they will be," he adds. "We're seeing simple flowers, not big flouncy flowers, and Iris iberica might be a bit scarce this year."

Elisabetta Clementel of Coblands says she is seeing a lot of Mediterranean plants that will cope well with hotter conditions. "You can have a lot of sun. If plants are flowering too quickly, we move them into the shade."


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