Chelsea Flower Show – meeting James Wong and my favourite gardens

Tourism Malaysia's winning garden at Chelsea Flower ShowI went to Chelsea Flower Show for the first time last week and, considering how little I know about plants and flowers (see earlier failed attempts to cultivate herbs on my balcony), I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was a guest of the Malaysia Tourist Board, which won Gold for its rainforest-inspired garden, designed by James Wong (off the Grow Your Own Drugs programme on TV).

The garden was really beautiful, with square stone slabs like stepping-stones on a shallow lake, and shiny foliage of different greens, shapes and textures.

I heard a few visitors grumble that there weren’t actually any flowers, but I loved it – much more to my taste than rows of rhodedendrons or pots of pansies.

A soundtrack of bird and animal noises played softly in the background and it was so relaxing I almost fell asleep on the Minister of
Tourism.

Dato Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen, the minister, told me all about the flowers in her own garden, and about the government’s plan to create a Malaysian version of the Royal Horticultural Society, to get more Malaysians involved in and excited by gardening.

James Wong, designer of Tourism Malaysia's Chelsea Flower ShowI also had an interesting chat with James himself, about how gardeners often tend to want to grow species from far-away places, instead of appreciating what grows in their ‘own back yard’.

“When I was growing up in Malaysia, all I wanted to do was grow English roses and a perfect striped lawn,” he says. “They’d struggle against the climate. It’s only recently that Malaysians are realising there are so many things around them that are more beautiful than any rose. I hope we’ve shown that our normal plants can win gold on the world stage.”

This got me thinking about the impact of flying and shipping plants and trees from one side of the world to the other to make our gardens look pretty.  There’s often talk about ‘food miles’ but what about ‘plant miles’?

Global Stone Bee Friendly Garden at the Chelsea Flower ShowMy other favourite gardens at the show included the Global Stone Bee-Friendly Garden, which had a giant message reminding visitors of Albert Einstein’s prophecy that ‘when the last bee disappears off the face of the earth, man only has four years to live” (see my earlier feature on the decline of the honey bee).

I also loved Bradstone Biodiversity Garden which had insect-friendly flowers and log-piles, and a stone pavilion with crevices for nesting birds and bamboo canes to house insects.

The Eden Project garden was huge, if a little bonkers, with rows of old washing machine doors. It did well in the competition but I wasn’t sure if buying the biggest plot of the Show might have anything to do with it.

I was also fascinated by the Naturally Norway garden which was promoting the use of kebony instead of tropical timber for decking Daily Telegraph Garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Showand pavilions. Kebony is made using the byproducts of sugar-cane production to harden sustainable wood species like pine and maple, and it looked stunning.

I wasn’t convinced by the Daily Telegraph garden, which seemed to have gone for the overgrown, disused railway track look. I didn’t find it particularly, beautiful, relaxing or interesting but I must have missed the point as it was the overall winner for 2010. Shows what I know…..

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