Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow in the gold medal winning B&Q Garden

Exhibitors from Wiltshire had the chance to show off their horticultural talent whilst mixing with the stars at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Press day.

Now in its 98th year, the show attracts 157,000 visitors from all over the world and exhibiting there has got to be one of the highlights in the year for any horticulturalist. Tickets for the 2011 show sold out in record time and interest in the show is greater than ever.

Press day always brings out plenty of stars and this year was no exception with Chelsea fan Ringo Starr spotted among other famous faces such as Will Young and Gwyneth Paltrow. Christopher Biggins, a Chelsea regular with Salisbury roots, was also spotted taking great interest in the gardens.

New plants were named after stars including Dame Helen Mirren with nepenthes ‘Helen’. Vanessa Redgrave had a rose named in honour of her daughter, actress Natasha Richardson, but as ever, the plants were some of the biggest stars of the show.

Chelsea first-timer Sir Terry Pratchett was drawn to the SKYShades Show Garden, designed by Marney Hall which he officially opened with fellow Orangutan Foundation trustee Ashley Leiman OBE. The foundation shares the goals of SKYShades to help create a more eco-friendly and biodiverse world. “I’m here to support the environment and the orangutans” said Terry.

In his hugely popular Discworld books, the librarian is an orangutan – this sparked his interest in orangutans and a lifelong desire to help protect them.

Marney Hall and Terry Pratchett in the SkyShades Garden
Marney Hall and Terry Pratchett in the SkyShades Garden

Marney’s garden was a natural draw for Terry. Marney won Silver Flora with a design that reflects bio-diversity and sustainability. The ‘Wild Office’ is inspiration for anyone wanting to work from home, as increasing numbers of people are choosing to do. Solar power is used to generate power for the office and animal housing encourages bugs and bees to thrive. The awning on the outdoor office is actually the world’s first retractable photovoltaic awning and an eco friendly choice.

Terry said of the garden: “It’s absolutely beautiful. I want to get down on my hands and knees and explore”. The garden reminds him of his own garden in Wiltshire. He has stopped mowing the lawn to turn it into a theme park for the birds and the bees.”Flowers of chalk down lands are absolute treasures”, he says.

“It’s absolutely beautiful. I want to get down on my hands and knees and explore”

The Show Garden particularly impressed him. “I like the attention to detail and you can see plants that you would normally call weeds, yet they have a certain beauty – there aren’t many ugly plants in the world! I think you need weeds to set off the other plants.”

The garden includes meadow flowers such as red clover and oxeye daisy, hedgerow flowers such as dog rose, elderberry and pussy willow, woodland plants, and herbs. For the wildlife there is teasel, ragged robin, sweet rocket, scabious ‘butterfly blue’, campanula, salvia and meadow cranesbill. Nearly 200 species went into the design, creating a wonderfully diverse area.

Thoedore Gillick with Leaping Hares in the SkyShades Garden
Thoedore Gillick with Leaping Hares in the SkyShades Garden. Photo by Lara Ball

The planting was set off with sculpture by Theodore Gillick, one called called Leaping Hares and one of a reed warbler. Marney said “I chose Theo’s sculptures for his amazingly life like portrayal of English Wildlife. The hares in particular have an energy I have rarely seen captured in bronze and both the hares and the red warbler help to reinforce the imagery of the habitats in which they are set.”

Theo lived in Bradford-on-Avon for many years and started his sculpting career there. “It’s where I got married and where I raised my children,” he said. “I trace all my work back to there and it still feels like home. Wiltshire was my springboard.” He describes his work as “Attenborough in metal”.

Bradford-on-Avon is also home to Shirley Preston from the National Association of Flower Arrangers. She is the RHS coordinator for the charity and helped the North West group set up their gold medal winning ‘Wood Yew Waste’ exhibit in the Great Pavilion. Inspiration came from the River Ribble where beautiful driftwood washes onto the shores. Sculpted and bleached by the tides, the shapes and textures of the wood inspired the central design of the fantasy tree sculpture. Flowers and plant material weave in and out of the driftwood to create a sculptural design. The aim is to show that the things we might throw away can actually be turned into beautiful art forms.

Gold was also awarded to the Federation of British Bonsai Societies. Reg Bolton from Swindon showed a collection of neatly manicured bonsai trees, mostly grown by members of the Swindon branch of the society. “It’s one of the best stands we’ve ever done” said Reg. “There were 15 trees out of the 19 displayed that were from the Swindon district club. I was very happy with the stand and we had such a wonderful response from the public.”

Further medal success for Wiltshire exhibitors came for Westdale Nurseries of Bradford-on-Avon who picked up a Silver Flora for their colourful display of bougainvillea, and The Botanic Nursery from Melksham was awarded a Silver-gilt flora for their display of digitalis, aquilegia and other summer flowers.

Chelsea Flower show is the greatest flower show in the world but the designs that are showcased are an inspiration for any gardener, no matter how big or small their garden.

To support the orangutan foundation, visit or call 0207 724 2912.