This week is the Chelsea Flower Show 2008 and by the time you read this the medals will have been awarded. All over the showground will be the scattered remnants of exhausted gardeners and nurserymen.
This week is the Chelsea Flower Show 2008 and by the time you read this the medals will have been awarded. All over the showground will be the scattered remnants of exhausted gardeners and nurserymen. Some will be elated, some tearful, some angry and some encouraged: whatever happens everybody will be marked in some way by their experiences at the most famous flower show in the world. I'm judging at Chelsea for the first time so I'll be partly responsible for some of these reactions.
There'll be about 20 large show gardens at the show this year, each one costing around £250,000 each. The main criticism one hears is that this kind of thing is completely unrealistic and bears no relation whatsoever to most peoples' gardens. On one level this is true: there aren't a lot of folk out there with a spare £250,000 to splash out on their gardens (if anybody knows of any then please send them to my website immediately). But every garden is made of lots of little vignettes which we can all borrow and reuse in our gardens.
For example you may discover a single plant that excites you, or an interesting and novel combination of two or three plants growing together - everybody has room for that. It may even be something as mundane as a piece of paving or a stone wall that floats your boat. Some gardens have good ponds or even an exciting piece of furniture or sculpture.
No matter how grand, extravagant or unrealistic the gardens may seem everyone will have a little area they could easily take home with them. If you're watching the television coverage then look carefully; if you're lucky enough to have a ticket then take a camera and a notebook.
If you need a sit down and some advice come and see me in the Marshalls Design Forum (on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) where I'm introducing some fantastic speakers (including the extraordinarily knowledgeable Roy Lancaster and the very gorgeous Jekka McVicar).
Love it or hate it, Chelsea is always spectacular. If you twisted my arm and threatened to poke me with a sharp stick then my wild guess for best garden in the show (this is based on a brief scrutiny of the plans and a very short visit to the site two weeks ago) would have to go with Cleve West or Tom Stuart-Smith. I reserve the right to completely change my mind by lunchtime on Monday.
Find out if James's predictions were correct by viewing the Chelsea Flower Show 2008 medal results.