Many thanks to our members who made this report possible. Text is taken from articles published in the Newletter and photographs are by members of the Norfolk & Suffolk Group.
What do you grow when your window of opportunity is merely 5 days in late May? Gardeners know that April and May compete to be the cruellest months.
2004 Planning for our exhibit started when we staged an exhibit at the local Royal Norfolk Show for which we won a Gold Medal.
2005 Janet Sleep produced the first of many lists. We scrutinised it, added to it and revised it.The list was circulated to group members with the exhortion to tick those that tickled their fancy. Janet brought boot-loads of May flowering plants to the winter meetings and by a form of horticultural arm-wrestling members depart laden with yet more Chelsea plants.
By mid summer over 100 growers had committed to growing over 2000 plants in some 100 varieties from alliums to violas - and all appeared promising.
At Hempnall Margaret Macpherson was struggling with her verbascums. Eight miles away at Brooke David King and Brian Ellis were tending Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Old Gold’. In Little Walsingham Jane Petzing’s allotment was host to white digitalis and blue aquilegias grown from seed. Andrew Lawes was growing Arundinaria viridistriata, whilst at Gissing Janet’s husband had erected a large netting shelter which housed over two hundred plants.
October - the long range forecast was not good, promising a harsh winter, January, February and March turned out to be unforgiving and relentlessly cold. By mid April when the 2500 plants come together at Four Seasons the effect could be seen: almost all of the plants appeared to be three to four weeks later than usual. Six weeks to go - can they make up for lost time? Most of the plants go into a large poly tunnel and as the weather improved are moved in and out accordingly.
Choosing a theme
We suspected the phrase ‘Growing for Chelsea’ would begin to prey on our minds much as ‘Dig for Victory’ did for those in the WW2 initiative, but before we could grow we had to decide on a theme and then find the plants to fit.
By now a working consensus had emerged. Not for us hard landscaping and artful decorative objects. We decided the display must evoke the landscape of the two counties: the glorious coastline and inland waterways, soaring skies and flint towers, fenlands, brecklands. and agricultural prairies. Our Stand would be a densely woven tapestry with the plants taking pride of place. We agreed that a restricted colour palette would best convey the predominate colours of the landscape: blues, yellows, whites and silvers. Green and silver presented no problems, yellows ranged from dusky sienna to dirty cadmium but we agreed to stick to the fresher lemon and yellow greens. Blue - most important in our theme represented water and skies - later a mischievous person dropped the hint that a splash of orange would be needed to ginger up the display!
Theme title ‘Reflections of East Anglia’ is proposed and all agreed without hesitation.
- getting ready for the trip to London and the Chelsea Flower Show
The sorting, final tidying and loading takes three days
Chelsea - the Thursday before the show opens and we catch sight of our empty stand, big intake of breathe, ‘Did we really ask for so much space!’
It was positioned not far from the monument which was surrounded by Hilliers exhibit, Granada was on the left and Kirstenbosch on the right. Our exhibit was going to be a complete contrast to all three. The space allocated, 13m x 6m, appeared in reality much bigger than any of us had imagined.
Our lorry load of plants had arrived and Tony was waiting to off load.
No exact planting plan has been prepared but the concept in our minds was clear. So we started to work weaving our impressionistic tapestry using colour, form and texture to create patterns and swathes, spires and turrets to reflect the Norfolk and Suffolk landscapes.Many of our plants were not anywhere near in full flower.
Hopeful that the heady atmosphere of Chelsea would encourage them into bloom we started the staging.( It turns out to be one of the wettest Chelsea’s on record, with very poor light levels.) ‘Hi Ho some things just cannot be managed.’
By late Friday afternoon we realised that we would not have enough plants, so Mike offered to travel back up to Norfolk and bring down some more. Even these are not quite enough so more are scrounged from helpful exhibitors.
Last job labelling and our smart printed labels work well except that a fair number were not on the list. Resorting to hand writing on damp plastic labels with silver pens was not easy and in the murky atmosphere of Chelsea refused to dry.
Looking at the finished stand it achieved much of what we set out to do.
The shortage of flowers was a pity, but we were more than satisfied with our efforts and the public loved the exhibit. It conveyed the magical light and soaring skies of our unique landscape. ‘Reflections of East Anglia’
Plants are the life blood of our society and the stand was a cornucopia of mouthwatering, choice, hardy perennials.
This is what the Hardy Plant Society is all about
Thanks again to all member of the Norfolk & Suffolk Group who made this exhibit possible