Garden Academy – Road to Chelsea (Part 3 of 3)

So here we are, the final part of this 3 part blog on my Road to Chelsea. The thought of being part of the build team on a Chelsea Show garden was incredibly exciting and the whole reason why I wanted to join the Garden Academy programme in the first place. As the time had now finally arrived to travel to London, that excitement soon turned to anxiety as I began to panic about travelling to London all on my own. I couldn’t pack my usual every eventuality supplies, so this was the first challenge; trying to condense everything I wanted to take, into, only things I desperately needed to take. After what seemed an age to pack (well I did start packing a week in advance to be fair), the day had finally arrived.

Off to London

Now on previous trips to far away locations (anywhere in the UK is far away from Norwich, for those not familiar with Norfolk), if travelling by train with the Garden Academy, we were provided with an open ended ticket, so was flexible on when we could travel. For someone with anxiety and very nervous about travelling anywhere on my own, this came in very useful. I guess I should have checked this applied to this trip, but wrongly assumed it did; so after finally plucking up the courage to travel to London, as I was saying my goodbyes to Malc at the train station, he luckily stayed with me while I checked my ticket, only to find out I had missed my train, as this time it was a set ticket. Panic set in as a million thoughts raced through my mind; have I missed this once in a lifetime opportunity; why didn’t I check the ticket in advance; what am I going to do now……. Malc offered to drive me there, but after some moments of hysteria and panic, I calmed myself down and called the Garden Academy team leader. He offered to get me a new ticket for early the next morning. 

On the train again 

So disaster averted, I now had to go through the whole travelling process again; checking I had everything, worrying about travelling alone, leaving Malc behind, going someone new (anxiety overload). Malc done his best to keep me calm and reminded me why I was putting myself through this. It was something I had always wanted to do, having watched it on TV for years. This time my ticket was correct and it was time to board the train. I don’t know who was more upset at this point; myself through the panic of having to travel alone, or Malc standing on the platform, waving goodbye, longingly looking at me, as if he would never see me again. The journey down went quite quickly in the end, filled by constant messaging between me and Malc, each checking the other were ok. As I arrived at the station, the next challenge was to find the pre-booked taxi Malc had arranged. Having survived the crowds, it was a good feeling getting into the taxi, away from all the noise. That was until I reached my destination and the driver wanted to charge more than what was quoted and drop me at the wrong gate. A quick phone call to Malc and problem sorted, I finally made it to the Chelsea Flower Show, where the sight of some of my “Bees Knees” members, was such a relief and welcome sight.

Building the garden

I was quite lucky for my first day of the build, as arriving late (which I was made very aware of by the rest of the Bee’s in jest), I avoided the crack of dawn scramble to get to the showground and work right through till dark. My first job for arriving late; make tea for all those who had been on time. I would however not be so lucky the next day and waking up in the dark (I’m not a morning person) and working until dark in May, is a massive shock to the system, especially for someone who needs a routine. I kept telling myself why I was doing this and put on a brave face, to hide the internal battle and struggle I was having with my mind and body. I was both excited and apprehensive. Whilst it had been talked about in the lead up to coming here, about how difficult building a show garden can be; until you have been there and witnessed for yourself the time and effort that the designers and landscapers put into creating the gardens; it is unbelievable. I have a newfound respect for what they give to creating these spaces and the programme on TV, really does not do justice to the work they put in. 

My jobs for the day included, making tea again (after all, everyone needs fuel), moving plants into location, dead-heading and watering; that and trying to avoid being run over by forklifts, lorries and hundreds of people chasing around, to meet the tight deadlines. A respite came in the form of lunchtime and the chance to look around the rest of the showground and be star struck meeting some of the other designers and well known faces of the plant world, including; the Rich Brothers, James Wong, Matt Keightley, Joe Swift, Carol Klein, Monty Don…… Ok that’s enough name-dropping. 

It’s showtime….

The culmination of blood, sweat and tears, all comes down to what colour medal will be presented to the designer, by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Again, I never really appreciated the significance of this until now; understanding the work that goes in and that this medal represents a judgement and recognition of those efforts. For Adam Frost, having won six RHS Gold medals before, some might say it’s a foregone conclusion that another Gold is only to be expected. That’s not the case. Being at the very top of your game, comes with the added pressure of not only maintaining it, but each time, having to create something better and go beyond the pinnacle. I’m pleased to say that Adam Frost’s Homebase Urban Retreat Garden 2015, was awarded an RHS Gold medal!!! Needless to say it came as a shock during our graduation from the Homebase Garden Academy, later that year, when we were all presented with an RHS Gold medal, for our part we played in the build team. This would be my very first Gold medal and one I will treasure forever. Back at the showground and it was time to celebrate with a visit during the final public show day and the famous sell off. 

Having visited the show in 2013 as a keen gardener, admiring the show gardens from behind the barriers, it was surreal to this time be part of the build team, which granted access to the other designers show gardens and an exclusive chance to go beyond the barriers and walk through. I’ve never been a VIP, but as we walked through the gardens with the onlooking public taking our pictures, wondering who we were, it was an experience I will never forget. I can’t thank Adam Frost enough, for this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is an incredible person, mentor and designer and I will treasure these memories forever.

Find out more about this Show Garden and Adam Frost’s other designs in his book “Real Gardens”

Extended Gallery……..