Since first bursting into bloom in 1912, the Chelsea Flower Show has been, well, about flowers.
But yesterday – possibly for the first time – an almost entirely green garden won the coveted Best in Show award.
With visitors commenting that the design ranged from ‘disappointing’ to ‘brave’, the winner is the talk of the gardening world.
The M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, was crowned as the Best in Show by the Royal Horticulture Society’s judges yesterday. The garden is sponsored by M&G Investments which also backs the show.
Set against huge, blackened oak sculptures that look like rocks and weigh 15 tons, the garden symbolises the ‘regenerative theme of new life’.
The Chelsea Flower Show winner with no flowers: The M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, was crowned as the Best in Show by the Royal Horticulture Society’s judges yesterday. The garden is sponsored by M&G Investments
Set against huge, blackened oak sculptures that look like rocks and weigh 15 tons, the M&G Garden symbolises the ‘regenerative theme of new life’
Celebrating his win with a flute of champagne, Mr Sturgeon said he is unconcerned by criticism of his unusual design; in fact he welcomes it.
He said inspiration came from seeing black rocks in Australia on a beach in Merimbula in New South Wales.
‘It gave me the idea, of a garden where new plants are colonising after a lava flow. I wanted it to feel like it’s being taken over by plants.’
Mr Sturgeon also won the Best in Show award in 2010 and 2016, and bagged seven RHS gold medals.
But his success is tinged with sadness as his partner Sarah Didinal, the mother of his three sons, died aged 37 in 2009, a year before his first win.
‘Sarah used to tease me, saying, ‘Why haven’t you won Best in Show? Why haven’t you made any money?’
Because I never made any money until after she died. Which is sad, as she was there all that early time. So when I hear Best in Show, I think of Sarah,’ he told the Telegraph.
The inspiration for the M&G Garden came from seeing black rocks in Australia on a beach in Merimbula in New South Wales
Sturgeon prefers to use ‘primitive’ plants such as moss and ferns and grasses as they are first to colonise new areas
He prefers to use ‘primitive’ plants such as moss and ferns and grasses as they are first to colonise new areas. ‘They are primitive plants, and they don’t flower. Ferns, for instance, have been around since the dinosaurs.’
The RHS says natural ‘green’ gardens such as Mr Sturgeon’s are on trend for this year. The garden features ‘free planting’ rather than planting in groups of three or four.
The striking black ridges were sculpted from blackened oak by Johnny Woodford while a staircase of vast English ironstone-paved platforms was quarried in the Cotswolds.
Mr Sturgeon, of Haywards Heath, said anyone could replicate his garden look by painting their fences black. ‘Having green plants against a black background helps them stand out – in any garden big or small,’ he said.
Of the criticism of his design, he added: ‘If people love it or hate it, that means a lot to me, I don’t want people to be indifferent, I want people to think about it.’
Among the remarks he has heard are that the black ridges ‘look like groynes on a beach’ or volcanic rock formations.
Hayley Farnfield, 46, of Farnham, said of the M&G Garden: ‘It’s very clever to have no flowers at the Chelsea Flower Show, although he does have some flowers, it’s just they are very subtle.’
Even Her Majesty the Queen visited, telling him ‘it’s amazing how a lot of these show gardens attract butterflies and bees.
She commented that it’s good people are aware of how important it is to get wildlife into gardens.’ RHS members gave mixed reviews to the garden which, to be fair, does have the odd bloom.
‘Jane Watson, 61, a hospital clerk, said: ‘I am disappinted it’s too green. I like colours. Coming from Derbyshire we see a lot of this.’
Others were more enthusiastic. Louise Cummins, 58, a garden designer from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey said: ‘It’s very brave to be that green,’ adding that she suspected the public preferred purples, blues and whites.
Hayley Farnfield, 46, of Farnham, said: ‘It’s very clever to have no flowers at the Chelsea Flower Show, although he does have some flowers, it’s just they are very subtle.’
An even more radical garden was unveiled by Ikea. It features hydroponic technology without sunlight or soil. Plants grow under LED lights with soil replaced by water.
Sturgeon is pictured with his gong. He won Best Show Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with his M&G Garden
What a water feature! Designer who put a CANAL in his gardens
With its gently lapping water and weathered wooden beams, it looks like a stretch of Yorkshire canal untouched for decades.
But this incredible garden, which won a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday, was painstakingly built in just 18 days by a designer known as ‘the Paul Hollywood of the gardening world’.
And the setting was romantic enough for one brave man to drop to one knee and propose to his surprised girlfriend, who told him ‘yes,’ to the delight of the crowd.
Adam Baylis-West said he was ‘very happy’ his partner Rosemary agreed to marry him on the Welcome to Yorkshire canal garden.
The couple weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the installation, as A list celebrities queued up to admire designer Mark Gregory’s work.
Dame Judi Dench said: ‘It’s so authentic I can’t believe it’s only just arrived in the middle of Chelsea. I don’t garden myself, I just know a lovely garden when I see it.’ The Canal and Rivers Trust provided two pairs of old lock gates from the Huddersfield Narrow Canal for the 2,800 square-foot garden. Alongside is an authentic lock keeper’s office built from reclaimed York sandstone. Mr Gregory, 59, a judge on Channel 5’s The Great Garden Challenge, said of his 99th design for the show: ‘I hope people will feel transported into an authentic patch of Yorkshire.’
Tranquil: Mark Gregory’s canal scene complete with working lock
Prices are growing too – £105 for a vintage bottle of champagne
Guests were treated to a garden designed by the Duchess of Cambridge, an authentic Yorkshire canal with a working lock and even nude models in floral body paint.
But another aspect of the Chelsea Flower Show astonished enthusiasts even more – the extortionate prices for champagne, Pimm’s and other refreshments.
A 125ml glass of Fortnum and Mason Rose cost £18 at the event’s bars, while a glass of champagne was a hefty £15.
A 750ml bottle of Fortnum and Mason Brut – which retails at less than £30 a bottle – was being sold for £85, while thirsty punters were expected to pay £105 for a bottle of vintage 2012 champagne which is usually on sale in shops for less than £50.
The Royal Horticultural Society bars also charged £7.80 for a half-pint glass of Pimm’s, and £29.50 for a pitcher, while a cup of tea and a sandwich cost £7.50.
Valerie Johnson, 58, from Birmingham, paid more than £70 for a day ticket to yesterday’s event, which she attended with a friend.
‘The drinks are rather expensive, especially when you are more than £70 poorer just to get inside,’ the former teacher said.
‘I can’t remember how much it was last year but I’m certain the price has crept up. Though it is to be expected I suppose, given the event and where we are. They must be making a fortune for this stuff; perhaps I’ll sneak my own booze in next year.’
Daniel Howard, 68, travelled to London from Exeter for the show.
‘I’ve bought us a jug of Pimm’s and have begrudgingly paid the prices because we want to have a lovely time but the mark-up is quite astonishing,’ he said.
A spokesman from the Royal Horticultural Society said: ‘With the RHS Chelsea Flower Show not being a fixed site, the show is built from scratch where associated costs inevitably result.
‘There is a wide range of catering options across the show and we welcome our guests to bring their own picnics.’