Exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show is an addictive thing. It becomes an essential part of your horticultural year. I've exhibited there with my previous company, Hilliers, for 22 years as part of a fabulous team with decades of experience and an unrivalled record.
When I left Hillier last summer I knew I would return to Chelsea as I am a judge for the RHS. What I didn't know was that I would be back this year. Early in the year I was approached to be part of a team of three Gold Medal winning designers that Andrew McIndoe was putting together.
The brief was to create a garden and cut flower displays to go with a quirky new look VIP area headed by top international chef Raymond Blanc and put together by top catering company Sodexo in association with The Royal Horticultural Society.
Chelsea is always a challenge because you never know what the weather will be like; I have done Chelsea in both arctic and tropical Chelsea temperatures in my time plus every variation in between! So my flowers needed to be rock solid choices that would perform no matter whether the heat was sweltering or icy winds were blowing.
We produced almost 1000 bunches of flowers to hang from the walls in between panels of gorgeous Matthew Williamson wallpaper from his Osborne and Little collection. Herb walls hung with over 500 living plants in pretty glass flower pots covered several panels in each dining room. While me and the team were preparing the flowers Andy Mcindoe and Paul Hervey-Brookes were creating a fabulous food inspired garden outside.
Our challenge on the tables was to create flowers that fitted under a specially made terrarium and were adaptable enough to adjust to the varying numbers of people on each table from flowery breakfasts right through to evening canapes and dinner. We went with a rich palette of colours in shades of raspberry, burnt orange and lime teamed with asparagus, lettuce and chillies matched with mirror glass containers to reflect the glamorous wall paper.
The food was so beautiful it was a treat to design flowers to go alongside.
Our biggest challenge was the entrance area. A 2m high gate greeted visitors with the central circle fully decorated with a lovely lush mix of moss, double white lilies, giant artichoke heads, scented pinks and hanging stems of amarathus. Then a 4m entrance portal followed where visitors went through the circular, flower filled entrance to get into Jardin Blanc.
Set up took us many days but it was a great experience and such a treat to do such challenging designs. The big revelation for me was the involvement of Raymond Blanc. We are used these days to celebrity chefs putting their names to projects but having very little to do with them in reality. In this project Raymond was involved and making decisions at every stage, his staff from Le Manoir worked in the kitchens, the Sodexo staff at all levels had days of special training to make sure they understood everything they were preparing and serving and Raymond himself was present for long periods of time both with his customers and with his staff. It really was a privilege to work on a project conceived and curated by someone as "authentic" as Raymond Blanc.
I wonder what next year's Chelsea challenge will be?