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We did it! 5 Stars at first Chelsea Flower Show

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

It won’t have gone unnoticed that for the past 3 months or so the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has somewhat dominated our lives - we have lived and breathed it! So now it’s all over, how do we feel?

Exhilarated, exhausted, reassured, happy, broken, grateful, overwhelmed, proud…..

Definitely proud – proud of all the people that worked so hard to make this event such a success. We did it or ‘Fecit id!’ as one of our drawer labels in the collector’s cabinet declared. Dotted in amongst the scientific names of the plants adorning the drawers we had a bit of fun- 'Frenos et bobs' (bits and bobs), Miss Imogen C’s personal favourite, was another.

The week started with quite a bang and by 09.30am on the Monday we’d secured our first sale…from Alan Titchmarsh no less, who also generously agreed to a photoshoot with Amanda. This was a timely distraction, as by now the judges were huddled onto the stand. Forgetting to breathe, I watched as they scrutinised everything, even checking the alignment of the name plates - but I swear I lip-read the word ‘outstanding!’ I hoped that they would notice the meticulously chosen indigenous planting (which, according to the rules, must tie in with the theme of the stand) and in particular the Doodia fern that we’d tracked down, which was discovered by the English botanist, Samuel Doody, one of the founders of the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Alan Titchmarsh was blown away by Amanda’s work and spread the word, which resulted in lots of visitors coming to the stand ‘because Alan said we must,’ as well as a mention on Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 programme the following Sunday. Monday was busy but fun and, whilst we acclimatised to our new home, we enjoyed spotting the A-Listers drifting past the stand. By the end of the day we’d sold 33 pieces. Not a bad start!

The pace increased to fever pitch on Tuesday and we barely had time to register, let alone celebrate, the 5 Star Award that we found sitting on the counter that morning! This pace didn’t let up for the rest of the week, with people drawn to the stand like bees to a honey pot, taking photos and asking questions about the work. Quizzical expressions conveyed their bafflement as they tried to work out what exactly they were looking at: ‘Ok, so these fungi are real, right’? ‘How have you preserved them’? ‘Oh, I get it, you’ve stitched onto real bark…?’ The astonishment was palpable when we explained that all the pieces were made with thread, fabric and paper – sidelong glances were cast at Amanda that expressed awe, tinged with reverence and well deserved it was too, her work is flawless, unusual and beautiful. This positive reaction surprised, thrilled and overwhelmed Amanda because, prior to an event, you have no idea how people will respond to your work. There’s nothing more terrifying than laying yourself open and baring your soul. I have to say, the stand looked stunning – elegant, artistic and understated – people loved the collector’s cabinet with its planted drawers and the little writer’s desk complete with ephemera, and I was delighted when someone wanted to photograph the mossy chair seats and terrariums!

We were lucky with the weather and people strolled past relaxing with a glass of champagne or Pimms, whilst all we craved was a decent cup of tea and biscuit to dunk! We enjoyed the many colourful outfits – in keeping with the theme there were florals everywhere, straw hats (even the odd tie) and, hurrah hurrah, long skirts teamed with denim jackets and trainers. There is something quintessentially British about the Chelsea Flower Show - people dress for the occasion and embrace the event come rain or shine. The effort that goes into this prestigious event is phenomenal, with no idea being too challenging to implement. Giant slabs of rock are shipped in, massive structures, fully mature trees and shrubs and, this year, Mark Gregory’s fully working lock – the most amazing example of the smoke and mirrors that is the Chelsea Flower Show. It looked as though it had always been there, nestling in amongst the native wild flowers, indigenous trees and Yorkshire dry-stone walls. There seemed to be a hint of nostalgia this year with designers embracing natural and restorative green planting; perhaps casting a wistful glance back to our lush and wild flower-rich hedgerows of old in an increasingly urbanised world that is expeditiously overheating and browning. Unsurprisingly then, the focus at Chelsea this year was sustainability – Chris Beardshaw went to great lengths to minimise the environmental impact of his Chelsea garden, whilst Matthew Sturgeon’s Best in Show award-winning garden, inspired by the idea of ecological succession and adaptability of plants, was a masterclass in the understated beauty of green. Similarly, Sarah Eberle’s Resilience Garden, with its enormous grain silo looking incongruous in amongst the natural planting and broad mix of trees, conveyed a strong message about the importance of diversity and the need for us to adapt and prepare for climatic change.

One of Amanda’s favourites was the Festoon installation in the Great Pavilion entitled Come What May. This was a beautiful, ethereal arrangement of hedgerow plants suspended, almost invisibly, from the ceiling in individual glass test tubes. This delicate arrangement, not dissimilar to Amanda’s own presentation, gave these often-overlooked plants centre stage, emphasising their individual attributes and beauty. In a similar vein, Amanda’s artwork focuses on preserving the natural beauty of the flora she studies.

So, our feet are now firmly back on the ground and whilst my garden needs me desperately, there is no rest for Amanda. She has already begun work on commissions, after which it will be the waiting list and then she’ll be looking ahead and planning for Chelsea 2020. Can’t wait to do it all again and hope to see you there!

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