I’ve missed doing Chelsea. We used to do large, elaborate displays for Whichford Pottery when I was the head gardener there, and although sourcing the plants for the pots and trying to have them in tip-top condition (in spite of late frosts/hail/scorching sunshine) was nerve-wracking, I loved the buzz of build-up. There’s a special camaraderie between the exhibitors, people help each other out with tools, equipment, plants and ingenious solutions for unforeseen problems, and in spite of the pressures it’s a lot of fun. That is why I volunteered to help on Rosy Hardy’s Forever Freefolk garden at Chelsea this year – I will blog about that in a later post but for now here is a mainly pictorial post from my first couple of days at Build Up.
Nowadays health and safety is a big priority at the show; when I first worked on Chelsea exhibits about 16 years ago things were a lot more lackadaisical, but when there are so many complex sites crammed together – all with the same unavoidable deadline and requiring the delivery and millimetre-perfect manoeuvring of large trees, chunky shrubs, bits of hedge, massive sculptures and ginormous boulders – you’d be very silly not to wear steel toe-cap boots and a high-viz jacket. In fact the RHS warns exhibitors and all their workers in no uncertain terms that they will not be allowed on site if they aren’t wearing them.
Part of me loves all this machinery – I’d love to learn to drive some of these – and it makes me remember the times we used to have to point out every digger, crane and dump truck to our boys when they were small. Look! Digger!
But these are enormously heavy bits of kit and though the drivers are sensible and skilled you do need to give them a wide berth and listen out for reversing beeps. At times it’s like walking among crowds of brightly coloured semi-tame dinosaurs: you treat them with respect and hope none of them come over all Jurassic Park.
Have a look at some of these photos and you’ll soon see why. I think this really is the year of the tree at Chelsea – and serious chunks of stone are still shifted about too.