What makes the Chelsea Flower Show so special?
“Well for me it’s a big festival every year, and it’s a celebration of all that’s best in gardening, particularly with the best growers and to go into that pavilion at Chelsea every year. It’s such a dream. The standard of cultivation and the excitement of new things, and sometimes old things that you’re rediscovering. In a way, it’s a bit like heaven.”
And have you had any previews of what’s going to be on this year?
“I never overdose on plans and things. What I really like is to get there at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, have a quick look round, and then I want to transmit the way it strikes me having gone in there to the viewer, rather than being bogged down with plans and things.”
Is there anything that you’re really looking forward to seeing this year?
“I have got one or two plants named after me, so I do nip round, as it’s nice to see if they’re still in cultivation or whether I’ve slipped over the edge! [laughs] So my vanity sometimes allows me to do that.”
What impact will the recent hot weather have had?
“Well it’s always a challenge. The growers almost always try and have some things that – if we have a late season – they’ll be looking good. And if we have an early season, there will be things in reserve that wouldn’t normally be out. Most of them are very accomplished growers, and they’ll have put things in cold store to hold them back and stop them going over in all the April heat. They’ll still look brilliant – you’ll come in and you’ll never know! But it is a challenge for them.”
Is the show something that you really do look forward to every year?
“Oh, it is. I mark it out every year, the third week in May. Nothing else happens that week – I clear the decks, get everything written up, get all my columns done and then come and have a week’s fun here! Well it’s hard – I say fun, I mean I start early in the morning and finish in the evening so they’re 12-hour days on camera. But it’s a great delight. From my point of view, it’s a huge treat. And I did my first Chelsea Flower Show TV programme in 1983, and I’ve been doing it ever since – so I’ll let you do the maths!”
What do you think makes for a particularly good Chelsea?
“I think every year it has a particular spirit to it. It’s a bit of light and sparkle in the year – you know, we’ve had a lovely bit of sparkle this year with the Royal wedding, and I think in times of national economic cuts and economic crisis and world problems, this is a bit of light in the dark. It’s a beacon of hope and I think everybody comes here thinking ‘Gosh, my garden will never look like that but it’ll be great fun to try and make it'”.
Do you often come away with a lot of inspiration for your own garden?
“Every year. And usually a lighter bank balance as well! I usually treat myself to something here, whether it’s a bit of furniture or a tub or some plants when they sell everything off on the Saturday. And I think we all do. We all come and have a bit of a spend.”
It must also be nice to have a break from your own garden for the week, though?
“No! I never like a break – I miss it. And the trouble is, of course, in the third week of May things are happening so fast in the garden so I’m always champing at the bit by the end of the week to get back.”
What’s your favourite Chelsea moment of all time?
“Oh, goodness me. Well I suppose in 1985, I won a gold medal for a garden I did. I remember coming onto the garden early in the morning and there was the card with the medal on it. I went to ring my wife up, and I couldn’t speak.”