I was uncomfortable at Chelsea. There was something kind of deep seated about it; a sense of being surrounded by oligarchal wealth and the sense of being "u". and "not-u" (yes, really), of favoured garden designers being promoted like pampered pets, sponsors courted and money being delicately milked from the super-wealthy through a combination of champagne flattery and decadent fripperies, to create an airy economic space full over overheated nothings; a little tulip bubble that had nothing to say to the real world.
There were three specific gardens which took me down this road:
The British Eccentrics Garden contained twiddling trees and a fairy house from which the UK's favourite Garden Gnome, Diarmuid Gavin, exited at regular intervals to wave to his public. It had lovely planting, and was hilarious and quite charming in a silly sort of way. It guaranteed your glimpse of celebrity, and gave a cast-iron thing to point to when your gardener (for surely it was aimed at the sort of people who have (under)gardeners) said, sir, I'm not really sure that that's possible...
The Senri-Sentai Garage Garden is the creation of Kazuyuki Ishihara, a darling of Chelsea. I saw him getting his medal on the TV coverage, that adorable explosion of delight. He is a charming man, and the garden is both beautiful and inspirational for a small-scale urban gardener such as myself. However, I somehow got a zoo-twitch, and a sense of coo, and a sense of look at these charming little ideas for little people!
Finally, Antithesis of Sarcophogai, which was the belle of the Chelsea ball, and a truly astonishing piece of work. While I was queuing, the designers were working the queues, looking for useful contacts. We had a brief, light conversation during which I was initially assumed to be a fellow professional, maybe some kind of garden designer, and I felt a touch of the desperateness of the competitive hot-house, of young designers struggling up into the light, each upturned face saying give me money and admiration or I die,
I'm a "non-u" and not scene. No money, so not a sponsor, no business, so not a professional. But I am a critical customer of the garden experiences I consume, and this one feels a little rich for my tastes.