For us, the ‘missing’ element of The Chelsea Flower Show has always been fragrance. Gardens showcase architectural brilliance, skilful colour combining and masterful landscaping, but scent’s the poor relation. But maybe that’s all about to change, with L’Occitane’s Gold Medal from the RHS for their ‘Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse’ – our favourite spot, when we visited the rainswept show yesterday. (Where the soundtrack was the sound of sneezing, by the way, from hundreds of people affected by the plane tree pollen being tornado-ed down the Main Avenue.)
There were, actually, lots of lovely things to smell all over Chelsea yesterday. (And not just within the Showground itself, if you haven’t bagged a ticket: the nearby shops have some eye-popping floral displays.) Here’s our Top 10 (click on the blue links to find out more).
1. L’Occitane ‘A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse’. Think: lavender, osmanthus, fig fruits and leaves – and rosemary bushes, over which Provençale women used to leave their laundry to dry. (We’ll be copying that!) This painstakingly-constructed but casual-looking garden really transported us to the south of France – less so in the morning’s downpour, but as the weather warmed up and brought out the scents, it was paradise itself.
2. H.W. Hyde’s Lily display. In the main tent, this filled the surrounding air with the sweet scent of lilies. Our new favourite? This blowsy ‘Kulap’ double variety. (We’ve put in our order.)
3. Lily of the valley. Lots of stands in the marquee offer Convularia majilis; take time to stop and smell the lily of the valley, won’t you?
4. David Austin Roses. Always a joy, with climbers and ramblers scampering over the whole stand.Our best scented ‘find’? A bright pink modern rose called – wait for it – Princess Anne, with a gorgeous tea rose scent. (Who knew she smelled so lovely? Or had such a colourful, pink side?)
5. The Alitex ‘Newlyweds Greenhouse’. Right up there with L’Occitane as our fave scented display (and a wonderful retreat from the weather!), with fabulously fragrant stephanotis twining over the structure, headily filling the air with its white floral sweetness. A must-visit, on Main Avenue.
6. The best-smelling hyacinths. We poked our noses into dozens of these, and concluded: Blue Eyes is the most perfectly hyacinth-scented – sweet, voluptuous, a little indolic without tipping over into ‘horse manure’ territory (and some do!)
10. The Liz Earle flagship store. While in Chelsea, do pay a visit and take a ‘selfie’ on the swing outside (they’ve thoughtfully provided a selfie stick!) Here’s our co-founder Jo looking like a windswept Womble next to the goddess that is Liz Earle, without an eyelash out of place after her Chelsea morning, in the stunning floral bower which they’d entered for ‘Chelsea in Bloom’. In fact, take a stroll round the Sloane Square area: lots of shops have literally traffic-stopping floral displays outside.
11. And one that isn’t really scented at all… But the sculptural garden, below, is there to celebrate the new Salon de Parfums in Harrods. Behind the ‘leaf’ screen are some ‘test tubes’ filled with scented flowers, but not close enough to sniff. We suggest closing your eyes, looking at the floral sculptures – and conjuring up a favourite perfume in your mind’s eye.
Here’s to more fragrance at Chelsea, in the coming years. And if you’re lucky enough to be visiting! Get those nostrils in gear…