Just getting to Chelsea this year was a bit of a palaver. Having spent the previous fortnight with a virus, then an ear infection, then labyrinthitis, I was beginning to wonder whether I would make it at all. In the end we gave it a go and apart from some rather dizzy spells, we managed a wonderful seven hour exploration of the show. But it gave me a great excuse to try out some new modes of transport and once inside the show I found my favourite journey of the day – through time and plants in the Bowdens Floral Garden.
The 1920s Pullman carriage ‘Zena’ had a marathon journey of its own to get to Chelsea. Taken out of service for two weeks for the show, Zena had to travel from Battersea to the showground – a mere mile away. However, Chelsea bridge was unable to support the weight of the carriage, so she had to journey up the M25 and return via the M4 to arrive in the Great Pavilion 7 hours later.
Designer David Robinson, alongside several hosta, fern and bamboo experts, has created a plant hunter’s paradise in the garden. The journey along platform 1 showcases hostas (Bowdens hosts the National Collection of hostas), box hedging, bamboo and Victorian cottage garden planting, leading up through the hothouse with its beautiful display of ferns.
As you journey through the 1920s carriage there are many items of memorabilia which help recreate the experience of travellers and plant hunters in the early 20th century.
Inside the train the tables are set, maybe for a champagne breakfast or a luxurious late lunch.
Exiting the carriage is like stepping out into another world – a tropical forest in Malaysia or Thailand. Even the air feels more humid and the planting more lush with wild hostas growing on a rocky outcrop, tree ferns towering above the path and a bamboo forest in the background. A fossil pathway, stumpery and cane plant collector’s hut housing the oldest book of ferns in the world complete the nostalgic atmosphere in this section of the garden.
I enjoyed being taken on a journey exploring the origins of many of our garden plants. A quick trip to the garden centre belies the history of these plants which have been discovered, collected and bred so that we can have access to such diversity in our gardens today. I felt the Bowdens Floral Garden told its story in an extremely palpable and engaging way. I went back in time on Zena from England to Asia, but I left the garden thinking about the way the plants have travelled from their indigenous settings to our modern gardens and the generations of expertise which have made these botanical journeys possible.
What did you think of the coverage or experience of the Bowdens Floral Garden? Let me know your thoughts on the display by leaving a comment below. Thanks.