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From exotic bling to English rose

WITH tables made of moss, fireside hearths, old washing machines and even an outdoor pizza oven, this year’s Chelsea Flower Show excels in bringing the living room into the garden. Ultra-modern log piles and clean-cut stone seem to be all the rage, but upon first entry many visitors will head for the pavilion.

Highlights of the indoor space include a host of carnivorous plants, brimming baskets of hyacinths and frothing bundles of diascia. But the main show, of course, is the gardens.

If you’re in search of the surreal, step into the hideously bling Ace of Diamonds garden, where security guards in black suits stand watch over fake jewels scattered into the soil and the space is bordered with slabs of amethyst and quartz. Next on a tour of the bizarre and wonderful should be the rhubarb crumble and custard garden, a Yorkshire-inspired celebration of the “rhubarb triangle,” an area of west Yorkshire that was a major producer of forced winter rhubarb. The garden is arranged around a ceramic bowl designed by local artisans E Oldroyd & Sons and a wooden spoon chair created by garden designer Simon Hall.

The rhubarb spectacle is outdone, however, by the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association garden inspired by Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and therefore built around a representation of a black hole. Beforehand Hawking admitted: “I am especially intrigued to see how a black hole will be recreated.” To do so, designer Sue Hayward placed a small circular pond in the middle flanked by meteorites over 4,500m years old. Around the edge, ancient plants dating from the earliest mammals’ appearance on earth merge into modern and “futuristic” flora.

Like the MND garden, the Green and Black’s rainforest garden aims to promote awareness of a cause – in this case, the dangers faced by western Cameroon tribes. It features an elegant Mongulu leaf house built by visiting pygmy women, who also planted the space with a thick circle of rainforest vegetation and a half-buried AK47 and chainsaw.

Other rainforest flora from many miles away are to be found in the gold medal-winning Tourism Malaysia garden, a tranquil space of rectangular pools and graceful palms planted with wild specimens that took over two weeks to harvest from equatorial forests. The Nong Nooch Botanical Garden, meanwhile, has flown staff from Thailand to construct its vivid elephant sculptures made by stitching flower heads together.

Alongside these exotic offerings, there is still room for something more traditional. Visitors in search of styles closer to home shouldn’t miss the rose garden, which features bowers of colourful blooms bent into a fragrant tunnel. There is also the luscious M&G garden, described by its creator Roger Platt as “quintessentially a British garden”, a shady retreat centred around an oak gazebo.

Many go to the show with a mind to buy and those looking to adorn their gardens with a carved wooden gorilla, garden gnome or ornamental griffin won’t be disappointed. For the rest, there is copious Pimms to enjoy before your ticket expires.

Chelsea Flower Show runs until 5.30pm on Saturday 29 May. See www.rhs.org.uk.