Chelsea Flower Show: A blooming century lit up by tweed and Pimm’s

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After 100 years, the show has qualified for a message from the Queen – and, writes Tom Peck, it’s still going strong

Joanna Lumley, the Queen and Ringo Starr were among the Great British institutions to wish a happy 100th birthday to another one – the Chelsea Flower Show.

Thousands of delighted gardeners are descending on the grounds of Chelsea’s Royal Hospital, home of the famous Chelsea Pensioners, this week, where dozens of immaculate little gardens have been painstakingly installed. As is the case every year, the thousands of tickets sold out long ago.

It is difficult to imagine an event more stereotypically British. Think Wimbledon, but without the tennis. Visitors in tweed jackets and brightly-coloured trousers ambulate between the gleaming banks of chrysanthemums, drinking Pimm’s and champagne and gasping at the wonder of it all.

“I’m not a great gardener, I’m a great pointer. I’ll say I’d like this here or that there. I know how I want it to look. If you’re looking at beautiful things you get in a beautiful mood,” said Ringo Starr. The musician has been a perennial presence at the show since he was faced with the arduous task of landscaping the gardens at Tittenhurst Park, the Berkshire estate he took over from John Lennon in 1973, where the video for “Imagine” was filmed.

He was opening a garden with WaterAid, showcasing a new method of harvesting rainwater that the charity has implemented in India. Beneath Chelsea’s intensely manicured veneer, there is a lot of fascinating stuff going on.

In the Grand Pavilion, the East Malling Research Station is displaying an excavated apple tree, suspended from above to show its subterranean roots in all their glory. The company is a leader in researching apple rootstocks, with the intention of creating bigger yields, and fresh varieties of apple. The original apple, it transpires, first grew in Kazakhstan, from whence all others have evolved.

Amy Curtis, a finalist in the “fresh talent garden design competition”, has created an “urban bee hotel”. Set among flowering plants, she has drilled small holes into pieces of wood, which are the perfect size for solitary bees to lay their eggs. “Solitary bees don’t live in hives, but they’re responsible for 90 per cent of pollination of plants and flowers in the UK,” she said. “I wanted to show how you can do something in an urban environment to help bees, and make it look beautiful as well.”

Solitary bees, which don’t sting and are harmless, lay their larva in the holes, then cover them up with mud. The new bees hatch and make their way out. In the couple of days the “hotel” has been installed at the show, quite a few bees have already been born.

Among other attendees were  Jerry Hall, the model, and Eddie Redmayne,  the actor, who claimed to have “never ever lifted a trowel, but now I’ve got [a] roof terrace, I’m probably going to have to”.

Ian Hislop , the Have I Got News For You team captain, was there to launch the Pride and Prejudice rose, a new species named after Jane Austen’s novel, which was published 200 years ago this year. Sales of the rose, from Harkness Roses, a specialist rose grower, will raise money for Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton in Hampshire.

In pictures: A preview of the Chelsea Flower Show 2013

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