Chelsea gives the veg patch top billing

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The Independent Online

Chelsea, that annual catwalk of horticulture, has a message for the fashion-conscious gardener: forget statuary, here-today gone-tomorrow "contemporary" design and doing adventurous things with concrete and metal.

Chelsea, that annual catwalk of horticulture, has a message for the fashion-conscious gardener: forget statuary, here-today gone-tomorrow "contemporary" design and doing adventurous things with concrete and metal.

If you really want to grow some garden cred, plant vegetables. After decades of being that bit in the garden you try to hide, the vegetable patch is back.

Two of the gardens at this week's Chelsea Flower Show have them, several prominent displays are devoted to them, and celebrity chefs Raymond Blanc and James Martin will be promoting them. Other gardens are using herbs and vegetables for foliage, and apple trees feature in two more.

With gardens like Chris Beardshaw's making use of flowers as wild as dandelions and buttercups, and with roses and other classic plants making a comeback, the backlash against "modern" now has real lift-off. Retro gardening has arrived.

Nowhere at Chelsea will this be more obvious than in the Ecover Chelsea Pensioners' Garden. It re-creates a serviceman's vision of the land he fought for, with a vegetable patch filled with varieties selected from a 1939 Sutton's Seeds catalogue, and grown by the pensioners themselves.

Its designer, Julian Dowle, is clear about the lure of vegetables: "You're growing stuff you can pull out of the ground and eat. You've been part of it, sort of manufactured it."

Kate Frey agrees and her Fetzer Wine Garden has a crescent-shaped vegetable patch combined with wild flowers. Mr Blanc, meanwhile, has joined Newington Nurseries in a display of new vegetable and herb varieties from Malaysia.

The Henry Doubleday Research Association will show unusual varieties like parsley peas, plus vegetables growing in everything from a window box to a large communal plot. Writtle College has a wildlife-friendly garden literally good enough to eat; and Guildford College is demonstrating "companion planting", where the flowers deter or act as decoys to vegetable pests.

As the leading herb grower and exhibitor Jekka McVicar says: "Suddenly veg is in vogue again."

Her staff have been "knocked off their feet" trying to cope with the surge in demand, and commissions to design and stock vegetable gardens are fast coming in. (She's building one for chef Jamie Oliver, among others.)

For those who don't have much space - or money - she is a great advocate of growing vegetables in even four-inch pots. Extend to a Gro-Bag of salad herbs, "and you'll still be picking in December".

Vegetables are also being used as decorative plants in their own right.

Mr Dowle says: "After all, some, like runner beans and carrots, were originally grown for their flowers and foliage."

It is a return to an important part of gardening's roots. And, best of all, say many seasoned Chelsea watchers, the veggie and wild flower revival is encouraging people to do imaginative things not with industrial by-products or £100,000 hard landscaping, but with those old-fashioned things that some TV gardeners neglect: plants.

RHS members in eBay ticket windfall

By Tom Anderson

Members of the Royal Horticultural Society are cashing in on the popularity of the Chelsea Flower Show by selling their coveted members' day tickets on eBay and to ticket agencies.

The Chelsea Flower Show is proving such a "must-see" event that tickets for Tuesday's members' day are changing hands for up to five times their £38 face value.

The RHS, which only a few days ago issued a warning about tickets bought on the internet, said yesterday: "We would prefer it if members do not sell their tickets for a profit. We do actually state that on the ticket itself."

A number of agencies are selling tickets for Tuesday. In the past few days, a reporter for this newspaper was offered members' day tickets at £176 by Premier Events and £165 from ticketstosee.com. When asked later for the source of their tickets, both refused to comment. Interestingly, some members' tickets for Tuesday selling on eBay still bore the names of members.

Entry on non-members' days is generally more modestly priced. A Wednesday ticket, for instance, can be bought from Double8tickets.com for £55.

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