Once more, an unlikely corner of west London becomes a little oasis of grass, trees and water features today with the opening of the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show. Extravagant displays by Diarmuid Gavin and other top garden designers will, doubtless, cause the jaws of spectators to drop with their ingenuity and invention.
Yet the spectacular element of Chelsea has always been rather paradoxical, given that gardening, as practiced by most green-fingered folk in this country, is often un-showy. Far from using exotic plants, or fancy constructions that require tons of raw material to be moved around, most gardeners are thrifty sorts, content to plant what their soil allows them to grow. There are also few more eco-friendly pastimes than growing one's own vegetables, putting food scraps on to a compost heap and tending a suburban garden in which birds and insects can thrive.
And, in fact, Chelsea is reflecting this ecological aspect of gardening this year. The garden designed by The Children's Society charity includes waste and recycling storage, alongside "living walls" and plants that attract copious number of butterflies and bees. The River & Rowing Museum's "Ratty's Refuge" garden is designed to inspire gardeners who live near waterways to create a natural wildlife sanctuary.
The University of East Anglia's climate scientists have even designed a series of garden areas to show how climate change will affect the plants that we can grow in the UK. It seems odd to say, but this year the Chelsea Flower Show has done a pretty good job of going green.