Video/Gallery: Exhibitors from Suffolk and north Essex on sparkling form at Chelsea Flower Show despite the rain

Suffolk Exhibitor, John O'Connor Sculptures. Pictured is John O'Connor.

Suffolk Exhibitor, John O'Connor Sculptures. Pictured is John O'Connor. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Chelsea was damp today but exhibitors and visitors were undaunted. Lynne Mortimer and photographer Gregg Brown toured the famous flower show on day one.

Suffolk Exhibitor, John O'Connor Sculptures. Pictured is John O'Connor.

Suffolk Exhibitor, John O'Connor Sculptures. Pictured is John O'Connor. - Credit: Gregg Brown

It was wet, it was windy and it was chilly.

Day one of the show is when the judging takes place – the award winners will be announced tomorrow – and it is also when the celebrities turn out in force to grace the gardens and, of course, be seen. Famous or not, we were all as wet as each other after a short stroll in the lashing rain.

Brave among the brave was Strictly Come Dancing professional Karen Hauer, who was wearing a a few layers of tulle under a small bodice.

She and professional partner Kevin Clifton were gliding across the turf at the Bosch stand. Bosch, which manufactures its lawnmovers in Stowmarket, was highlighting its mowers... they glide across the grass as effortlessly as dancers.


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Karen invited Chelsea pensioner Fred Rook to take a turn. Meanwhile, Kevin jokingly asked if I was available to partner him in the popular BBC One show. I laughed but inside I was screaming “yes, yes!”

Inside the Grand Pavilion, out of the rain, were several local exhibitors including Harvey’s Garden Plants of Bury St Edmunds, who is a regular at Chelsea. Roger Harvey was on the phone, held in a queue of callers, waiting to pay the London congestion charge. I took over the wait while he was photographed.

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The nursery is now around 20-years-old although it wasn’t until 2000 that Roger gave up his job in crop protection to run Harveys full-time.

It is known for its snowdrops, hellebores and woodland plants. The garden they have created here is a tranquil oasis of green and shade-loving flowers. It is a family business, Roger says, with he and his wife Teresa plus help at shows from their two daughters. He especially enjoys growing fruit and vegetables for their restaurant.

“On Friday and Saturday, this week, we are holding a Flavours of Chelsea weekend with a special display at the nursery based on the plants we are using at Chelsea. People can also enjoy a Chelsea afternoon tea.”

Does it feature a Chelsea bun? Oh, yes.

Not far from Harveys is Ken Muir’s display of strawberries. The Clacton-on-Sea based grower’s fruit looked ruby-red and succulent but as judging hadn’t taken place, I forbore to try one.

One of the Suffolk exhibits to have excited an enormous amount of interest nationally is the Irises of the artist Sir Cedric Morris. After moving to Benton End, Hadleigh, in the late 1930s, Morris, whose pupils included Maggi Hambling and Lucien Freud, became renowned as an iris breeder.

The artist died in 1982 and, though his irises are scattered far and wide, they have not been brought together as a collection, until now.

Sarah Cook, a professional gardener who worked at Sissinghurst Castle, was born in Hadleigh and her mum introduced her to Benton End when Sarah was seven-years-old.

When Sarah retired, she, and her husband, Jim Marshall, came back to Hadleigh where she set out upon a quest to restore the Benton End iris collection.

Staunch Ipswich Town supporter Sarah says: “There were 90 and we have 26 and I would love to find the missing 64.”

Co-exhibitor Howards Nurseries Ltd of Diss have brought on the irises for the show. Christine Howard explained each iris was wrapped in kitchen roll to make sure it was ready for the show.

She acknowledges it won’t be an easy task as “it’s almost impossible to find out if an iris is his. He used to give them away and raffle them” Her hopes rest on people who carefully label their plants.

The delicate colours of the Morris irises are distinct from some of the bold hues we know today.

It was a first Chelsea Flower Show for couple Colin and Kay Thompson of Wooden Garden Obelisks. “We have been doing this for coming on three years. We started off in the back garden of our home (in Framlingham) for six months... it was like a hobby turning into a business.” Their display of architecturally imposing obelisks are adorned with Peter Beale roses and clematis supplied by Notcutts, of Woodbridge.

They have sold eight-feet obelisks to The Belfry hotel in Birmingham and the wooden structures are also featured at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed.

“Every single order is custom-made and delivered by us, personally.”

Colin was in the air force, based at Wattisham and then went into computing and web design. “I had been sitting at a desk with a computer for a long, long time and I hadn’t realised how badly I wanted to get away from the desk. Kay saw some (obelisks) on television and said, ‘You could do that.’”

Sculptor John O’Connor of East Bergholt is showing his bronze and mixed media figures on a patch of meadow, brought in specially for the show from Thetford. Pink campions, daisies and, vetch were part of the wildflower carpet under the imposing sculptures, modelled from life.

Harrod Horticulture, of Lowestoft, is a Suffolk firm proud to have its many garden products made in its home town. Always looking for and developing new ideas, Alex Rocke, product development manager, points out the aluminium modular pergola with awning that is keeping us dry and the new range of furniture being introduced at the show. With wire supports for border plants, lattice and vintage arches Harrod products are this year featured in Prince Harry’s garden. Trade manager Andrew Barringer reveals the Queen’s residence Balmoral Castle has a raspberry fruit cage from the Lowestoft company.

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