I was lucky enough to attend the preview day of the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday (thanks BBC London!). It was a great day and anyone lucky enough to have tickets will have a great time!
The 2013 show actually marks the 100th anniversary of Chelsea so it seemed fitting that I was there to talk about the Tudor kitchen garden project on the radio. Looking at some of the information there on the first show, times have changed, although I understand that a few of the exhibitors have been coming to the show since 1913.
Anyway, if you are going, I particularly recommend the Australian garden, which is really impressive. There is also a display on Thailand in the pavilion which is impressive and (I'm told) required 50,000 orchids and 15 gardeners to set up.
There were actually only two displays with vegetables which was a bit disappointing although, as St John, BBC London's gardening expert, pointed out - it is a flower show! It was great to see some of the varieties available. It was also an interesting contrast to my own garden, which has been planted with heritage seeds. Two particular highlights were cucamelons, which are grape-size 'watermelons' that taste of cucumber with a tinge of lime. I've picked up some seeds for these and am keen to give them a try even if they are far from Tudor. Another new variety was a Cha Cha Chive, which is a chive which, instead of flowering, simply grows new shoots from the purple seed head. They looked visually stunning - like purple heads with green hair!
Although these new varieties are very unusual and clearly not heritage seeds, I think the principle behind them is one that would have been appreciated by a Tudor gardener. It was important to grow the strongest and best varieties of vegetables and gardeners would have been careful to replant seeds from the plants that showed the best promise, a process that has always occurred in agriculture. It reminds me of the cultivation of maize in South America. This was developed from Teosinte, a grain which still grows in the wild. The two crops are so different that it seems almost impossible that they can be related - but they are - genetic engineering at work long before anyone knew anything about the specifics of genetics!