AUSTRALIA’S gardeners have created history at the Chelsea Flower Show by claiming the prestigious event’s top prize for the first time with their daring, environmentally-friendly design.
Wes Fleming, head of Fleming’s Nurseries, bowed out a winner in his ninth and final attempt on Tuesday after he and his crew were awarded the Best in Show for their landscape-style design encompassing desert, wildflower and water elements.
Fleming’s crews have collected plenty of prizes over the years but never the big one, and a team of 18 volunteers erupted into wild celebrations after being told the news.
“You can’t imagine it,” Fleming told AAP.
“I never thought it would happen but as I’ve told the crew about 20 times this morning, we can go home knowing that we’re the best in the world at what we do.
“We’ve had 18 volunteers taking six weeks out of their lives, they’re the best in the world and I couldn’t be more proud to be Australian.”
Fleming had held high hopes for the biggest and boldest Australian display yet, created by award-winning landscape designer Phillip Johnson.
It had received rave reviews from the British media and also earned the approval of the Queen and Prince Harry when they visited on separate occasions.
The $2 million design, half funded be sponsors, blends several elements of Australian nature and has a strong focus on sustainability.
It features a lush desert gorge with huge boulders, a native wildflower meadow and a natural billabong and waterfalls using recycled water from nearby buildings.
The centrepiece is the “waratah studio”, which towers over the garden and features a viewing area.
As more of a landscape than a garden – they brought rocks back to the show for the first time in a decade – Johnson admitted the Australians were going out on a limb and needed the judges to buck their traditional values.
Ultimately, though, the design’s exuberant spirit won out.
Both Fleming and Johnson came to Chelsea hoping to push their message of sustainability and promote the Australian horticulture industry.
Johnson, at his first Chelsea Flower Show, hoped the win would help the industry back home and hailed Fleming for his time, energy and money spent over the past decade.
“That man deserves the Order of Australia for what he’s done,” Johnson told AAP.
“I’ve got goosebumps talking about it.
“He does this is to leverage our horticulture industry and he’s supported nine designers over the last nine years.
“If we didn’t have that backing of someone and supporting us and our industry, we would be so far behind.”
Fleming told his family this would be his last year at Chelsea, though event broadcaster the BBC have credited him with helping to reinvigorate the show and want him to stay on.
Among other things, he plans to lobby the Australian government to use carbon offsets to bolster the horticulture industry and said his years spent at Chelsea would give him more credibility.
The sold-out show opened to the public on Tuesday and runs until Saturday. –AAP