Chelsea Flower Show 2013-The Sonic Pangea Garden in progress

Behind the scenes at Chelsea Flower Show - it takes a lot of hard work to turn a vision into reality

Chelsea Flower Show centennial -  Stefano Passerotti and I have made past the first 8 months of hurdles, and now we are actually at the showground. We have 10 days of buildup, but really the garden must be completed and settled in a week before the judges come round. The plot we have to work on is disconcertingly small. The first job is to mark out the position of all structures which have to be positioned first.

chelsea plot

Setting-out points are marked in blue paint.

What must go up cannot come down - deep holes have to be dug for the bases of the 6-metre Sonic Spears, which have to put up with whatever the weather may throw at them. Even a small show garden has to be built to exacting Health and Safety standards.

chelsea digging

Lots of digging, by hand

Everything has to be perfecty timed for the arrival of the lorry which will be bringing our whole garden, from structures to plants, from Italy.

truckload garden

A whole garden in a truck

The lorry must be offloaded quickly to make way for other vehicles, in a very crowded work site, but with little storage space it means everything has to be positioned in the garden itself as soon as possible.

lifting Gea

A forklift gently eases the Gea seat out

Some things you just can't rush. The Gea seat, which weighs 1.3 tons complete with soil, has to handled carefully to avoid damaging the plants which are already growing in it.

dropping gea

Telescopic forklifts. A must-have for those hard-to-reach-places

I am filled with admiration for the incredible precison of the forklift handlers at Chelsea. My kids would be riveted, but children are banned from worksite, so I gape on their behalf. It's all very BIGGIE!

two cranes

Our neighbour is positioning a rammed-earth wall as we finish putting the Gea seat in place. With only inches between us

You cannot imagine the incredible noise and fumes of Chelsea buildup. Diesel engines are kept running round the clock, cement mixers churn, stell cutters whine, blowtorches hiss away. Hell? No, my 3-year old inner core is in heaven.

pan drop

The altar to pan gets the red forklift

the first couple of days are all about heavy machinery and supervision.

spear set

raising the flag... i meant the Sonic Spears

I'm the one who gets to stand around reading the plans and asking for things to be shifted just a little bit more to the left please. No, the other left. I know, it weighs a bomb, but that's still the wrong left, please. 

day 2 evening

The evening of day 2 buildup

After a cold and overcast start to buildup, the sun finally broke through. The hard landscape part of our garden was completed, it was 7:15 Pm, close to site closing, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Little did we know we would not see the sun for another 10 days or so.

designers consult

High vis and steel toe boots mandatory

The only thing that sucks more than being the resident plan-reader and rule-enforcer is having new boots. Never ever wear new workboots for 12 hours a day and 7 days running! I develop such pain that I have to constantly run to places, because if I have to walk to the site office and back it would take me to long, and I do it at least 20 times a day. Running to get over the pain faster.

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