Queen visits floral WW1 'trench'
The Queen walked through the trenches today as she got a first look at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
She was guided through a modern-day floral mock-up of a trench created by gardeners for Birmingham City Council.
The scene is one of more than 500 exhibits that more than 165,000 visitors will see when the annual show opens for the 101st time tomorrow.
After walking through the pristine trench, which was packed with sandbags, tiny metal rats and fronted by a model of a rearing horse, a packed flowerbed, a periscope and whistles, she noted it was "a rather nice trench" in contrast to the grim sites that First World War soldiers would have faced.
Darren Share, who showed the Queen through the trench during the 50-minute private visit, said: "I feel immensely proud. It is of some significance that during the anniversary of WW1, the Queen took the time to see our display rather than just walk past it."
The Queen was wearing a green and lilac floral print dress topped off with a lilac jacket by designer Karl Ludwig, along with a brooch presented to her by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in 2012.
She met exhibitors, judges and senior RHS officials and was introduced to veteran Chelsea BBC presenter Alan Titchmarsh, who is celebrating 50 years in horticulture.
He showed her a garden representing the British landscape from the moors through to the seaside.
He said: "She thought it was lovely and she said it was great fun.
"She thought the rocks were quite sensational. She said this was because you need scale and she was right.
"I know the Queen knows quite a lot about gardening. She knows Latin names, which I think surprises a lot of people."
Garden designer Cleve West, a four-time gold medal winner at the RHS Chelsea show, spoke with the Queen who took an in interest in his garden, which is based around the idea of paradise and as a retreat.
Mr West, who is "hoping" he has another gold medal winner on his hands, said: "The royals do seem to love their gardens basically and they are enthusiastic about it. They appreciate all the things they see here. It is a nice thing to celebrate.
"I think this is going to be a good year for Chelsea. I think it is a good standard."
He said the Queen was "very complimentary" and "enjoyed" his garden.
He added: "She noticed in particular that the plants were much more abundant this year, which is true, because last year we had a very late spring and the choice of plants was not very good. This year we have had so much more to choose from which is why it is looking so much more abundant."
The Queen also stopped off at the Homebase Garden - called Time to Reflect - built in association with the Alzheimer's Society.
Designer Adam Frost said: "She talked about the build and how it must have taken some time doing it.
"I admitted that I was still doing it at 6.30am this morning, and you should see the state of my hands." He showed the Queen that his hands had been cut by the hard work she said, "Oh."
Mr Frost added she was "very sympathetic and incredibly gracious".
The monarch was also shown around the Great Pavilion where she met representatives from the Hillier Nurseries, celebrating its 150th year.
She was also given a Mandela medal bearing the image of former South African president from regular exhibitors, the South African National Biodiversity Institute from Kirstenbosch.
Princess Beatrice, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent also looked at the exhibits.
The effects of old and modern conflicts are being remembered in horticulture as the show marks the centenary of the First World War.
Designers have drawn on family experiences of war from the Somme to Afghanistan to create displays for this week's event at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The flower show also contains gardens addressing themes from fashion to sustainability and drawing on inspiration from around the world.
UK growers - including some who battled floods for weeks in Somerset at the beginning of the year - are showcasing their produce, while one herb grower has recreated the vegetable garden where Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit liked to eat.
Earlier, actors Rowan Atkinson and Nigel Havers read poems by First World War poets who died during the conflict at ABF The Soldiers' Charity's No Man's Land garden to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.
Havers read A Soldier's Cemetery by John William Streets, while Atkinson read Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen, and later The Dead by Rupert Brooke.
The garden represents a landscape marked by the fighting in northern France, including trenches, a mine crater pond and the yew trees found in war cemeteries.
Designer Charlotte Rowe said she was inspired by her own family's involvement in the First World War, including her grandfather, a second lieutenant with the Middlesex Regiment.
She said: "The idea behind it is that the land, No Man's Land, was fought over again and again with the front line moving very little, and the land got completely messed up and churned up.
"The concept is the healing of the land after severe conflict, and relating it to the human body and spirit."
Plants used in the garden have been grown by injured soldiers at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court as part of horticultural therapy.
After his reading, Havers said: "It's a beautiful, restful, peaceful garden."
He added: "It's the right time to do this because it's the anniversary of the First World War."
Actor Stephen Fry, who starred in First World War-set Blackadder Goes Forth with Atkinson, read The Soldier by Rupert Brooke.
Before reading "one of the best-known war poems", Fry paid tribute to Brooke as a man of "extraordinary talent".
"He was so beautiful and extraordinary almost everyone who met him fell in love with him," Fry said.
"Sadly, his life was not long, he died very quickly and somewhat bathetically of septicaemia, but he didn't die before he'd written this remarkable poem."
Joey, the life-sized puppet from the hit stage show War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, also put in an appearance at the garden.
Actress Caroline Quentin read At Daybreak by Siegfried Sassoon.