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Ireland’s master gardener wins gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower show

Billy Alexander of Kells Bay Gardens in Co. Kerry

Billy Alexander of Kells Bay Gardens receives gold medal at RHS Chelsea, his second gold medal in three months



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23 September 2021

Ireland’s Master Gardener Billy Alexander of Kells Bay Gardens in Co. Kerry received a Gold medal at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London.

The honour is the second such award that Alexander has received from the Royal Horticultural society (RHS) for his exotic fern display, after receiving a Gold medal at the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in July of this year. The display showcases the uniqueness, diversity, and beauty of world fern species, all of which grow naturally in the idyllic microclimate at Kells Bay Gardens overlooking the Dingle Peninsula.

Chelsea Flower Show

The Chelsea Flower Show is co-ordinated by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the UK’s leading gardening charity and will take place from for the first time ever in September due to the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The show is open from 21 to 26 September and features cutting-edge design and striking floral displays as with previous years.

“To receive a second gold medal from the esteemed RHS is hugely rewarding, and it is a great privilege to be here today,” said Billy Alexander. “Our fern collection is the real jewel in the crown at Kells Bay Gardens, and the enthusiasm and level of care required to conserve and build upon our historical and rare species has been several decades in the making.

“The invitation to showcase has not been without its challenges however, as the realities of transporting agricultural matter during a pandemic, and across borders, has resulted in significant logistical and financial investments along the way. We are looking forward to welcoming visitors to this year’s show and to introduce them to the intricate and fascinating world of ferns through our stand-out exhibition”

Gold standard ferns

The display showcases World Fern species in all their glory, and visitors are invited to contemplate the elegance of the fern fronds, centred around a Victorian fern-bench which is backed by a forest of tree ferns. The overall design, use of sandstone and sphagnum moss which is also sourced from Kells Bay Gardens, reimagines the wildness of the Wild Atlantic landscape, and “wonderful air which is like wine in one’s teeth” (J.M. Synge) which has been transposed to a contemporary setting.

J.M. Synge Irish playwright 1879-1909 (Riders to the Sea, the Playboy of the Western World) was overwhelmed by the beauty of the south Kerry landscape when he visited the area, writing. “One wonders in these places why anyone is left in Dublin, or London, or Paris, when it would be better, one would think, to live in a tent or hut with this magnificent sea and sky, and to breathe this wonderful air, which is like wine in one’s teeth.”

Jon Wheatley, senior RHS Judge said the display was “Probably the most outstanding exhibit of ferns I have ever seen at any Chelsea show, the range and quality of Billy’s plants is quite exceptional, congratulations –  he is a credit to his country.”

Kells Bay Gardens

Kells Bay Gardens are situated beside one of Ireland’s most spectacular settings, overlooking the Dingle Bay. The gardens are known locally as the ‘Jewel on the Ring’ and stretch to just over seventeen hectares, which contain a collection of sub-tropical plants. The centrepiece of the gardens is the extensive tree fern collection, many of which date back to the mid-19th century after being brought over from Australia. The plants have adapted well due to the idyllic microclimate offered in the sunny south-west of Ireland.

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