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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Vertical gardens, carnivorous plants, English roses and Britain's Queen Elizabeth launched the UK summer social season at a preview for the Chelsea Flower Show this week.
The tallest garden and the biggest to have ever been built at Chelsea were among 17 exhibits along the main avenue of a gardening show which heralds the start of an English social season that includes Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival.
Celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin's audacious gold medal-winning Irish Sky Garden was the largest garden ever built at Chelsea and includes a hanging garden winched 82 feet in the air.
Next door another gold-medalist was a six-storey vertical allotment sponsored by Do-It-Yourself retail chain B&Q, which showed a unique way to use cramped urban space and, at 30 feet, the tallest garden ever featured at Chelsea.
Star power was at full luminosity for the media preview ahead of Tuesday's opening to the public.
Besides the queen, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Vanessa Redgrave, model Jerry Hall, socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, shoe designer Jimmy Choo and Carry On star Barbara Windsor wandered through the exhibits.
Prince Albert of Monaco was the highlight of the gold medal-winning design on show from his principality, while British actress Helen Mirren (who played Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen") posed for photographers with "Helen" a carnivorous plant launched at the show. She and comedian Bill Bailey each had a flesh-eating plant named after them.
"I'm immortalized in the form of a carnivorous plant, not something that happens every day," Bailey said, speaking in support of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS).
The lingering afterglow of this year's royal wedding lived on with the launch of an English Musk hybrid rose and a sweetpea both named William and Catherine, after Prince William and Catherine Middleton, who married in April.
There was little sign of austerity Britain at the event.
Champagne flowed, scantily clad models posed in the foliage, enticing pools sparkled in the sunshine and a steel band created a jaunty atmosphere.
After a long harsh winter followed by a record heat wave, the most appropriate show garden was perhaps the Australian effort, presented by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Botanist and planting celebrity Roger Elliot told Reuters how the team used only native species and authentic outback sand and mudstone to capture Australia's diverse climate and terrain.
"The story of the garden is the journey of water across the country," he said.
Inside the main pavilion, exhibitors presiding over tens of thousands of individual blooms kept an eye on the gaggle of judges as they made the rounds.
Exhibitor Chris Blom's fifth-generation family gardening business goes back 151 years, has been present at Chelsea since 1948 and has won 60 gold medals.
Blom -- whose Dutch grandfather survived detention by the Gestapo during World War Two by sharing his passion for tulips with a like-minded interrogator -- has been coming to Chelsea since he was eight.
"Us little lads had to water the pots, my whole life has revolved around tulips."
Chelsea Flower Show, which is organized by the Royal Horticultural Society (www.rhs.org.uk) runs from May 24-28.
Editing by Paul Casciato