THERE were gold, silver and bronze awards yesterday as 17 North-East and Yorkshire local authorities, companies and individual entries took the world's greatest flower show by storm.

A rainswept 81st Chelsea Flower Show saw golds awarded to the Fir Trees Pelargonium Nursery, of Stokesley, North Yorkshire, and the Yorkshire Forward show garden, which was designed on a Yorkshire Dales theme.

Newcastle City Council's first individual attempt to capture gardening glory produced a surprise silver when its Lindisfarne Garden, originally intended as a non-competing show display, won a garden silver flora.

The award was matched by Gateshead Council, which has been showing at Chelsea since 1988, with a beautiful replica of the Millennium Eye bridge.

The Newcastle award was a triumph for designer Stan Timmins, who said: "I had my car broken into the Saturday night before the show and I had all my files, designs for the garden, and even my hearing aid stolen.

"Luckily, we had started the garden, so I had to finish it from memory."

Newcastle's effort, which cost about £20,000, may be transplanted to Holy Island, Northumberland, so that as many North-East people as possible can see the 10,000 plants, sculptures and water feature.

Gateshead's garden, which cost about £35,000, caught the eye of celebrities such as Jerry Hall.

Council corporate affairs manager Susan Wear said: "Everyone was excited by the wow-factor of our design, and it will certainly help with our European City of Culture bid, which is due to be announced between June 3 and June 5."

Designer Graham Scott said: "I am a little bit disappointed that we only received a silver, but this is the greatest flower show in the world and we want to come back next year to celebrate a City of Culture victory."

His garden will be seen again at Gateshead Flower Show in August.

Helen Bainbridge, of Stokesley's Fir Trees Nursery, is a Chelsea champion-of-champions after celebrating six golds in ten years of showing pelargoniums in the floral pavilion.

She said: "We show at Harrogate, the Royal Highland and Hampton Court, but Chelsea is the one you get really nervous about. Sales of our plants depend so much on us achieving the gold standard.

"We are proud that so many plants from the North-East do so well.

"We are convinced it is something in the water."

Among the other prize-winners at Chelsea were Alan Capper's Catwalk small garden, which impressed BBC presenters.

The fashion show theme for Kent Design and Landscape Management Services, of Newcastle, took a bronze flora.

Gilbeys Plants, of Marsham, North Yorkshire, won a silver flora award in the pavilion; Shildon and District Flower Club picked up a bronze award in Floral Arrangement; and Kate Corrigan, of Louise Florist, in Scarborough, took a bronze grenfell for floristry