RHS Chelsea Flower Show for beginners.

I’ve wanted to go to RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the past 20+ years and have never gotten around to it. As I approach my 50th Birthday I decided that it was time to starting ticking off “The list of things I’ve always wanted to do” list, AKA The bucket list, and what better one to start with than a visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Here is my beginners guide to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, formally known as the Great Spring Show, is a garden show held for five days in May by the Royal Horticultural Society in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London. The main highlights of the event include the avant-garde show gardens designed by some of the leading names in garden design, which are all situated along the main Avenue, and a very large Floral Marquee, known as the Great Pavilion, at the centrepiece. The Show also features a number of smaller gardens in two different categories, the Artisan Gardens and the Fresh Gardens, which are also widely contested.

The Show Gardens

This year there were 15 main show gardens all competing for the highly prized Chelsea GOLD and the ultimate award of Best in Show. 2014 saw a total of 6 show gardens winning Gold.

This year the top prize of Best in Show went to The Laurent-Perrier Garden designed by Luciano Giubbilier. To me it was OK but I didn’t think it was anything special but I guess it ticked all the right boxes for the judges.

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The Laurent-Perrier Garden, designed by Luciano Giubbilier

“The intention is to stimulate the enjoyment of observation, and to invite exploration of stillness and movement through relationships between the contrasting forms and materials in the garden.” The garden certainly filled its intention but it just didn’t hit the spot for me, not quite sure why but you can’t love them all.

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RBC Waterscape Garden, designed by Hugo Bugg

This was a very geometric style garden with lots of hard angles which both expose and conceal large sections of the garden. Although not one of my favourites, the water did look very inviting for a paddle after a long day wandering round the show. And the emphasis on water was continued in the river of blue irises.

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The M&G Garden, designed by Cleve West

This garden had a bit of everything, with the exception of grass. The design was a contemporary take on Persian gardens from 2,000 years ago.  I did like this garden and it looked better when viewed in person. It was beautifully planted and the fountain and stonework were perfect. The garden looked very inviting, however, I think the sunken area is lost on the public as they don’t have access to it. Unfortunately it was one of the more popular gardens and always surrounded by people so I didn’t get the whole image that I was looking for.

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Hope on the Horizon Garden, designed by Matt Keightley

Hope on the Horizon is a contemplative space that represents the process which injured servicemen and women go through on the road to recovery, designed to support Help for Heroes.

Granite blocks symbolise the soldiers’ physical well-being and planting reflects their mental well-being. The journey starts with a rough, unfinished and overgrown area, evolving through the garden to conclude with a perfectly structured section. An avenue of hornbeams draws attention to a sculpture resembling a horizon, a reminder to the soldiers that they all have a bright future ahead. As well as areas to relax and reflect, the garden also offers focal points along the journey.

It was a garden that had lots of elements to photograph but sadly I couldn’t get into a spot to show it as a whole. Although this garden was not awarded a Gold, but a Silver Gilt, it was one of the more popular gardens and has since received the BBC People’s Choice Award.

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The Telegraph Garden, designed by Tommaso Del Buono & Paul Gazerwitz

I was really looking forward to seeing this garden, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint. The garden has a hint of an Italian garden to suit today’s modern world. I loved the pleached limes and the box domes edging the large grass carpet, it’s worth noting that this was the only garden at Chelsea to have any grass. It looked like a peaceful and beautiful environment designed for rest and relaxation yet could also be used for entertaining and for the family. This garden was my Best in Show and I could definitely see myself on the marble seat with a glass of wine.

And finally there was the lovely “From the Moors to the Sea” designed by Alan Titchmarsh and Kate Gould.

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From the Moors to the Sea, designed by Alan Titchmarsh and Kate Gould

This garden was not in competition by was created to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the RHS Britain in Bloom. I liked the concept of the design and all the micro-climates that went into the garden but I can’t see it being repeated in many peoples gardens.

The one thing that did strike me about most of the gardens was the use of irises, mostly various varieties of blue, and foxgloves with white being the main favourite; alliums were popular too.

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For some reason, and I don’t know why, we seemed to miss most of the Artisan Gardens and Fresh Gardens; which is a shame as there were 2 that I would like to have seen!

After exploring the outside we ventured inside the Great Pavilion to see what delights and smells awaited us.

Inside The Great Pavilion

The Great Pavilion is where the nurseries and plants men and women do battle and display their chosen speciality flowers in all their glory.

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There is a wide range of traditional displays like gorgeous display of pitcher plants from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants and the auricular’s shown by W & S Lockyer.

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And the more informal displays like the South West in Bloom display which one the Diamond Jubilee Award and Birmingham City Council who won The Presidents Award for their Remembrance of the start of WWI 1914 display.

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The RHS also marked the Remembrance of the start of WWI with a display of images taken in 1914 displayed around the upper curtain of the pavilion.

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One of my favourites was the Waitrose in conjunction with the National Farmers Union display. It was a vibrant display of all colours imaginable but as you looked closer at the arrangements you couldn’t miss the cleverly placed fruit and vegetable which blended with the flowers perfectly.

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Another that caught my eye was the Wonders of Cape Town by City of Cape Town and the eye-catching image of the late Nelson Mandela made completely from flowers.

And then there were the smells!!

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Many flowers have a bouquet but when there as so many of one variety in a densely compact area the nose is treated to a deluge of scents coming from all directions at the same time. The best example of this at Chelsea was passing the Ken Muir Ltd display dripping with sweetly scented fresh strawberries closely followed by the heady scent of so many lilies from the H.W. Hyde & Son stand next to it.

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One of the things Chelsea Flower Show is known for is the big sell off and the final day of the show. But with over 150,000 visitors to the show each year its not possible for everyone to have a bit of Chelsea to take home with them … think again! With the advances of technology and growing techniques many of the nurseries were selling packs of plug plants or bulbs making the newest varieties available to everyone. Each plant plug pack came with growing information and contact details if you had any problems – and you were told to ring them as they handed them to you!

 

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More images from inside the Great Pavilion.

Anything else?

Chelsea Flower Show is not just about the flowers, there is a very large trade contingent, including the sponsors.

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There is like a street that runs adjacent to the Main Avenue which is packed with small exhibitors in small booths.

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Ranging from artists and sculptor, to gardening equipment and accessories suppliers, with many others in between, and of course garden designers, there is a little something to suit everyone.

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Back on the Main Avenue between the Show Gardens and the Great Pavilion there are the larger trade exhibitors dealing in conservatories, furniture and large pots and sculptures etc. What amazed me with these larger stands was the attention to detail and their use of flowers and plants to promote their wares to the fullest; there were prizes awarded for their hard work too.

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The Khora Ltd Trade Stand, won the RHS Director General’s Awards for the Best Trade Stand and a Five Star Award. I loved it’s design and also the planting around it and would loved to have sat and had a coffee and read a book on the patio.

Any surprises?

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No big surprises, although I didn’t expect to see The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party 🙂

Did anything take my fancy?

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Inside the Great Pavilion I did like one of the clematis displays by Raymond Evison Clematis so have taken the two images to remind me of the plant combinations and the names of the plants and will look at planting them next year.

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Then there was the beautiful greenhouse by Alitex Greenhouse and Conservatories, but I’m not sure John would approve of me taking down one of his sheds to replace it with another greenhouse!

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And finally there were a pair of large Great Dane dogs led on huge stone plinths from Triton UK Ltd, but I need a big country estate first to accommodate them – I quite liked to the look of their temples too 🙂

So what did I really buy?

I was a good girl and only bought set of Carnivorous plant plugs from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants and a set of Agapanthus plant plugs from Hoyland Plant Centre. I also bought an RHS book I was after and an Eco Pot Maker from Burgon & Ball so was quite restrained.

Word of advice, like most of these types of things remember to bring your purse/wallet and a credit card!!

What did I think on my first visit?

I thought the Show Gardens were a credit to all the designers and their attention to the fine details was amazing. I was impressed that at each garden there was someone giving out information leaflets about the gardens which also included an invaluable plant list.

The plants men and women in the Great Pavilion were just as amazing. They were friendly, courteous & highly knowledgeable collection of people who happily answered all questions thrown at them numerous times. The exact same can also be said of the many trades people who were one minute basking in glorious sunshine and the next trying to shelter from the thunder storm and the ensuing downpour.

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It was nice to see some of the garden presenters wandering around filming for their evening slots, they and the BBC camera crews must put in some long hours.

The only thing I was slightly disappointed with was that the show gardens are much smaller than they appear on TV!

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On the plus side I did manage to shoot some bugs whilst I was there.

And will I go back again? Hell yeah!!

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