Chelsea Flower Show feeling Brexit sting

The National Chrysanthemum Society's childrens TV programmes themed garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

It may seem a world away from the stuffy offices of EU Headquarters in Brussels but the results of the Brexit referendum all the way back in 2016 are being felt on the Main Avenue at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in Central London this week.

Main Avenue at Chelsea is the international catwalk for garden designers, being, arguably, the most, high profile and renowned garden show in the world and this year there is not one designer from outside of Britain.

These gardens are high budget affairs - each space on Main Avenue could cost upwards of stg£500,000 (€570k).

While we are all friends in the EU and there is free movement of materials and people, transporting plants and related goods between member states is not a problem.

Plants are grown and tracked via a European Plant Passport scheme which means that a plant grown in any member country, for example Italy, which is planted in a garden in England or Ireland can be traced back to its source.

This is important in containing the spread of pests and diseases.

Brexit has put paid to that for Britain, and as a result, free movement of plants will not be allowed under that scheme once Britain leaves the fold.

As the original Brexit date was before this year's Chelsea Flower Show, it seems that many international designers decided to stay at home this year.

With big budgets come high-profile sponsors and nobody wanted to be left with egg on their face so to speak, should plants for a show garden be held up at Calais or Rotterdam with incorrect paperwork.

These gardens may only be on show for one week but preparation can take a year or more.

A nursery that was growing and importing plants for one of the show gardens was expecting plants from Germany on a particular date in March and found out from the courier that the driver who had left the German nursery four days previously was still stuck in a traffic jam en route to Calais - the same traffic in which he had been sitting for two days.

Interestingly, none of the designers that I spoke to seemed to think Brexit was the reason, or at least weren’t willing to verbalise it.

The large budgets involved and other, even more vague reasons are being offered as explanation. It’s like some kind of subconscious British resolve has kicked in.

When you talk to them, they all agree, or at least, all that I spoke to, that this Brexit has them in a ‘fine mess’ but now it’s time to just get on with it, knuckle down and be British.

However, the absence of top international designers at this show speaks volumes. What it says is less certain, like Brexit itself.

Multinational, big budget companies will have to look at splitting sponsorship budgets going forward as they will have to be seen to be supporting big shows within the EU but at the same time they can’t ignore RHS Chelsea.

The Show hasn’t suffered though, there are 11 Show Gardens on Main Avenue, compared with 10 last year, these are the supermodels at Chelsea and 28 gardens in total along with about 500 exhibitors from all over the world.

Long associated with the Royal Family, the Royal Seal of Approval seems even more prominent this year as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge co-designed the RHSBack to Nature Garden which has been created to promote the message that all of our physical and mental well-being is improved by access to green spaces, nature and gardening.

Resilience is very much the theme of this year's show, many of the gardens are focussing strongly on the importance of nature and gardens in terms of the role they can play in sustainability and promoting biodiversity.

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