I feel that there is a void in the gardening year unless I get to Chelsea Flower Show in May. If you have ever been to the show then you understand the energy that it gives you — like a shot of horticultural speed. Walking around the show in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, you can’t hep but be infused with ideas and inspiration, making you itch to get home and stuck into your own garden but at the same time not wanting to leave the gardening nirvana that the show is.
Such a concentration of talent, skill, design, ideas, and of course, flowers. Flowers, flowers and then some more flowers, every shape, size and colour that you can imagine and some that you can’t. Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and the awe and wonder that it evoked as a child and transfer that to your gardening self and then you begin to understand what Chelsea is about.
The first time I was at Chelsea was in 1991, when I was working on a display garden with a team from college. (We won a silver gilt and again in 1993, just so you know). In many ways this is the best way to experience the show, with teams of people and millions of pounds used to create the world’s most famous flower show, watching it being turned from a hospital grounds into this amazing wonderland, and then equally as efficiently being dismantled and left to the Chelsea Pensioners as if it never happened.
It has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital since 1913, taking breaks during the two world wars. It has been overtaken by Hampton Court as the biggest flower show in the UK, but it is undoubtedly the most prestigious flower show in the UK, if not in the world.
Since the beginning, it has contained both show gardens and nursery displays and there are two firms that were there in 1913 still exhibiting: Mc Beans Orchids and Blackmore and Langdon. The Great Marquee covering an area of 3.5 acres was named in the Guinness Book of Records as the Worlds largest tent until it was stood down in 2000 and replaced with a modular structure.
Taking place this year from May 20-24, there will be upwards of 30 display gardens to inspire and for us to admire and over 500 exhibitors. Every type of design and style of garden will be on display, traditional English cottage garden, contemporary formal gardens, rooftop gardens, vertical gardening to name but a few. Another thing I love about the show is the different ways of doing things such as using water, wind, light and other features in the garden. New ideas for getting the best out of small spaces and new ways for mixing plants with hard landscaping in ‘of the moment’ designs, these are the order of the day at Chelsea.
I do appreciate and admire great design techniques and developments but more than anything, I am a plantsman and for me it’s all about the plants.
The first time I walked into the Great Pavilion, I got a shiver and was close to breathless, it is a feeling that I still get when I enter this Aladins Cave of gardening.
The sheer scale, horticultural standard and quality along with skilfully made displays make a few hours spent in this marquee the highlight of my gardening year. It is old school meets cutting edge. It is as traditional as gardening itself but as modern as it has to be, being one of the world’s showpieces, visited by tens of thousands and watched on TV by millions each year. A show of this scale and repute cannot and does not let standards slip.
A garden designer or nursery can build their whole business around one silver gilt or gold medal awarded at Chelsea, they are hard won, Kilmurry Nurseries in Wexford being the first Irish nursery to have won a Gold medal. But several English nurseries and designers have made a habit out of it, with Raymond Evison from Guernsey having won 25 for his Clematis, and Hillier Nurseries holding the record with 66 Golds.
To prevent any voids in my year I will be making my way down Royal Hospital Road in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for my annual fix. ¦ Travelfox.ie are offering a two night trip to Chelsea this year escorted by myself. For details check their website and look forward to experiencing Willy Wonka’s Flower Factory.