Impossible Chelsea

In a double whammy of gardening gloriousness, I went to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the first time. It was an incredible, exhausting, overwhelming, heaving, wonderful day. Thankfully I went with a close friend and we supported each other throughout the day with regular pit-stops of coffee to keep us going for the many hours we were there. We arrived mid-morning and didn’t leave until the evening, finishing off the day with a sit around the band stand as we chatted about our highlights and favourites.

Did I mention it was absolutely heaving?

Honestly, I’m surrounded by crowds

I’m not good with large, dense crowds for long periods of time but there was so much distraction with the exhibits, displays, gardens, plants and flowers that it was actually tolerable. I wouldn’t like to do it every day. There was so much to see and so much to look at that – while we did manage to get round most of it – we glossed over some parts of the show for others. The weather was forecast to be overcast with possible rain showers. We were very lucky that the cloud kept the temperatures down and we only suffered a few small rain drops that wouldn’t have dampened a Ryvita. We would have been flagging if it was actually hot.

The phone camera didn’t last as long as I wanted it to and I was more focussed on the displays than the camera could manage some times but here are a selection of pictures that show various parts of the show, ranging from the floral marquee to the artisan gardens.

I call it “impossible Chelsea” because the show garden planting – while stunning – feels like a perfect snapshot in time of the plants at the perfect stage in terms for size and flowering. We saw dahlias flowering with foxgloves (these two flower at completely different times of year) and we saw shrubs such as Sambucus Nigra planted as small specimens whereas these would grow to several metres in a couple of years and shade out everything around it. Much of the show garden planting feels like this kind of fabrication and while it is stunningly pretty and there is real skill in the design work, it’s only viable for a short moment before the more invasive plants grow over the delicate ones, the small bushes grow into large shrubs and the trees grow to shade out everything else.

With this in mind it doesn’t make sense to compare the Chelsea Flower Show with “normal” gardens, indeed it wouldn’t be wise to copy the planting schemes, after all, it’s not called the Chelsea Garden Show. I don’t feel as though I took home any ideas or was “inspired” from the Flower Show, instead I spent the whole day absorbing the mind-boggling beauty of flowering plants. Textures, colours, scents, sizes, forms, it’s the sheer variety of plants – most encountered for the first time – and the exquisite way they’re displayed that left me awe-struck.

I guess that’s why they call it a “Flower Show”.

12 Comments


  1. When I visited Chelsea in 1991 I was completely overwhelmed. Some of the show gardens were impressive, others were downright weird! I loved the kiosks of old garden books and botanical drawings. Made me want to take a course…

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    1. Hello Lynn, it’s not changed, there were show gardens that made us go, “oooh” and others that made us go, “eh?” I love botanical prints too and while we did see botanical print mats, plates and other “stuff”, we didn’t see actual prints, perhaps we missed it – which is very easy to do with so many people and things to see.

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  2. You’ve been busy, Sunil. I’e been on holiday so had to catch up quick with your last few posts! Chelsea? yes, a bit overwhelming, but exciting too. Glad you enjoyed it. I haven’t been since we moved out of London 16 years ago.
    The hot weather in your garden? Same here. Last year I planted a new border. I went off on holiday to a friend in Nova Scotia for 2 weeks and came home to something very nearly overblown! I will be out there today just deadheading and clipping, but it was good to see that most things are happy with each other and cuddling up nicely. I missed a glorious show of flag iris which had doubled in size since last year – all in bud when I left, all over on return. Bah!
    Glad you enjoyed the tulips too. They like the soil in my garden, and I never dig them up to replant. They have to take their chances like everthing else under my hands! But I just plant them here and there and in between….. ‘course, sometimes I have to move them….. :o)
    Hope you get plenty of fruit…. looking forward to reading more from you soon – oh, and how nice to see your comment on my blog, too! Thank you.

    Reply

    1. Hello Mrs Mac, I think that’s my holiday quote for the year used up with Keukenhof and Chelsea. Chelsea in particular has wetted my appetite to go and see other flower shows, ideally ones that are less crowded and frenetic. I’ve been rather busy with maintenance of the existing borders in the garden this year and haven’t managed to start on the new project for the year. The garden is looking very good (even if I do say so myself) and I’ll have to have a “Catch-up” post to showcase it all.

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    1. I was a fabulous day out, the crowds occasionally got very annoying but there was so much distraction in the way of gardens, plants and exhibits that you could just about zone out of the mass of people – for a while anyway.

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  3. Hi Sunil, seems like you had a memorable day. Fantastic collage of pictures and each one opens individually, that’s clever. I don’t fancy soggy Ryvita.

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    1. Hello Alistair, it was a very memorable day. We saw so much it was quite often overwhelming. We flitted around stalls, exhibits, small gardens, large gardens, stands, the marquee, food, etc, always moving onwards.

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  4. Perhaps it’s like a designer catwalk of plants instead of clothes. I prefer real gardens!

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    1. Hello Tammy, there was always that undertone of, “well those plants would never flower together” and “well those plants would never stay that size” from the show gardens, I think that’s why I loved the Floral Marquee so much. In that sense, Chelsea is a “Fashion Show” for plants and gardens.

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  5. Chelsea was quite an experience for me as well. I was annoyed that there was not a single solitary place to sit down. Do they expect people to be on their feet all day? I guess that is their way of getting you on your way.
    I found the best spot was the area that the growers and seed companies showed thier best. If I were to go again, I would skip much of the over the top displays. It is sensory overload.

    Reply

    1. Hello Jayne, we managed nice a spot on the grass for lunch, hovered and lurked around tables for coffee and went to a garden furniture (benches) stands for breaks. You have to be canny to find places to perch for short breaks. I also found the Floral Marquee and vendors around the outside better than the show gardens as well.

      Reply

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