It is inspirational, mind-blowing and incredibly beautiful. There is nothing like the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I have attended the show on many occasions, but this year was special. It was the centenary of the flower show.
However cold and grey the weather may be in late May, Chelsea kicks off the English Social Season, and does for flowers and horticulture what Fashion Week does for the fashion industry, and what Wimbledon does for tennis. Held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, the first day of the show is for the judges, press, VIPs and the royals. The Queen is an avid fan and attends annually as do many other members of the Royal Family. A keen gardener, Prince Charles was a 2002 Chelsea Medal winner for his “Healing Garden” celebrating the Queen Mother. This year, Prince Harry helped to design the Sentabale “Forget-Me-Not” garden as a tribute to his late mother, which was awarded a silver-gilt medal. Days 2 and 3 are for RHS members and the Thursday and Friday are open to the ticket holders from the public. The event culminates at 5pm on the Friday with the great plant sale at which anyone can snatch up a bargain.
There are four grades of awards given at Chelsea: gold, silver-gilt, silver and bronze in several categories: Flora, Hogg (trees), Knightian (vegetables and herbs), Lindley (special educational or scientific interest) and Grenfell (pictures, photos, floral arrangements). Special awards include Best Show Garden, Best Courtyard Garden, Best Chic Garden, Best City Garden, the People’s Choice Award more.
I have been told that before judging takes place, the designers literally go around their displays with tiny paintbrushes dusting off every leaf and petal so that their displays are as close to perfection as possible.
My personal favorites of the show gardens this year were the “Arthritis Research UK Garden” (winner of the People’s Choice Award) and the “SeeAbility Garden.” Both gardens were full of color, texture and focus. Designers of the show gardens are on hand and are usually happy to hand out planting lists and plans for their gardens.
In addition to the show gardens, the Great Pavilion holds floral displays from all over the world. All over the grounds, there are purveyors of gardening equipment, water features, garden sculpture and floral artwork. Want a bronze sculpture of your child or pet for your garden? You can have it. How about a glass or metal water feature? That is there too. The possibilities are endless and Chelsea certainly gives gardeners some wonderful ideas. A round, rotating “garden pod” which had tables and seating for al-fresco dining, was really ingenious and could be yours for a mere $15,000.
You have to be quick to snap up tickets for the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May – they go fast. If you are not in London during Chelsea or are unable to get tickets, there are several other flower shows which you can catch throughout the year. The newest and largest is the Hampton Court Flower Show held this year July 9 – 14, the Tatton Park Flower Show is held in late July and the Cardiff Flower Show is in August. You can also become a member of the RHS to get early tickets to these events. Visit www.rhs.org.uk.