Chelsea Flower Show is the greatest flower show in the world, whether you are a keen gardener or just love the experience of this highlight of the London season.
The interest in this event is immense, the demand for tickets incredible, it is always sold out before the show; it’s the place to see and be seen.
However will you make the most of your day? Will travelling be exhausting? What if you buy something and want to go out for dinner afterwards? Will you have to suffer a long journey home through the crowds before a hot bath and a gin and tonic?
I’ve exhibited at Chelsea for over twenty years, I’ve worked at the show prior to that, and I’ve had many brilliant days at the show as a visitor. So I thought I would share a few tips with you to make sure you get the best from your visit, after all this should be the event of the year. Don’t forget 2013 is the Centenary of The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, so it is rather special.
My first tip: stay in London. Tickets are hard to get, a good hotel isn’t, there are several with easy access to the showground.
Just think about it: If you stay close to the showground you can be there early and leave before the crowds. You can round off your day with a relaxing evening in London and head home the following day outside rush hour, but not before you’ve managed a little retail therapy of a non-horticultural kind.
Get there early
Secondly: Get to the show early. It opens at 8a.m. and you want to be there before that to get straight in for a quick round of the show gardens. If a garden is crowded move on and go back later. I find that visitors crowd around the front face of the gardens and miss the sides which often give the best view, so be prepared to explore.
Don’t waste your time looking around the trade stands at the beginning of the day; you can do that later when you’ve seen most of the show.
The Floral Pavilion is usually fairy quiet until around 10a.m. Try and get in there by 9a.m. and you will have room to move and enjoy the freshness of the floral spectacle in the morning.
Now when it’s time for coffee, be a bit selective. You will often find the best coffee and shortest queues at the smaller stands in the top corner of the showground in front of the Royal Hospital. The ones along the embankment generally become far more crowded.
One thing I forgot to mention: I do recommend that you take a bottle of water with you, even if the day isn’t that warm at the outset.
You will find that the Show gardens quieten down a little just before lunchtime; this is a good time to see them because many are very shady at the beginning of the day. Although it may seem at first as if you will never get round it all the Chelsea showground is not that big, so it is worth revisiting any of the gardens you are particularly taken with. They do look very different in different light.
Lunchtime, if its fine head down into Ranelagh gardens, buy some sandwiches and a jug of Pimms (Much better value than buying it by the glass). If it’s not such a nice day my advice is to try and avoid going to eat at peak times. Also if it rains put up a brolly and explore outside, the Pavilion gets crowded.
M&G Investments Garden (they are the Chelsea sponsors) is designed by Roger Platt. It celebrates design trends over the years. Roger always produces gardens that you look at and want; don’t miss it.
Christopher Bradley-Hole hasn’t done a garden at Chelsea for a few years so this year’s garden for The Daily Telegraph is bound to be worth seeing. He is the master of beautiful execution and understatement so this year’s contemporary Japanese influenced garden should be lovely.
The Trailfinder’s Garden created by Wes Fleming and the Fleming’s Nurseries team from Melbourne looks spectacular in construction. Wes says it’s his last year at Chelsea, so go along and convince him he has to stay.
The Great Pavilion has a different look with marvellous panels depicting Chelsea past. The cool season has been a challenge to some exhibitors, but a benefit to others. I’m looking forward to Blom’s tulips which I know will be fantastic. I’m also expecting great things from Lockyers’ auriculas; Chelsea is usually late for them so they should be good.
Of course in the heart of the Great Pavilion its Hillier Nurseries, that’s my exhibit. I’ve brought along the biggest trees I’ve ever shown at Chelsea; they touch the roof of the Pavilion. Rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs, acers and incredible cornus; I promise you a feast of flowers and foliage.
There are over two thousand exhibits at the show so be prepared for the experience of a lifetime. How about a glass of champagne before you leave?
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