What to look out for at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

By Tamsin Westhorpe

The excitement is building for RHS Chelsea Flower Show. For the first time ever, this remarkable event will be held in September (21st-26th).

The look of the show will obviously be completely different to the usual May date, and this delayed event has no doubt caused many challenges for designers, exhibitors, and organisers, but it’s bound to be a spectacle that we will never forget.

Visitors will be wowed by a completely different plant palette. The take-home ideas will result in gardeners picking up plenty of suggestions for their late summer/early autumn gardens.

As someone who runs an open garden, I know all too well how much emphasis is put on May and June interest so I’m delighted that sensational September will get its moment in the spotlight.

Rudbeckias sparkle in the September sun

So, what should we expect? There will be plenty of fresh ideas at the show with two new categories celebrating urban green space. In a bid to encourage everyone to garden, even if they only have space for a pot, visitors will find inspiration in the new Balcony Gardens and Containers Gardens.

If you don’t have any outdoor space the new House Plant Studios will interest you. They will encourage us all to have plants in every room in our homes. The studios will highlight the health benefits of having an indoor garden.

As for the gardens they will provide us with that wow and wish factor. The attention to detail and the stories that are told through the gardens will keep us all interested throughout the week.

One of the best things about Chelsea is that even if you haven’t got a ticket, you can be part of the event by watching the generous TV coverage.

If you can’t get to the physical event enjoy it from the comfort of your home by watching the TV coverage

After the year we have all had it is no surprise that many of the gardens are highlighting important and topical issues.

For example, the Finding Our Way: An NHS Tribute Garden designed by Naomi Ferrett-Cohen highlights the tireless work of the NHS. It will be an immersive space and somewhere to feel optimistic about the future.

Kniphofias – oranges, red and golds will be adding sunshine whatever the weather.

The gardens also encourage celebration with the Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden doing just that. This Artisan Garden designed by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith will tell the story of this remarkable charity.

The COP26 garden (inspired by the 26th UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow) designed by Marie-Louise Agius, will show how gardens will be affected by climate change. Look out for the Universal Garden Box centrepiece.

The M&G Garden, designed by Harris Bugg Studios will be a green haven that is to be shared by people and wildlife. The significance of urban green space could not be more topical so this will be a garden to look out for and learn from.

Visitors will be wowed by a completely different plant palette. - Tamsin Westhorpe

For those who have been missing international travel then there are gardens that will transport you to China, Thailand, and Russia without even needing to find your passport.

Look at the RHS website to view all the other gardens that will be on show. Together they will transport you off to another world and inspire you with an exciting mix of seasonal plants.

Ornamental grasses, nerines, dahlias, and asters will be sprinkling magic across the showground. As it’s planting time, we will all be able to rush out and plant what we have seen at the show straight away.

In the Great Pavilion you will find some of the best growers and experts in the world. Some will be exhibiting for the very first time as September suits the flowering time of their specialism.

Nurseries new to the event are Sienna Hosta, Middleton Nurseries (salvias), Ashcroft’s Perennials (ornamental grasses and GreenJJam Nurseries (penstemons).

The Great Pavilion is the highlight of the show for me. Inside you’ll not only find exquisite, seasonal plants but you’ll get to meet the growers who have held back and pushed on plants for our pleasure.

Chris Potts of Sienna Hosta told me ‘Chelsea has been an ambition for many, many years - and here we are finally! We are looking forward to showcasing some of our oldest specimens at the show. The biggest challenge will be holding them back enough in cool shaded areas of the nursery, so they don't go over too quickly.’

The Great Pavilion will hold a very different portfolio of plants this year

Also, in the Pavilion you will find the nominated plants for Plant of the Year. This is where to eye up the top performing plants that you’ll be wanted to add to your wish list. There will be no shortage of new innovations on display or for sale at Chelsea. With such a long break since we were allowed to celebrate horticulture in this way, I’m sure that new tools, gloves and eco and easy gardening ideas won’t be in short supply.

The one thing that will be missing is the Chelsea cough! The London Plane trees that tower over the showground won’t be releasing their pollen at this time of year.

A Chelsea Pensioner enjoying the exhibits

For me this September Chelsea will be a way to celebrate gardening and plants. So many of us relied upon our gardens, allotments, and house plants as a way to get through the pandemic and what better way to celebrate this precious hobby and industry than by putting on the world’s greatest flower show.

For all the latest details visit rhs.org.uk

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Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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