The Chelsea Flower Show

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Posted by @NEILMUIR1 on
The Chelsea Flower Show is the most famous flower show in the world. Vitally important for the whole of the Horticultural community, it is also important to everyone from statue and furniture makers, to Artists, clothing designers, hat makers, newly released books and the must-have gadgets of the moment. To many people, it is the place to see new plants, to place an order for some or just a social event. Others like to meet the TV gardeners or simply to get a plant identified.

The Chelsea Flower Show started life as the Great Spring show in 1862, then held in Kensington in London. With the growing popularity of the show in 1888 it was moved to the Temple Gardens where it stayed till 1912. Then it was renamed the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition and had to find a new home, so it duly went to the Royal Hospital Grounds at Chelsea where it has been ever since. In its first year there, it was called the Chelsea Flower Show and that is the name used ever since.

The first inception of calling it an International show attracted many countries from all over the world to show the exotic delights that are common place to them, but must have mystified the public of other nations who came to see it.  

However the Chelsea Flower Show is wrongly named, for people assume it to be a flower show and just that. It is not just that at all, far from it.  It starts with outdoor show gardens, indoor show gardens, the mass array of flowers and plants of all sorts from all over the world around the Great Marquee edges, to every size stand with exotic treasures, to small nurseries showing a new plant for the very first time. There is a buzz about Chelsea that cannot be explained, for it is a social event as well as everything else. The clothes designers and milliners love Chelsea; if you haven't got a hat, you will soon have one, but one that goes well with the show, of course! The food is also excellent, the Loch Fyne smoked salmon and Champagne tent is always very busy.

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The plants are of an exceptional quality, and depending on the weather, may have to be changed for new ones, every day or more! It astonishes people that at Chelsea, plants that are not in flower at that time of year are always on display in May, either too early or already too late for them. Yet the Daffodils and Tulip displays are stunning. Seeing the finest mass displays of roses in May is a bit disconcerting. The lupin stand always gets a R.H.S. Gold Medal as does the delphinium stand. The carnivorous plant stand is a must for me and the orchids a true delight. A lot of people wait for the show to buy either new plants or seeds, an ideal place to see them at their very best. In fact if you are not used to Chelsea you do not know where to start or where to end.

One of the busy areas in the show is the R.H.S. plant help tent!  People wait patiently here to see an expert for plant identificaton to general help on their plants, many for design help as well. Another place that is incredibly popular once it is announced is the flower arranging displays, all the top experts are there to show you how to get the best out of your displays and to share secrets of their trade. Although I do not know how they expect normal people to do it, with the amount of orchids they have to play with. Whilst the wife watches the flowers being put in expensive vases, I sneak off to the show gardens.

The outdoor show gardens! These vary in size from small areas the size of a front garden to huge gardens. Do not forget they are built on the lawns of the Royal Hospital in a very short period of time, and even less time is allowed to remove them and put the lawns back to what they were. They range from old cottages built there (see picture), to last year's effort by a TV presenter who had one made from plasticine. He did not win a medal as he broke the R.H.S. rules in that it must be made from natural plants, nothing artificial. I suppose the children who made it had fun though, apart from it melting in the heat and looking terrible. I always go around all the show gardens and if they have won a R.H.S. medal from Bronze to Gold they will have it displayed on the front.

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            Then it is off to the men's avenue: tractors, lawn mowers, 4x4s and every sort of gardening gadget available. By the time I have looked through it, it is time to meet the wife. We always arrange to meet near the Bandstand; it doubles as a picnic area. For those who do not want to pay for expensive food, it has many seats as well as grass to sit on and it always has a band playing, which is quite pleasant.  There are lots of Pimms stands around it as well.  Although there is a lot of Champagne at Chelsea, people love to buy big jugs of Pimms full of fruit, mint and ice. Be careful with this stuff, it is deceptive; it does not look strong at all, but when you get a jug of it you will soon find out!

Chelsea works like this, if you wish to come and I hope you do, Monday is press and sometimes the Queen comes; she always attends but not always on the same day. Judging is also done on this day. Tuesday and Wednesday are R.H.S. Members' days. Anyone can join the R.H.S. which is an easy way to get tickets and gives you access to the R.H.S. lounges and lovely food places that the public are not allowed into. You also get a magazine sent to you called "The Garden," and access to get tickets to all the other shows, like Hampton Court.  Although you have Chelsea, the R.H.S. also has its Horticultural Halls in Vincent Square in London. Here it has shows featuring specific plants and vegetables. You also, as a Member, get free access to the R.H.S. Gardens at Wisley, which is in Surrey but not that far from London. There are many other benefits as well, depending on what you want or need. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday (last day), the public is allowed in with tickets, of course. Here are some Chelsea Do's and Don'ts if you are intending to come, the show is on the 25th-29th of May 

Do buy tickets early as they sell out, and buy only from the R.H.S., do not deal with dodgy back street companies you see on the internet; they may take your money and you will not see your tickets at all.

Do book your accomodations early if you intend to stay in London. People from all over the world come to Chelsea, so do not expect to turn up and just find a place somewhere. London is fairly easy to get around on the Trains, Underground (subway), and Buses.  You do not have to stay near Chelsea, to get to Chelsea. Also if you are staying for more than Chelsea, have a look around other places to see: Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Syon Park, Chelsea Physic Gardens, Garden History Museum, R.H.S. Gardens at Wisley, and of course London itself.

Do, if you have a digital camera, bring spare batteries and coming from overseas, get an international socket that will go in our three pin plugs, because our voltage is 240 volts. Although a lot of hotels have razor sockets, 2 pin, you should check first. Also you will need big memory cards. I can take over 3000 + photos at Chelsea. Sometimes more, if I am really interested in something. Make sure you bring a sturdy camera bag\case as it does rain in the UK. Get travel insurance!

Don't attempt to go round Chelsea in flash shoes, you will not make it. Wear flat walking shoes, Chelsea is on the lawns of the Royal Hospital, but the paths are temporarily made out of wood bark chippings and are hard to walk on.  If it is wet, walking is even harder. Plus you will walk a long way in one day, and even when you think you have seen everything, there will be something you have missed!

Don't, if you are coming from overseas, try this is! Do not attempt to buy seeds or plants to import back into your own country. Our Customs will not be happy with you, and your own Country's Customs will definitly not be.

Don't flash money, Jewelry or expensive cameras around. London is a big city and certain people, like in any other big city, would be only too happy to relieve you of it. Keep everything hidden and safe.

Do enjoy yourself, for if it is your first trip to Chelsea, it is awe inspiring and breathtaking! I am sure you will have many pictures, made untold friends, and have many fine memories.
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The nearest mainline train station is  Victoria, which also has Underground, and a Coach station behind it. The R.H.S has its own bus service from Victoria to the show. It is very frequent and drops you right outside the main gate. You can also get the R.H.S. Bus straight back to Victoria station from there, which is very useful and cheap! Victoria also has a large bus station outside and buses can be found there to most places, or you'll find a link to most places. It also has a Black cab rank, only use Black cabs for they are licensed by law and the Police, mini cabs are not, so beware! 

I have saved the best bit for last! At 4 o'clock on Saturday which is the last day, the bell is sounded, everything that can be sold off to anyone who wants it is, and I mean everything. On some stands you can normally book a particular plant and pick it up after the bell goes at 4 o'clock, but not all stands do this. When that bell goes it is chaotic, thousands upon thousands of people wanting to buy anything going, at a cheap price. The stall owners and those with the Show gardens have to get rid of this stuff; they have very limited time to do it and return the lawns to what they were. It is vastly funny, because the whole of London suddenly becomes a walking, driving, throbbing, greenhouse. Thousands of people are streaming down the streets laden down with every known plant species in every colour you can imagine! Cars with Palm Trees sticking out of sun roofs, every train, Underground and bus is piled with plants. Even the river boats end up looking like overgrown floating rockeries, down to people walking along with buckets of Koi Carp! How these people do it is beyond me!  You look in disbelief as someone tries to man-handle a huge tree into a bus or people walk along carrying rocks or a huge stone container full of alpine plants. This madness goes on for about 4-5 hours after the show closes, but is a sight to behold.

Hope to see you there, and don't forget to stop by the British Gardening forum to discuss the show!





Flower Displays!


Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Very informative! by Bonehead Dec 4, 2014 10:06 PM 1
chelsea flower show by murielw1 May 2, 2011 8:20 AM 16
Wonderful by gardenersdetective Mar 20, 2010 11:33 AM 0
Thank You! by NEILMUIR1 Mar 20, 2010 8:15 AM 0
beautiful tour by Onewish1 Mar 20, 2010 8:07 AM 0

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