Chelsea is over for another year and this year it was blessed with excellent weather. I haven’t been this year but I’ve watched the coverage on the television and while you miss some of the atmosphere the camera crews get far better access to the gardens than joe public. There is an element of garden snobbery that you HAVE TO GO TO CHELSEA! The reality is though it’s a very well orchestrated publicity show for gardening. Now that isn’t entirely a criticism; the RHS manages to get a great deal of publicity for gardening through this show with hours of T.V. coverage and acres of print which is all for the good of horticulture, but it is make believe. The days have gone when wealthy patrons bought a display garden and had it recreated in their own gardens. These days the gardens tend to be about promoting the sponsor and/or a theme. Some of these themes are very laudable but to what extend is promoting say caravanning connected to gardening? The truth is an awarding winning garden in the country’s premium garden show is guaranteed a lot of media coverage and not just in the UK.
This means that Chelsea gardens are now dominated by “Theme” gardens, created at great expense for corporate sponsors, which will all be vying for the judges’ and journalists’ eye. The cost of individual gardens is a closely guarded secret but it reckoned £250,000 is probably about average and some end up a £million plus. That’s very nice for the contractor and designers who make these gardens magically appear in the grounds of The Chelsea Hospital every year but just how relevant are these gardens to the average gardener.
I’m not saying don’t go, I believe everyone interested in gardening should go at least once, but not every year and don’t panic if you haven’t the time (or the money to spare). There will always be next year. And when you do get there expect to be in a big crowd with queues to see the display gardens and when you get to the front of them the view will be limited, but you can always watch them on T.V. when you get home! Once you’ve had your fill of them have a wander through the trade stands, there are a lot of them, but they have an important part to play in the financing of the show, and head for the marquees. This is where plants and nurseryman still hold sway and real horticulture is on show. This is the real heart of Chelsea Flower Show where stand after stand of nurseries of ALL sizes can exhibit. And if a plant catches your eye someone from the nursery, who knows the plant, will be on hand to explain it nature to you and provide you with a catalogue so you can purchase it and grow your own bit of Chelsea at home.