An elitist and overpriced garden event or a show to amaze, amuse and inspire? Just how relevant is the Chelsea Flower Show – and how much can the everyday gardener take away to apply in their own garden?
As soon as the cameras alight on Alan Titchmarsh on Sunday, he will no doubt welcome us to the ‘greatest flower show on earth’, as he does every year.
The show is a showcase for British horticulture and design, a highlight of the social calendar and a chance to hear random celebrities tell us about their hitherto unmentioned love of gardening. But is the show of any relevance to ordinary gardeners?
The case against
Detractors say that the big show gardens at Chelsea are flights of fancy – they have huge budgets paid for by sponsors. BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Carol Klein is reported to have said recently that Chelsea now has a big corporate influence and is less about plants than it used to be.
Plus, they only have to look good for a single week in May, whereas most of us are trying to get our gardens to look good all year round.
They don’t have to house everyday paraphernalia like washing lines, trampolines or sheds. And they’re often a representation of a particular environment – a Provençal hillside or a Cumbrian fell – which has nothing to do with the average British garden. And that’s not to mention the crowds, and the crazy prices for a cup of tea.
The case for
But despite its grand scale, I think there’s much to inspire everyday gardeners at Chelsea. Anyone with an interest in design can learn much from the accomplished (and often deceptively simple) designs of the big show gardens. If you can’t replicate them at home, you can admire a specific combination of a few choice plants or a clever design idea.
But, for me, it’s the smaller show gardens that shine through most. These are pretty tiny but contain tons of ideas – bike stores, green roofs, grow your own areas – that are practical for you to replicate at home.
And of course the Great Pavilion, many people’s favourite part of the show, is home to the best plants people in the UK, all of whom are more than happy to dispense expert advice.
Yes, Chelsea is about perfection. Nowhere else will you see such immaculate gardens or flowers at their peak. Growers and designers prepare for the show for months, but I defy anyone not to go away with inspiration for their own outdoor space.
The hot, dry spring weather has been a real headache for them this year, but I bet it won’t show when the gates open on Tuesday. The stands and gardens will look as good as they have ever done, and we might even get to enjoy some summer plants that we wouldn’t normally see at Chelsea too.
I can’t wait.