Think of Britain, and for many the first thing that comes to mind is the English Garden.
There is nothing more traditional or beautiful than rolling lawns, secret gardens awash with colour and long grass gently blowing in the breeze.
Visit almost any Stately Home in the UK and you will discover what makes the English Garden so unique from anything else in the world.
So it’s only appropriate that the world’s most famous flower show is held in spring time, in England.
I went along to take a look at some of the best show gardens, discovered why so many people choose to go on Saturday, and the one big downside to the Flower Show.
Meet the Chelsea Pensioners
The Chelsea Flower Show takes place at the historical and rather beautiful Chelsea Hospital in London.
The hospital is home to the Chelsea Pensioners, 320 former Army veterans who are over the age of 65 and have served in conflicts around the world.
They wear their distinctive scarlet uniforms to key events and when representing the hospital.
They can often be found walking around the grounds during the Flower Show and love chatting to the visitors!
The Flower Show has been held at the Chelsea Hospital since 1913, and is one of the annual highlights for horticulturalists across the UK.
It gives people the opportunity to discover new plants and provides inspiration to many who want to improve their gardens.
The stars of the show
One of the main highlights is The Pavilion, a 11,750 sq meter indoor enclosure full of colour and design – from roses to bonsai trees and everything in between – it really is a plant-lovers paradise, with over 100 specialist plant breeders displaying inside.
For anyone keen to get tickets, you will need to buy months in advance and the event (which takes place over 4 days) and with a daily capacity of 152,000, usually sells out.
The show is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society – an organisation which exists for its members’ sheer passion for plants.
It owns 4 of its own gardens, and members can visit over 150 partner gardens.
The society also organises a variety of shows (Hampton Court Palace is the biggest, Chelsea being the most prestigious).
It’s main aim though is to inspire and educate and that is truly what RHS Chelsea Flower Show is all about.
The standout display
This year the Poppy Display definitely drew the biggest crowd.
Located right outside the entrance to the hospital, it is a display like no other at the show.
Using more than 300,000 hand crocheted poppies, designer Phillip Johnson (who has previously won Best In Show in 2013) covers an area of over 2,000 square meters.
Johnson collaborated with the 5000 Poppies Project on the design of this tribute garden.
The 5000 Poppies Project started out as a tribute to by two ladies who wanted to honour their fathers who fought in the Second World War. The idea was to crochet 120 – but it ended with over 50,000 people crocheting more than a quarter of a million poppies.
Each one has been personally crocheted in remembrance of those who lost their lives, and standing in front of the display the mood left me feeling very moved.
The Brit Crowd’s Pick
A highlight of the show are the Show Gardens.
The displays are designed and built by renowned horticulturalists and give visitors a chance to see up-and-coming designs and trends in the world of plants.
The Show Gardens are judged on their design and use of plants and can win a prestigious award – Silver, Silver-Gilt and Gold.
Here are 3 of my personal picks from this year’s show.
The Vestra Wealth Garden of Mindful Living
Gold Award Winner
For me, one of the most important aspects of a garden, is the ability to relax and unwind. Somewhere to escape reality, and my first pick ticks all of those boxes.
The Garden of Mindful Living has been designed by Paul Martin who was inspired by a love of Far East travel and yoga.
It’s designed to be a calm and relaxing space that helps you unwind after a busy day. An oasis in the middle of a busy city.
The beautiful trees are designed to give shade from the summer sun.
I particularly loved the combination of nature and natural stone – the limestone touches dotted around the display blended in beautifully with the plants and flowers.
I would feel very at home in this garden – someone pass me a deck chair and a glass of champagne!
The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary
Silver Gilt Winner
Most of us have gardens because the flowers we plant smell great and look fantastic. But they have other uses too.
Some are believed to have medicinal and healing properties which could benefit our health in years to come. And this is what I loved so much about my second choice.
This relaxing and calming garden has been inspired by the healing power of plants – and the benefits they have to our well-being.
Standing in the crowd observing the garden you can’t help but feel relaxed, with the calming scent of lavender wafting over you. The garden really does smell divine and what is so fabulous is that this garden isn’t just pretty to look at!
The Senri-Sentei Garage Garden
Aside of providing a medicinal use and looking pretty, gardens can also be functional – as this gorgeous garden proves.
The garage garden was designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara and provides a function – in this instance somewhere to store your car off the road – and also a place for a family to sit, relax and explore.
Unlike any other garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, this design felt really unique, and not just because it featured a Great British Classic (the Mini Cooper!).
It’s ‘wild’ look makes it feel like you could be living in a forest or jungle, and that you live in a James Bond-esque lair (just swapping the Aston Martin for a Mini).
A Royal celebration
This year the Queen has been celebrating her 90th birthday, and the Chelsea Flower Show chose to honour the occasion with two stunning displays.
Two stunning archways were installed at the entrance to the show, using flowers donated by British growers and installed with help from local floristry colleges. The archways displayed the Royal crest and a crown adorning the top.
The second piece was a fabulous design entitled ‘Behind every great florist’ by the UK’s biggest wholesaler – the Covent Garden Flower Market.
It features the Queen’s silhouette made up of 10,000 stems.
It’s a 360 degree installation that gives a fabulous effect – and is incredibly eye-catching, using all the colours of the rainbow, and the white background makes the colours stand out even more.
It was 3 meters high and took over six months to plan and execute, and really was a very fitting tribute to Her Majesty.
If you’re into all things horticulture, or just want to make your patio/garden/balcony look nice, then Chelsea has everything you could possibly want, from wooden art work, to garden furniture and pond swimming pools, fake grass and gadgets designed to make your life so much easier.
Half the fun is walking around and seeing everything (and often being tempted not to buy something, no matter how much you want it!)
What makes Saturday so great?
Saturday is one of the most popular days to visit the Flower Show – but it’s not just because it’s the only weekend day available.
Just before 4pm on Saturday afternoon, the Pavilion is buzzing. There are people running everywhere and queuing up around exhibits.
At 4pm on the dot, a loud bell rings out over the loudspeaker.
“Let The Sell Off Commence!”
The sell off happens always happens on the Saturday and it’s a chance for visitors to buy many of the flowers and plants that have been on display for the past week, cheaply! When I say cheaply, there were huge bunches of lilies being sold for £5, roses going for £3 and other plants almost being given away.
This is because many of the nurseries who display their flowers don’t want to take them home. Others would just choose to throw them all in the bin (as they’re approaching the end of the life) so not only does it give visitors a chance to take home a piece of Chelsea (and potentially a gold medal winning bunch of flowers) but it also means that flowers don’t go to waste.
It’s such a wonderful sight, seeing people precariously balancing huge bunches of flowers in their arms and dragging trolleys around behind them with a huge array of colours and shapes.
I witnessed this group leaving the flower show with their purchases!
It’s an experience I highly recommend doing, especially if you fancy turning your home into a florists for a week.
I purchased this beautiful arrangement from the wedding display for a few pounds.
The Downside to Chelsea Flower Show
Firstly, I had a fabulous time at Chelsea. If you’re even vaguely into plants and flowers, this is a must-do at least once in your life. The displays are out of this world and give you so much inspiration for your own garden.
But there’s one downside to Chelsea.
And that’s the crowds.
Sure, you expect a lot of people to be there, and I didn’t for a second expect to be there on my own just wondering about. But what I didn’t expect was the sheer number of people and the small space we had to fit in to.
No matter where you walked, or stood, there were others surrounding you. Walking through the Pavilion meant slowly walking behind others, and forget turning round and trying to walk in the other direction…
It was hard to enjoy the tranquility of the show gardens because it took you 5 minutes just to get to the front of the 4 deep crowd that was standing in front of each garden. And then you only wanted to stand there a few seconds as it always felt like a bit of a squash.
Thankfully it didn’t rain on the day I attended but I could have imagined the Pavilion may have become rather busy (and dare I say, claustrophobic!) had 150,000 people tried to pile themselves in there.
But this wouldn’t put me off attending again. While I loved the sell off, I think I’d choose to go on a different day when perhaps the crowds weren’t so vast.