Has The Chelsea Flower Show Lost Its Mojo?

Reading time 17 minutes

I’ve grown a little bored of the Chelsea Flower Show. There, I’ve said it. Once upon a time I used to love the anticipation, researching the show gardens, planning my visit, watching the television coverage and reviewing the event afterwards. Now I find I that I can scarcely be bothered. Could it be that I’ve visited too many times – I’ve been a regular now for 30 years – or is it that the show is failing to excite me anymore?

I’m aware that admitting to being tired of Chelsea is unlikely to make me any friends at the RHS, and I am certain many would feel more positive about it. Perhaps my malaise reflects more on me than it does on the show, but lately I find that I buy a ticket for Chelsea because I must, for fear of missing out, rather than because I want to. Along with many others, I was intrigued to discover how the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) would navigate the postponement of the show from May until September, a first since the event was inaugurated in 1913. It would have been logical for visitors to expect a cavalcade of autumn colour; chrysanthemums, dahlias, sunflowers; pumpkins, pears and tomatoes; berries, hips and haws. They were there if you looked hard enough but in woefully small numbers. Rather than reinvent the show for an autumn season, we were presented with ‘Chelsea Lite’ ….. or maybe that should be ‘Chelsea Minus’. There was no diminution of quality, thank heavens, but fewer gardens, fewer exhibitors in the great pavilion and a gross proliferation of trade stands proffering goods priced way beyond the means of the majority of visitors. Whilst Chelsea’s elitism is never more than thinly veiled, it was magnified threefold by a reduction in the number of gardens and floral exhibits. In some respects, Chelsea 2021 felt like little more than an outdoor shopping event for London’s wealthiest residents.

A quiet corner of the Guangzhou Garden designed by Peter Chmiel with Chin-Jung Chen. White Anemone japonica offers a faint sense that autumn is approaching.

I do appreciate that rescheduling a show on the scale of Chelsea must be a gargantuan task. However, it’s been a long time coming and the RHS would have known that expectations were high. Covid has impacted almost every element of commerce, causing problems with materials, production and supply chains, but visitors are neither very interested in that nor particularly sympathetic. They wanted something to help them forget their troubles, reconnect with society and reignite their imagination. Though there were a handful of new exhibitors showcasing wares more suited to the latter part of the year, there were not nearly enough. In most of the show gardens it felt as though planting plans had been adjusted to accommodate plants with autumn interest out of necessity, rather than to celebrate their particular beauty. There were grasses (when aren’t there?), rudbeckia, echinacea, salvia and a smattering of crocosmia and hydrangea, but precious few cosmos, chrysanthemum and coleus. Where were the great displays of pumpkins and gourds, apples and pears, potatoes and tomatoes? The opportunity was ripe (sorry) for a heavenly harvest festival at Chelsea 2021. Instead, it was left to the king of such things, Medwyn Williams, to stage the only major exhibit of exhibition-quality vegetables, and a fine one it was too. Why weren’t new exhibitors incentivised or compelled to come to Chelsea this September? Perhaps they were and just found the challenge too onerous for a one-off autumn event? I wanted dazzling dahlias and colourful chrysanths, bowers of fuchsia and an embarrassment of tender exotics. I was disappointed.

With forty-two different vegetable varieties on display, Medwyn Williams brought his own high-class harvest festival to Chelsea 2021.

The amount of space left over in the Great Pavilion may also stand testament to the extent to which the act of gardening has been orientated towards spring. I know it and the nurserymen know it – spring is when the money is made. Despite autumn being one of the best times for planning and planting a garden, that message just hasn’t been communicated well enough to the gardening public. It’s spring, not autumn, that’s always touted as the start of the gardening year and that’s lead to a dearth of good quality plants available for sale later in the year. Visit a garden centre for inspiration now, and I guarantee you’ll be disappointed, if not confronted by Christmas decorations. Autumn presents the horticultural industry with a significant opportunity to extend its season and create a second sales peak, and Chelsea was the greatest chance in years to highlight that. The offer was left on the table.

I can’t help but wonder whether the RHS has been too distracted by other activities such as the opening of RHS Hilltop at Wisley and their new northern garden at Bridgewater near Manchester to give the displaced Chelsea Flower Show proper focus. I’d suggest that if the RHS wishes to continue extending its vice-like grip on all things horticultural in the UK, it needs to keep an eye on its crown jewels.

Lest I sound too negative, there were some positive changes to Chelsea for 2021. QR codes have come of age. The monochrome uber-chessboards replaced printed plant lists and pamphlets on many of the stands. I’d be interested to know what the ‘click-through’ rate was on these (I generally couldn’t be bothered), but I certainly welcome the reduction in paper waste. Houseplants were finally given the platform they deserve in the form of a series of posh sheds crammed with fabulous foliage. These were brilliantly and inventively presented, drawing crowds to the extent that this area of the show became uncomfortably congested. Hopefully, this popular plant category will be celebrated again in May, perhaps at the expense of some of the grotesquely overblown trade stands. The introduction of balcony gardens as a garden category was welcome. Sadly the results were mundane, samey and hard to view. I wondered whether the designers had sight of each others’ plans in order to make sure each offered something different. The results were nice, but not very stimulating.

The Trailfinders 50th Anniversary Garden included some fine examples of traditional Nepalese architecture.

Only six large show gardens were staged, all of them good, a few of them great. My personal favourite was the Trailfinders 50th Anniversary Garden designed by Johnathan Snow. Gardens evoking foreign landscapes are terribly difficult to pull off in the heart of London, but Johnathan achieved his goal with great aplomb. Both John and I have visited Nepal and other regions of the Himalayas, and we were both transported back to the foothills by this gently sloping garden. Colourful prayer flags strung haphazardly between the trees were the perfect visual cue; the planting and use of water were also masterful. If I could have taken any garden home, it would have been this one. My second favourite was probably the Guangzhou Garden which was awarded a gold medal and Best Show Garden. I have been to Guangzhou more times than I care to recall and have never experienced anything quite so beautiful. However, if this garden is representative of the way forward for the environment in this part of southern China I am all for it. Limpid water deliciously planted with marginals occupied a large part of the plot, so perhaps not the most practical of gardens for a family (unless they were ducks), but joyful to look at nevertheless. Designers Peter Chmiel with Chin-Jung Chen excelled themselves with a muted, semi-wild planting scheme and some of the tallest, most delicate structures I can recall in a Chelsea show garden. (When I have more time I promise to cover the show garden fully, as they are certainly worth more than my paragraph here.)

The Guangzhou Garden designed by Peter Chmiel with Chin-Jung Chen won Best Show Garden for its evocation of South China wetlands.

Whilst not all bad, I was still bored: having John there for company was definitely the highlight of my day. Every year the same layout; trade stands, gardens and exhibitors on the same pitches. I know why this is, but to a regular show-goer it feels like Groundhog Day. The RHS really need to mix things up a bit. We see the same old celebs, ageing more or less gracefully, and experience the same shocking service from the hospitality providers. This last point really riles me up, since after paying a princely sum to get in, visitors are subjected to stratospheric prices for appalling service from completely untrained staff. They’re then required to sit on the grass (the free M&G Investment bag is perfect for protecting one’s derrière from dampness) in order to consume their overpriced refreshments. And then, to top it all, there’s the filming. The BBC’s presence at Chelsea is deeply intrusive, bordering on unacceptable when you’ve paid so much to get in. If I was ushered not-so-politely out of the way once, it was tens of times. Production teams litter the gardens discussing their plans while presenters preen and practice before each take. Perhaps filming should take place before the show opens or after it closes and not during the event? The TV coverage is undeniably great – perhaps the best way to enjoy the show – but at what detriment to the punters?

Herein lies the question, an idea sown in my mind by my friend, the photographer Marianne Majerus: what is the Chelsea Flower Show actually for? To my mind, it’s a public showcase for the finest horticulture in the land, if not the world, and that’s why I go. For others it’s entertainment – a nice day out among flowers and gardens, paid for personally or by a generous sponsor. The BBC treat it like a film set, in order to bring the joy of Chelsea to a much wider audience globally. For a few, it’s still a place to be seen, and increasingly it has become a place for purveyors of garden buildings and ornaments to sell their hyper-expensive wares to a very niche consumer. For the RHS I expect Chelsea is not only a revenue stream in itself, but also a major reason why members sign up in the first place. None of these reasons for being is wrong, but one can only think that perhaps Chelsea is trying to be too many things to too many people.

Autumnal hues were showcased beautifully in the M&G Garden designed by Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg.

I would like to see the Chelsea Flower Show shaken up a bit – a new layout, a refresh of the whole flower / garden show concept. Perhaps it even requires a new location to create breathing space, or would it then just become the Hampton Court Flower Show? Or maybe it should just be smaller and more focussed towards excellence and trendsetting. And if the RHS really can’t refresh Chelsea, then perhaps the UK needs a decent rival garden show with an imaginative sponsor? There must be one out there. I’d love to hear what you think, or if you feel I am talking nonsense.

The reality is that things are unlikely to change other than little by little. Chelsea is too ingrained in tradition and the gardening calendar to withstand alteration in a major way, as we’ve experienced this year. It will return to May, the voids will be filled with what was there before and exhibitors will return to their familiar pitches. Hospitality will continue to be chronic, unless you can afford to book one of the on-site restaurants (maybe they are chronic too, but I’ll never earn enough to find out), and inexplicably plummy people will still buy tweed gilets and ugly horse sculptures made of driftwood. Chelsea is a juggernaut that’s had to swerve because of Covid. The question is, will it still be as much fun to drive in future? TFG.

Categories: Chelsea flower show, Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Landscape Design, Musings, Photography

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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35 comments On "Has The Chelsea Flower Show Lost Its Mojo?"

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. I paid my 1st ever visit to the lauded Chelsea Flower Show last Saturday 25th, having watched coverage on tv for more years than I care to remember. I was so excited to attend along with my daughter and a friend , but was exceedingly disappointed by the whole event. Overpriced, overhyped and overcrowded. Should have saved my money and watched it on tv in the safety and comfort of my own home. I say safety, as I was appalled and extremely worried by the serious overcrowding which verged on the dangerous in some areas of the grounds. I appreciate that businesses and organisations are eager to recoup some of the financials losses resulting from the pandemic but this must NOT be done to the detriment of the safety and well-being of the public paying a not inconsiderable sum of money for a ticket.
      I could be forgiven for thinking that I had stumbled upon a second rate music festival and a very expensive trade fair! With respect to food and drink, I was glad we had the foresight to take our own otherwise we would have faced lengthy queues, which never abated, and extortionate prices. Why so many champagne and Pimm’s bars when all we wanted was a simple cup of coffee?
      Our friend is Colombian and has lived and worked in London for nearly 3 years and she made a very pertinent observation when she commented that she had never been to such a ‘white’ event in all her time in London. On looking around I saw what she meant – surely a damning indictment. The National Trust is making a determined effort to increase it’s appeal to diverse groups, which is laudable. What is the
      RHS doing to address it’s obvious lack of diversity?
      Perhaps the sponsors of the show should be held accountable too, not only for the lack of diversity but also for the, in my opinion, shambolic organisation of such a supposedly prestigious event. I have seen more thought and competence going into the organisation of school fairs.
      I felt that the show gardens were literally and metaphorically sidelined and were secondary to the retail and hospitality outlets.
      Perhaps the event should be renamed ‘The Chelsea Show’ so there is no expectation that it is connected with flowers, plants and gardens.

  1. Definitely time we had a September garden show – I agree that Chelsea hasn’t made the best of the opportunity! I could never afford to get to Chelsea and I agree it seems to be aimed at rich London types – but I do love the amount of coverage given to all things plant and garden and would love something similar at Tatton to showcase the dahlias, chrysanthemums, Cosmo and Nerines and all the wonderful autumn harvest veg! Definitely a gap in the market!

  2. I’ve never been to Chelsea…mostly because I was abroad for so long, but now I’m here my enthusiasm is waning anyway just from watching the TV version. Too crowded, too many celebs (I’ve never been starstruck), too many people in posh outfits (I’m scruffy and would feel out of place), too much pressure to buy things that I’d then have to lug home by tube and train. Too Chelsea, in fact—that whole London vibe of high prices and nice clothes. I wonder how many other gardeners are put off going there for similar reasons? I might get round to watching the TV show (although there are usually far too many episodes!) but I’ll save my money for the Great Dixter plant fair, which is easygoing and attracts some good sellers.

    I loved the article! Thanks for highlighting Medwyn Williams—I read his column in Garden News and although I will never grow perfect vegetables in professional greenhouses using exactly the right ratio of nutrients I find it interesting to see what he does.



  3. I just wish that Chelsea ( like so many other forms of ‘art’) could just be for itself, and not have to be linked continually with ‘causes’ : ‘climate change’ ‘ plant diversity ‘ ‘inclusivity’ ( presumably this means non-Gardeners). And all the various no doubt worthy but unconnected ‘charities’. I remember when Chelsea and indeed the RHS were concentrated on beautiful, often unusual plants, arranged to show to their best advantage, and to give sensory and intellectual delight to the beholder.

    The members magazine is going the same way, it seems to want to be more about wildlife than gardening, which, let’s face it, is the opposite of a wilderness. This month they told us now was the time to sow wildflowers : isn’t that an oxymoron?

    Perhaps your feeling of boredom is partly because the messages are the same as for every other form of endeavour?

  4. An interesting and brave blog post – after seeing your pictures on your social media this week, I did think it all looked a bit jaded. What a wasted opportunity! We grow cut flowers for weddings and events in Cornwall, and we (and other small scale growers) have an abundance of the late summer blooms such as cosmos, second sowing of ammi, statice, snaps, etc that are all sitting happily alongside the autumn regulars such as dahlias, rudbeckia etc. I was SO hoping to see “Chelsea does Autumn”, but no. I agree that someone needs to come up with a new show, outside London, to shake things up a bit.

    1. I still love the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Show best of all. I’ve not been since it moved, but I used to love it. Maybe Devon, Cornwall or Somerset would be a good location? An area for growers such as yourself to showcase their craft would have been wonderful and topical whilst delivering the blast of colour and frivolity we were all hoping for. As they say, ‘maybe next year’. Dan

      1. Please not Devon or Cornwall. Believe it or not, I am as sick of these places as I am of Chelsea, because if its not London, its Devon or Cornwall.

  5. I first went to Chelsea about 30 years ago, twice with hubby and once with my eldest daughter and once with my youngest daughter and have never been since. Firstly, I don’t like crowds, and secondly you can’t buy any plants. On the other hand I have been to BBC Gardener’s World Live 10 tens and would go again.
    So I totally agree with everything you have said.

  6. A thought provoking read, I wasn’t able to go this year due to work but have to admit I haven’t been as excited about it. Perhaps covid and time of year have played an extra part in it, by changing our priorities, and the fact the show is on when I’m now longing from a break from gardening over winter.

    For me Chelsea is all about the showcase: the mindnumblingly expensive gardens, the mingbogglingly well grown plants. The step out of reality. Which is counter to people’s calls to be more realistic for us to replicate at home, but in my short time visiting, that’s not what Chelsea is about. Chelsea to me is about art, fashion statements and horticulture to change the world and inspire new thinking.

    Another point is perhaps the call for sustainability – which is obviously good. But sustainable and dazzling hard landscaping don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Unless stratospheric amounts of money are spent.

    People criticise Chelsea for the money spent on show gardens, but money is the least restrictive factor compared to being good for the planet. Perhaps it’s time the flood gates were opened again on budgets and we accept it’s necessary to put on a show that’s also sustainable.

    I always found it funny that people complain about the cost of a Chelsea showgarden but wouldn’t bat an eyelid at multimillion pound stage sets for music artists touring.

    I love the people who work and contribute at the RHS and I’m glad they’ve pulled it off given everything that’s happened. I guess we’ll see if the mojo is back next year .. ?

    1. We will indeed Jack. Let’s see if the sponsors cough up and give us a set of gardens that we can all get excited about next spring.

      I am entirely with you that Chelsea is about setting the bar high and encouraging everyone else to reach for the stars. It should be the very pinnacle of horticulture, a showcase for the newest and bravest ideas, maybe even a little controversial. There’s no point complaining about cost as we all have an idea how much money is involved. So long as the ripple effect is strong enough, it’s worth it.

  7. Excellent piece Dan – I so agree with everything you said there, and well done for saying it – for too many years Chelsea has been a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes! I’ve worked at Chelsea many, many times in the Great Pavilion, and totally agree about the BBC – if they want to film your stand, they can commandeer it for several hours, which can stop the public coming to chat to you (which is why we are there!), whilst they do retake after retake, and then if they actually use the film of your stand, they rarely even give your Nursery a name credit. I’m not surprised many Nurseries chose not to go, or are bowing out of the show circuit, as the overhead costs are just not worth it anymore, or they were either at the longer established Autumn Show at Harrogate, or preparing for the Malvern Autumn Show this coming weekend!

  8. Interesting comments. Have only been to Chelsea 3 times the last time being about 6 years ago but each time I’ve come away saying “never again” for many of the reasons you have highlighted. One of my major disappointments is that there are no plants available for sale. Find I’m getting very bored with all the TV coverage this year as it’s so repetitive. Suppose the time allocated by the BBC is planned so far in advance it’s difficult if there are not enough exhibitors to fill it. Autumn is a glorious time of year but there is very little of its glory on show at Chelsea.

  9. I’ve recently stopped my subscription to the RHS (after 30 odd years). Everything seems to be about their money-making activities. Some nurseries in my neck of the woods that used to be at all the RHS shows say that the RHS charges too much, is too keen on paperwork and is over bossy. Since the pandemic many have found they can do very well thank you from online sales, so they’re giving up the RHS. Sadly, they’re also giving up some of the more local plant fairs too. I watched some of Chelsea on the telly but there’s too much Joe Swift and celebrities (get them off!) and too few plants.

  10. You know, I have asked others about something similar; not really if the Chelsea Show has been losing . . . something, but why so many English revere it as much as they do. Although I do not doubt that it is an impressive show, it seems to me that the English deserve more credit for what they do in their home gardens. The Chelsea Show is a ‘show’. Home gardens are what people actually live with. Why must the Royal Horticultural Society dictate what should be popular, or what the best plants are? I prefer to select what I like for my own garden. Others should do the same.

  11. Well said let’s all stop pretending that this is ‘THE CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW’ that we want to see this is just boring and very disappointing.

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  12. Such an excellent piece, I am with you all the way. I stopped going to Chelsea some years ago, overwhelmed by the commerce and underwhelmed by everything else. Your point about the BBC coverage was spot on, and I would like to add the content produced for the viewers is too much, too trivial, too presenter-led, so I’ve stopped watching that too. Perhaps it is time for a change of venue, I had hoped that Hampton Court might have filtered away the crowds, but that hasn’t worked either as it’s still horribly crowded with non gardeners. Chelsea has long ceased to be what it once was, an inspirational show which entertained, inspired and informed. Thank you Dan.

  13. I’ve never been to the Chelsea Flower Show and don’t think I would enjoy it because of the crowds. I have watched some of the coverage on the BBC but I am over them interviewing celebrities on their opinions. I would rather they invite everyday people into their enclosures to ask them what they thought of the exhibits and whether they had any gardening tips to share. Watching the BBC one would think that anybody who enjoys or understands gardening has to be middle class. I am as common as muck but I love gardening and feel quite knowledgeable about horticulture. I would like to see a rival gardening show (as in TV show and physical show) that focus on ordinary people growing and designing beautiful things. As an ‘ordinary’ person I would also say that gardens with industrial pipes running through them are an eyesore!

  14. I love this piece Dan! I have never actually been to Chelsea and never will now, but I think it has lost its way and the BBC coverage has become so repetitive and boring. I am also beginning to be concerned about the carbon footprint shows like this have on the planet. Why is it necessary to haul huge chunks of rock from the Urals? I was hoping that the autumn show would be full of glorious late summer and autumn flowers – I still have Verbena bonariensis, calendua, nasturtiums, roses, geraniums as well as the usual suspects – but very few made an appearance in the gardens. Sad to say the least. I want Chelsea to inspire me!

  15. I suggested some time ago, when asked what Chelsea needed to be improved, that they did an autumn show. I was thinking of the glorious plants (and grasses) which have arrived in the last few years and which need celebrating. September is one of the best times in our garden.

    It seems it didn’t work. As boring as ever.

    Well, I don’t know what it’s for. I don’t want to hire a designer, or get ‘inspiration’ from a one season garden. I don’t want to know about plants which have not yet proved themselves in use. I don’t want to see more of the BBC bores.

    It was just great not to get swamped by stuff about it in the press in spring!

  16. Dan is The Man!

    I could tick the long list of matters you mention with which I agree completely, totally and angrily. My RHS membership was cancelled some years ago and won’t be renewed unless I wish to attend the Chelsea Flower Show some year – for the tickets!

    A director of one of the RHS gardens gave a talk to one of our garden clubs some years back and we left afterwards, completely gobsmacked as the entire talk was about optimising profits and how the garden was being redesigned to facilitate this – you’ll have heard of the sheep dip design, a manner of controlling flow of visitors to extract most money! It painted a very true picture of the RHS, that it is a “for profit” organisation first and foremost; a business out to make the most money possible. It has been thus for years but was cloaked in the guise of doing good, of promoting horticulture etc etc but that cloak is now threadbare.

    It’s a sham! (and a shame!)

  17. I found this article extremely thought provoking and agreed with so many of the points made.
    I am a keen gardener, but the BBC coverage is just way over the top even for me. I’d rather have something like 3 hour long programmes covering the show gardens, the floral pavilion and then bits and pieces such as house plants etc.

    The comments about the behaviour of the BBC “people” were very interesting. Surely the majority of interviews with designers and exhibitors could be done before the show opens or at least early in the day. This might solve the problem of the horrendous background noise during most of the coverage, and make the sound engineer’s job a lot easier.

    I can’t see the RHS leaving Chelsea for the foreseeable future, but l think they’re missing a trick in not having smaller shows in regions that are miles away from London and the South East. The problem is the costs involved for the nurseries and other exhibitors, even allowing for the revenue generated in plant sales etc.
    This weekend l am visiting the Malvern Autumn Show, where l fully expect to see Asters, Dahlias, Chrysanthemums and Grasses in all their glory – and be able to buy them !

  18. Yes completely agree! (Understanding the situation we have been living in, ie., Covid) that aside we were very disappointed. It was more a commercial selling platform rather than plants, show gardens etc. As it was fraction of CF show it should be a fraction of the cost in my mind. Sadly would enjoy it better from home without shops!!

  19. Interesting and well put together piece. It’s very easy to take a negative view on the show. Especially, if you read the many well put together reasons/arguments mentioned on social media this week. Although I try to look for the positive in most things, I struggle with this show. It seems riddled with problems the people at the top of the RHS ‘wilting’ tree are happy to ignore.

  20. Opened your piece Dan about two hours after I had returned from the Chelsea Flower Show and agree entirely with your comments/views – or is it me? Have been going for 20 years ever since my little Gardening Club was chosen to fill a slot in the first ever Courtyard Competition in Ranelagh Gardens. At the time this competition was open to Gardening Clubs/Horticultural Societies and Horticultural Colleges – we managed a Bronze medal. I always go on a Tuesday but when I saw the sum required, thought better of it so chose the first public day on the Thursday, still expensive but not quite so eye watering. The crowds were horrendous, it is always busy on a Tuesday but Thursday was terrible. I am vertically challenged so trying to see show/balcony gardens was just not possible.I was longing for colour but the gardens hadn’t taken up the challenge and I only saw one set of dahlias in the marquee. The marquee was peculiarly spacious as if a lot of the regulars hadn’t bothered to come. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the TV coverage but what I saw tonight was so boring and mundane. Will think very carefully about going next year. P.S. Had a very acceptable late lunch purchased at Victoria Station – large warm cheese and bacon croissant and fantastic coffee all from Delice de France and do you know what – I was able to sit down on the train and eat it – without the use of a M & G bag to protect my derriere from damp!

  21. As someone who is a professed gardening devotee of modern perennial planting, Beth Chatto, Piet Oudolf, Nigel Dunnett and organic gardening. I thought this years show, sanctuary and artisanal gardens were some of the most exciting I have seen in 10 years of going to Chelsea. The gardens for me demonstrated the particular plantsmanship of creating planting that has beauty in the autumn but works through the earlier seasons, it can’t be a cacophony of colour but the building of a picture with foiliage and form form plants that have been there all year. Some of the layering of perennial planting was exquisite. I thought it was really exciting that this form of expert plant based design was on show from several designers who I felt stepped away from the usual big statement hard landscaping to let their skills in plant knowledge and combining be the stars of the show. I find the May gardens slightly unrelatable usually, the plantings are often single season and the plants themselves overfed. I left this show genuinely inspired, with my Google notes full of plants and ideas for my own little space.

    I agree the commercial spaces are eye popping reminders of the levels of inequality we live with, the catering is in a real need of some of the freshness of the London pop up street food scene and many exhibitors in the Great Pavillion sadly shied away from the challenge of redesigning the huge preparation that would be needed to come to Chelsea in the autumn rather than the spring they are set up for to declined attending. I have to say though, for me it was a treat and an inspiration. I loved it.

  22. We went for the first (and last) time this year. So disappointing. I’d expected rows of show gardens but got so little and what there was seemed lacklustre in places. The pavilion lacked pizazz or atmosphere. There was so little to see and just acres of overpriced stalls. The tickets were a gift but had I paid over £80 for what was pretty much just entry to a posh market with a few token gardens, then I’d have been furious. I’m a nurse and find it ironic that they have the NHS garden and the Florence Nightingale one. I don’t know many nurses who could afford the entry price or who’d be able to buy the exorbitantly priced tat from the stalls.

  23. as someone who will never made it to the show – sitting in a garden in poor, rural east germany – it was interesting to read a private report. the coverage in mags is great, but – ha! – always the same……..
    seems that the chelsea flower show is a dinosaur – unable to change with the “weather”.
    speaking of weather: that would be another thing to bring into the exhibition – the changing climate that gives us little gardeners a hard run lately.
    (exited that i have dicovered you gorgeous blog!)

  24. I wish that someday I can get to Chelsea and complain about it! Here in the US there aren’t many flower or garden shows. I flew up to Philadelphia for their big show just before COVID in 2020–but of course it’s in March and therefore entirely indoors. It was still so fun though! I’m sure it wouldn’t hold a candle to even the disappointing Chelsea 2021 though.

    My friend and I dream of someday doing a Great Britain Garden Tour. We were thinking we HAD to include Chelsea, just so we could say we had and stop wondering. Not like we can take plants home on the plane with us anyway. But is there another show we should aim for instead?

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