After years of watching coverage of the show on the BBC, I finally made my way yesterday to the annual flower show held on the banks of the River Thames at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London. Would I go again? Probably….but I might leave it a few years. Now, I usually come back from places thinking I’d love to go the following year so why do I feel a little nonplussed when looking back?
Flowers and displays
Without doubt, the gardens are stunning! On TV, these gardens look huge and I’d wondered how close up I would get but they’re actually pretty small making these pop-up gardens even more remarkable. There are 3 categories: show gardens, artisan gardens and ‘space to grow’ gardens which are basically designed to inspire those living in urban communities. Some of these were very British, like the Yorkshire-themed one that had been noted best in show as well as getting a gold award. There was a super African-themed garden about girls in education with vibrant colours. In addition to these, there’s the grand pavilion which is the size of 2 football pitches and has smaller displays and I could imagine being very crammed if the weather this week hadn’t been so kind. What was great was that the designers were on-hand to answer questions and other staff giving out planting guides so that people could try to replicate the gardens back home. Now, my knowledge of all things flower is truly rubbish! Honestly, I’ve no idea what most plants are but I was there for the photography and experience. However, I could imagine anyone REALLY into gardening taking all day to make their way around and probably feel that they didn’t see everything!
Food and drink
I was warned by my mother-in-law that it can be very hard to find somewhere to sit to eat lunch if you bring your own lunch and, yes, there are very few places to perch. Even low walls were crammed with other people hovering nearby ready to pounce as soon as a tiny space became free! There’s some seating in the entertainment area where the bandstand had back-to-back performers to entertain the crowd but that was almost the only place and not around the show gardens.
If you don’t want to bring food and drink with you, there are lots of options….well, for drink anyway. There were gin bars, Pimm’s bars, champagne bars and a bottomless supply of wine. There were fairly relaxed places where you can buy something to eat although they looked incredibly busy and I overheard a couple of people saying that the queues were really long and it was then hard to find somewhere to sit. At the other end of the money scale, there’s Jardin Blanc which is super exclusive and is a cordoned-off area where additional gardens, cocktails and exquisite food await anyone willing to pay more than £300 a ticket! I decided to book a table at the Rock Bank Restaurant, mainly so that I knew I’d have no problems finding somewhere to sit down whilst I ate. It was beautiful and the service impeccable. I had to Google what most things on the menu were such as vichyssoise and kohlrabi! The main course was chicken with veg basically but the three potatoes were tiny, the piece of chicken was tiny and it was all rather…erm….disappointing. Even the two young ladies sitting next to me who appeared to be rather used to a Chelsea-lifestyle commented ‘Oh, is that it?’ when their food arrived! I’ve eaten in some amazing places but this was by far the most expensive lunch I’ve ever had and it really wasn’t worth it. If I go back, I’ll be taking a sandwich and find a space to squeeze in on a wall!
If you want anything for your garden, you’re bound to find it here! There were avenues of stalls selling everything from your everyday Hozelock and Spearman Jackson through to metal art which included a huge metal water feature costing £15,000. I’ll take two, thank you very much! You could buy super expensive garden furniture and outdoor entertainment structures, like huge glass orbs where you can sit inside. All visitors were given a bag (a bit like a good quality bag-for-life that we’re becoming used to here in the UK) and there’s the temptation to buy something rather than walk around with an empty bag! Well, that was my excuse anyway and I came away with some small metal art for our garden.
However, on the last day of the show, the ‘sell off’ starts at 4pm. This is where a bell rings and people who are usually quiet and unfailingly polite turn into fiercely competitive bargain hunters elbowing others out of the way as they try to grab the lupins that they can take home and remark to everyone how they must be good as they were at Chelsea! I’d left before yesterday’s sell-off but I hear that the grand pavilion just empties in no-time at all and people find themselves on buses, the underground, etc. with huge palm trees that they hadn’t even planned to buy! In fact, I saw people during the day with those fold-up trollies clearly planning ahead to what they would take home with them.
Getting there is easy. I’d booked my parking space at Battersea Park and then used the shuttle bus which took me to the gates. That’s well worth it if you don’t want to battle public transport. The grounds are also easily served by the London Underground, buses and of course black cabs. If it had rained, it would have been a very different event so it’s hugely dependent on the changeable British weather. The grounds aren’t huge and I’ve heard some people say that they much prefer the flower show at Hampton Court Palace. I guess the impression I got is that Chelsea (for some people at least) is about being seen by others! If you have anything floral in your wardrobe, you’ll fit in with probably more floral chintz that you’d find in a Laura Ashely store! If I was more into gardening, I might be keen to see what the latest trends are, making it an annual day out but it’s very expensive for what it is. Yes, you can get cheaper tickets if you arrive later although you’ll then have the crowds to contend with. I turned up at 8am yesterday because I read how the gardens become harder to see by the time you get to mid-morning. So, as a non-gardener, I think I’m left with the feeling ‘Well, that was nice but I won’t put the date in my diary for next year’. However, it’s another bucket list experience ticked off.
What’s next? Scotland! Just 2.5 weeks to go and then spending a night with Sussex Police!
Happy weekend, everyone xx