The Chelsea Flower Show is as quintessentially part of the English spring and summer as Wimbledon and Royal Ascot and many garden-lovers consider their annual visit to the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital to be a highlight of their year. And it is easy to understand why this five day extravaganza of colour and garden design has remained so outstandingly popular for so long. This is a beautiful 11 acre venue, where new plants are unveiled to the public, innovative garden designs are displayed, ‘celebrity’ gardeners abound and the eyes of all horticultural aficionados eagerly search to find out what new developments are available for them to take back to their own gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society can justifiably claim that this is the world’s greatest gardening event.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been taking place at its current venue since 1888, having had spells at Kensington and Chiswick prior to this. In 2005 an additional day was added, so that the show now continues for five days overall, although the first two days are open only to members of the society. Numbers have to be limited to 157,000 visitors each year, as the grounds could not cope with any more.
In addition to the many displays and Show Gardens that are available to wander around, Chelsea is also host to many trade stands in the Great Pavilion. At the 2009 Show, despite the recession, there were more than 270 stands, with products ranging from stone sculptures from Zimbabwe to garden tools, wellington boots, hand-made soaps and just about anything you could ever want to take into your garden.
In addition to being a Flower Show, there are a variety of competitions at Chelsea, resulting in the awarding of prestigious trophies. These competitions range from exhibits of trees and herbs, floral arrangements and, of course, the Best Garden prizes.
Because numbers are strictly limited and demand for tickets is so high, admission to the Chelsea Flower Show is by ticket only. It is normally held during the last week in May. Tickets need to be reserved as soon as possible and full details can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society’s own website. Should you not have a ticket, it is possible, on the final three days of the show, to queue at the Booking Office and wait for tickets that have been returned. If you choose to do this, by turning up very early you do stand a good chance of getting in. By far the safest method, though, is to book as early as you can. Please note that children under five, carried babies or pushchairs are not allowed in, though. Disabled visitors are permitted to take in a companion free of charge, although some of the paths might be difficult for wheelchairs to negotiate.
Part of the Chelsea experience for many people involves the excellent food that is available here. As well as the numerous Champagne and Pimms bars dotted around the site, there are several highly regarded places to eat – Loch Fyne Seafood Restaurant, the Ranelagh Bistro and the Rock Bank Restaurant, for example.
Travelling to Chelsea is possible in a variety of ways. The nearest Underground Station is at Sloane Square; bus numbers 11, 137, 211, 239, 360 and 452 all stop close to the Showground and if you are arriving by train at Victoria Station there is a shuttle bus service to the Show between 7 am and 8 pm each day. Those people coming by car are best advised to park at Battersea Park – outside the Congestion Zone at the time of writing – and take the Park and Ride bus service from there.
Visitors who want to stay in London can benefit from contacting Expotel Hotel Reservations, www.expotel.co.uk , who are the official agents for the RHS and offer special rates for visitors at nearby hotels.
However you choose to get to The Chelsea Flower Show, you are sure to enjoy the sights, and scents, of a truly wonderful and uniquely British occasion.