Growbag Blog

Chelsea in September – What are your thoughts?

Whoa! Chelsea in the autumn! How are you feeling about it? A lot has happened in the last 18 months (three million new gardeners, working from home, mental health concerns, climate change fears, the joy of being together again….) How have these impacted on the Show? We Growbags can report that the impact was frankly massive!

As a contrast from all the usual Show coverage in the press and on the Beeb this week, we gave ourselves a few questions to ‘ponder while we wander’. Here are our answers:

Q. What seemed the most dramatic change from a normal May Chelsea Flower Show?

Elaine: Apart from the obvious (the autumn plant-range), I thought a Covid-affected September Chelsea did feel very different – much more space, a ‘softer’ greener feel to the Show Gardens, and lots of ‘healing, hope and health’ messages about. There was a much more pervasive awareness of what gardens and gardening can do FOR us, rather than the other way round. Perhaps inevitable, though I have to confess I did miss the buzz and excitement of the packed pavilion stands a little!

Laura: Agreed Elaine, there was a definitely a different vibe with a new colour palette that verged on harvest festival note (and fewer people meant almost non-existent queues for the loos – please can this be an annual feature?)

Laura at Chelsea
At times I wasn’t quite sure if I was at a flower show, a ploughing match or a Halloween party

But with so little time to adjust and prepare for the new timing many of the usual suspects were missing, and missed (come back Kevock Plants). Hats off though to those that did go the extra mile to give us our horticultural fix, whether that was tricking plants into thinking it was still being held in May (the alliums actually looked great after spending the summer in a cold store) or rustling up a selection of true late summer flowerers (step forward Daisy Roots and Binny Plants).

And for me personally the thrill of seeing sandstone from the quarry on our family farm on the Guangzhou Garden (our feature picture) more than compensated for the slimmed down pavilion.

Caroline: Most dramatic change for me was the number of gardening celebs to be found eking out every last ounce of news value from a reduced exhibitor list – you could hardly swing a cat without hitting a Carol Klein or Joe Swift!

Oh Gawd, not you again Monty! (only joking, we could take quite a lot of him)

Also there was a very welcome update on the traditional Show Garden/Artisan Garden formula. New categories….. Houseplant Studios, Container Gardening and Balcony Gardens felt dynamic and much more relevant to our lives now (obvs not Elaine and Laura’s still stuck somewhere between The Great Wars.)

Q. Which plant did you most want to take home?

Elaine: As always, I was tempted by virtually every clematis on the Raymond Evison stand, and almost every rose on the Harkness stand (have I ever mentioned that I love roses?). I was deeply taken by the grasses, especially Panicum virginatum ‘Squaw’, and the ironweed Vernonia ‘Mammoth’ on the lovely Daisy Roots stand. But I’m going to plump for the Chelsea Plant of the Year 2021 – Cercis canadensis ‘Eternal Flame’ introduced by Suttons. I’ve got Cercis c. ‘Forest Pansy’, and I LOVE it. This new variety’s ability to change shades through the seasons looks like a winner to me.

Cercis canadensis ‘Eternal Flame’ – oh yes, I’d like one of those!

Laura: What a surprise, Elaine wanted to take home either a clematis or a rose …! that new cercis must be quite something to lure her final choice to a small tree. I also wanted to take home a tree – the lovely crabapple Malus ‘Winter Gold’ from the Blue Diamond Forge Garden (surely this garden should have got Gold? – it was absolutely lovely)

Malus ‘Winter Gold’
I wondered that if I offered to give this lovely crab apple a new home in the country whether Blue Diamond would throw Nick Bailey in as well?

Caroline: Ah, not Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ then, as I told my husband when I spotted it. So I don’t know much about plants but I do know what I like, and here was my favourite… the Babycham bottling plant that was inexplicably attached to Bowlands Nursery stand (how come it looked positively Victorian when I remember Babycham so well?).

Sadly you couldn’t actually get a glass of Babycham on the Bowdens stand, but their horticultural plants looked just as delicious.

If we’re talking plants proper, I was bedazzled by the brand new Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’ which flowers right through the summer! Although camellias are a welcome sight in early spring, it’s still so cold in Scotland I’m not really in the mood for them. Problem solved – this beauty will flower right through the summer and grow happily on my terrace in a pot. You can buy it exclusively from Thompson and Morgan, I’ve added the link at the end..

A camellia to enjoy when you’re property thawed out after the winter – 1001 Summer Nights Jasmine

Q. At the Show, when did you feel the need to say loudly ‘What Da?!’

Elaine: There were quite a few moments like this, from beaten-up caravans to psychedelic sheds, but the one that felt the most random was the gorilla head carved from a pumpkin on the spectacular Medwyn’s veg stand. A bit worried about the minion above it too. I’m not saying I didn’t admire the craftsmanship, I just couldn’t think what it was doing there……………

Medwyn’s gorilla head from a pumpkin – clever, just a bit unexpected………..

Laura: Mine was the fleeting moment when I thought that the news that London Buses were planning to go green, meant something much more exciting than a shift from diesel to electric.

London bus at Chelsea
Top marks for London Transport in embracing the new trend in houseplants

Caroline: For me it had to be that shed. Apparently it’s a VIP hangout for the show’s ‘plantarati’. If this is where superstars relax, I dare not ask where they go for stimulation!

….and breathe. About as relaxing as white knuckle ride, this fantastic studio was a magnet for showgoers.

Q. What was the best comment you overheard?

Elaine: A man standing next to us while we were watching Adam Frost rehearse his words in one of the Sanctuary Gardens: “I can’t hear what he’s going on about, it’s probably something to do with gardening”. And, though not exactly an overheard comment, I loved that a lady handing us details of Sarah Eberle’s Gold Medal-winning Psalm23 garden whispered excitedly, “…..and that’s Sarah’s real sheep poo!”

Elaine about to examine designer Sarah Eberle’s sheep poo………

Laura: Definitely the person behind me at the Trailfinders’ Himalayan garden, who enquired hopefully, ‘If I reminded them I had a holiday with them in 1978, do you think I’d get into hospitality?’

Caroline: One chap was obviously trying to relate his visit to his normal reference points (The Godfather), confided to his wife at a chrysanthemum stand, ‘These always remind me of mafia funerals. You always see them spelling a name on a coffin.’

Never mind their role as plants, chrysanthemums are just made for spelling ‘Dino’ or ‘Dad’ in the back of the hearse.

One thing was made very clear, Chelsea’s back to its usual slot next year (24-28 May 2022), so this year’s show has a unique place in history and all in all, we reckon organisers made good fist of it. What are YOUR thoughts?

NB Here is the link to that new Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’

Do check out what we managed to come up with last May at Chelsea Show – when there wasn’t even a Show……..

And if the autumn Chelsea has whetted your appetite for late summer flowers DEFINITELY have a look at our gorgeous new small flower cards, on sale in our shop – all painted by Growbag friend and artist Lyn Sweetman and based on photos of Louise’s late summer borders.

More NB And Louise has yet another late summer perennial that would grace any flower show or greetings card as her plant of the moment – click on the box below to find out what it is.

Yet more NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

16 replies on “Chelsea in September – What are your thoughts?”

Hi Marjorie, Elaine here. Yes, wasn’t it fascinating to look at a very different palette, and one can only applaud the growers’ amazing efforts at bringing off such a great show, amidst all the uncertainties of the pandemic. Deserves a huge ‘Bravo!’

Neil I suspect organisers would be having a cardiac arrest at the prospect of organising that, but from a show-goer’s point of view that’s a brilliant proposal! Stallholders looked to be doing a brisk trade in early Christmas present sales and I’m sure this won’t go unnoted when they have a post-show ‘wash-up’. Food for thought. Kindest regards, Caroline

As you say less hectic wonderful to get near the show gardens and shrub /tree of the show for me, on several stands, Heptacodium miconiodes. I had never heard of it till Chelsea 2021 and it must be a good one for any small garden or woodland setting as it flowers and has a scent well on in autumn. Ive bought one already from Thompson and Morgan! It is related to honey suckle so has all the right credentials.
Surprise for me is that the Scottish Growbag did not mention that the rocks for the garden Psalm 123 came from a farm off the Aberdeen to Inverness road! A very special garden indeed.
Ps did you check out the Boodles stand and garden where the jewellery was inspired by ‘The Secret Garden’ and every piece was ‘to die for’.

Cleone thank you so much – Caroline here and I had no idea the stone for the Lord is My Shepherd garden was from up our way. They were humungous lumps so quite a job to bring them that far! I did like that garden but I also loved the Tribute to the NHS garden beside it – I thought it should have won gold too! You’ve got me Googling Heptacodium and very much wanting to order one too – I might just add it to my order for that new Camellia. And finally you also hit the spot with the Boodles recommendation. Laura and Elaine are back at Chelsea tomorrow (Sunday) and Laura is hellbent on taking your advice – if she weakens I’ll post a pic of her purchase!Thank you so much for your tips! kindest regards from us all

Hi Growbags
This was a really good insight into Chelsea. All informative, interesting and humorous. Well done! I think you enjoyed yourselves!
Best wishes. Roger

Thank you so much Roger, we definitely did! The absence of knock-out blooms was a downside but the space and the holiday atmosphere created by the novelty of it all was a definite bonus! Kindest regards to you from us all.

Really enjoyed the TV coverage, obviously a different vibe to the May shows but refreshing for that as it referenced the times we are living in more – wonder if a one year autumn/next year spring show is a possibility??

Very much agree about the new elements Cherry – and there was an exciting feeling of novelty around the show this year. We did wonder the same. Whether there might actually be room for a big show in the autumn given that the spring is jam-packed with them. That said, you can’t deny it’s less tempting to spend money on your garden when you’re heading into the winter. I’m sure the bean counters will have the final say! Kindest regards, Caroline

After watching several of the BBC shows (2&3 times daily…toooo much) I was bored going around the same lack lustre offerings. A big turn off (I deleted the last five recordings.)

Time was when the Chelsea Flower Show was about horticulture but it seems now to have morphed into something best suited to a fairground. What is this lavatorial obsession? Have a pee before entering the turnstile……..

Well of all this year’s changed aspects, I don’t think a superfluity of toilets was a key complaint for us Charlotte:) Were there more than usual? Certainly the queues were reduced but we assumed it was because there were fewer people attending? Good advice though about show prep! Kindest regards, Caroline

Yes Alan, it was probably a struggle for the programme-makers to find original material to fill the schedule. There’s no doubt there were less exhibitors etc. We did feel organisers had done well introducing new categories to talk about but the celebs we saw being filmed did look a bit less than ‘wowed’. Think they should get The3Growbags to broadcast from the show next year! Kindest regards, Caroline

Fancy the stone from family local quarry being in the show. it looks lovely. I have a fine rippled piece as my hearth stone.

Hello Sue, yes it was a real honour! We were so lucky the Landscape Contractors for the stand (The Outdoor Room) were local and had heard about our stone quarry. The ripple stone is fascinating, other designers thought we had deliberately carved the ripples in and we had to explain that it was the natural result of a fossilised beach! Best wishes Laura

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