Growbag Blog

Say cheese! – it’s Chelsea

As much as the plants, the big news at Chelsea this year was.…water. As if there wasn’t enough falling from the sky earlier, it was tinkling, eddying or tumbling down rusty pipes, from galvanised tanks and over pebbled streams so universally we had to make several ‘wee’ stops within two hours of arriving.

It’s clear the rain-soaked winter has forced a hasty rethink on the ‘Gardening for drought’ themes of recent years. Now it’s all about ‘Managing Water’ aka ‘we don’t actually have a clue what to expect’ but, for sure…you must now have a water management strategy and a soakaway pit in your garden to cover all possibilities.

Do you get the picture? Your own private SuDS installation is apparently the way forward

So which gardens and stands stood out for us?


Yes, even our usual picnic spot in Ranelagh gardens was soggy mud – we had to brave the slippery slopes of wild garlic and nettles behind the outdoor bean bag stand. No mean feat for a trio of old girls, getting down was okay, but getting up….. 😱

As usual, there were Show Gardens that made my heart sing and others that frankly didn’t.  I thought the Terence Higgins Trust ‘Bridge to 2030’ garden was beautifully done – and while the ‘message’ was important, it didn’t overwhelm the thoughtful design and planting.

On the Terence Higgins Trust garden, the design and planting weren’t overwhelmed by the important message

Then there was the exuberance of Ann-Marie Powell’s Octavia Hill Garden, and I adored the World Child Cancer Nurturing Sanctuary Garden, but my ultimate vote has to go to the National Garden Scheme Garden designed by the maestro Tom Stuart-Smith.  It is a calming symphony of white and green, with woodland-edge perennials under hazel trees that have been ‘crown-raised’ – the lower branches have been stripped off to show their trunks and let light in below.  This garden could have been twee, but it absolutely wasn’t. We were lucky enough to look around it from the ‘inside’, and it felt truly like an enchanted space.

Raising the crown of the hazels showed the beautiful branches and let the light through

I did a double-take at the very peculiar counselling space building on the St James’s Show Garden – the witch’s hat felt a tad more threatening than was intended, I felt.

Caroline and Laura lost me for a while in the Great Pavilion, but they knew where they’d find me – drifting among the roses at Peter Beales or David Austin.  Can’t help it – I’ve tried to kick my rose habit, but then I see a beauty like ‘Tottering by Gently’ (gifted me recently by my son – cheeky!) and I’m weak-knee’d all over again.

A day at Chelsea always has its moments.  I love my walk along the Pimlico Road from Victoria Station, and the shop displays, though fewer this year, were still spectacular.

The shops in Pimlico Road are happy to join in the fun

Chelsea is, above all, great entertainment, and what better way to illustrate that than to share with you a hare looking through binoculars!

I CANNOT believe the madness going on around me!

Yes it was water, water everywhere this year and I found the concept of the Flood Resilient garden absolutely thrilling – the possibility that you could turn your back garden into one enormous sump with rainwater trickling down chains into a cascade of galvanised tanks with a muddy wildlife pond at the bottom was the stuff of dreams.

With a covered verandah at the top where you could watch the water cycle in action in all its dynamic phases, with the hope that at the very least great crested newts will take up residence in your sump/bog and maybe even an axolotl.

Chelsea 2024
The Flood Resilient Garden – a glimpse of the future?

In fact sunken pits were a recurring theme in the sanctuary gardens where the designers had almost unanimously decided that their allotted spaces become instantly more interesting with height variations, but it remained a mystery where all the excavated soil had been dumped – possibly fly-tipped in the garden of Chelsea Barracks? 

Chelsea 2024
Very nice but where have Bridgerton dumped all the soil?

Each year there are certain plants which pop up over and over. This year it was the delicate lemon Trollius ‘Cheddar’, the tall dark purple opium poppy Lauren’s Grape, and a dear little low growing Cistus ‘Silver Pink’. 

Chelsea 2024 Trollius ‘Cheddar’

In the pavilion it was the thoughtful little things that lifted my heart and gave me hope for the future. The immaculate Moore and Moore Nursery stand were decanting all their plants into Wool Pots to enable them to recycle all the black plastic pots again on their nursery rather than wing them on their way to landfill.

Chelsea 2024 Wool Pots
Delighted to see Wool Pots being used by Moore and Moore Nursery

And the ‘Size of Wales’ stand, although initially rather unexciting to view, focused on the diversity of tropical forests. It showcased no fewer than 313 species of plants, reflecting the number of different types of trees that can occur in a single hectare of tropical forest.

Chelsea 2024 Size of Wales
Don’t judge a stand by its appearance, The Size of Wales has a very important back story


À la Orson Welles and art, I might not know much about gardens but I know what I like, and that was the Octavia Hill garden. I’d plodded up the main avenue behind Laura, being instructed on the technical merits of its monochrome landscapes when, boom, we arrived at this beauty.

After muchos contemplation and healing elsewhere in the show, this belter from Ann-Marie Powell cheered the heart

At last, contemplation and healing could be put on hold for a minute and we leapt for joy at this montage of colour, fun, streams, paths and benches. Even Laura seemed to go a little bit mad, shrieking across the crowd ‘Why didn’t this garden win gold?’ at its designer Ann-Marie Powell. Who knows?  But the public saved the day by voting it their favourite garden of the show on Thursday. Nice one guys!

Elsewhere there were retail opportunities like never before. I don’t just mean the Pimms (£16 a glass thank-you very much) but many more nurseries were selling home-grown stock straight off the stand. Like the third day of a diet, all hopes of staying strong collapsed in a matter of seconds and the rucksack began filling up fast.

Surely a little one won’t hurt the bank account too much?

So it was off the house plant studios where we anticipated being overawed by millennials growing plants we’d never heard of. We were right of course, but it was so much more. Don’t miss this section if you go today. ‘Hope After Humanity’ rehearsed nature’s reclamation of our world after we humans have boiled ourselves to oblivion – wonderfully done and all in the space of your average downstairs loo!

Nature reclaiming the world. Although some of us have already worked in offices that looked a bit like this haven’t we?

Another great day at Chelsea with Saturday still to look forward to, when the singers on the Ranelagh Stage can look forward to some uninvited backing support from inebriated show-goers (us) and those recently unloaded rucksacks will doubtless be refilled.

Laura made a short video of our day at Chelsea which you can see HERE

This plant can only be described as ‘sumptuous’. It’s not just the depth of colour and subtle variations as the light changes, there’s more to it. Let Louise explains here

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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.

11 replies on “Say cheese! – it’s Chelsea”

I enjoyed your view of Chelsea more than the TV show which I found a bit tedious this year. Maybe because the gardens in general were a bit bland. I feel a bit guilty saying that 😕
So thanks for cheering me up as did Louise’s clematis. 😆

Glad you enjoyed it, Helen! Yes, the Chelsea TV coverage didn’t enthuse me much either – it was a lot better being there amongst it all. All the best, Elaine (+ L & C)

Dear Growbags,
I only wish you three had been doing the BBC commentaries and the filming. Up until your blog this morning, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this year’s Chelsea! Your film was just lovely and has cheered me up tremendously. Well done!
Susie Brooke
Great Missenden

Hi Susie, so glad you liked our take on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. It was great fun being there and we were able to see so much more detail than one could on the TV. Laura did a very good job on splicing it all together in the film – it’s a lovely memento of an exciting week. All the best, Elaine

Hi Deborah, we had fun writing this one! It has been an exciting week culminating in buying lots of plants in the Saturday sell-off (Laura, in particular, who’s a demon around the Great Pavilion stands ferreting out all sorts of niche perennials!). Glad you enjoyed it – thank you for letting us know. All the best, Elaine

Thank you for sharing the lovely pictures of Chelsea. I agree with other comments that nothing really outstanding (in my humble view). Great ideas of how to fill my pots this summer. Just a bit difficult to choose with the weather alternating with scorching and drowning!

Hi Linda, Yes, it was a funny old Chelsea really, though being able to walk through a couple of the gardens made a big difference to our appreciation of them. The plants in the pots I’ve planted up for the summer have been hanging around doing very little for two or three weeks; in the last week they have woken up, I’m delighted to say, so maybe the air has finally warmed up enough to give us some proper summer colour! Good luck with your pots and your garden this year. All the best, Elaine

Lovely to see you all on the NGS garden- I may be biased but I agree with Elaine that it felt truly magical and was better than it appeared on the telly !

Hi Irene, it was very, very special being about to walk around the NGS garden with you and appreciate that beautiful pale woodland-edge planting at close quarters. As you say, it was much, much better to see it in real life than it was on the TV. I can’t hope to approach that kind of perfection in my own imminent NGS opening – the best I can hope for is a sunny day with all the roses in flower, and plenty of tea and cake! All the best, Elaine (+ L and C, of course)

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