Growbag Blog

What’s it like to go to Chelsea Flower Show?

Laura at Chelsea

So you’ve bought your ticket /sucked up to an RHS member to get you a discounted one; you’ve nodded off to Monty & Joe’s blissful nightly coverage, and now it’s the big day – you’re off to Chelsea Flower show – so what’s it like?

Getting to Chelsea Flower Show

Well first off, getting there can be a party in itself. It helps that a Chelsea Flower Visitor is as easy to pick out from the crowd as their younger, rucksacked and muddy counterparts are at Glastonbury time. And luckily the sight of a floral dress, straw hat and white plimsolls seems to imbue train, bus, and yes, even taxi drivers with good humour and a sense of hope that the world could become one huge bed of roses with Pimms on tap. 

Coinciding with the first burst of properly warm early summer weather the party mood may well start on the train up – it certainly does for Elaine and her gang of high spirited friends from Eastbourne.

The celebrations start early among Elaine and her pals on Chelsea day!

Even private gardens along the short toddle from Victoria Station or Sloane Square tube station have a Chelsea vibe going on.

Chelsea Flower Show elephant
I love that everyone in the neighbourhood joins in the fun of Chelsea week

And if, like me, you drive and park at Battersea Park (literally the only place in London I know the way to) the free bus journey from there over the river to the showground may trigger a strong urge to invite the mini-bus driver to marry into your family. We definitely need more of this type of person in ours (welcoming, cheerful, helpful and with a GSOH). 

Being at Chelsea Flower Show


What to do first?  The Show Gardens you’ve ogled on the TV? The Great Pavilion with its festoons of glorious flowers and vegetables? Ranelagh Gardens where the tiny gardens jostle for attention like toddlers at a playgroup? 

Wherever you decide to head, it will be crowded, and there’s no mileage in getting uppity about that.  I always like to start in Main Avenue with the big Show Gardens, but here’s a tip – do your homework. 

 It feels deflating to spend 20 minutes of your precious day fighting your way to the front of a thick crowd, only to find yourself faced with a rusty silo, a huge glitter ball, or a sea of hard landscaping with hardly a plant in sight.  Or is that just me?  I recommend having a rough idea at least of what’s going to appeal to you before you get your elbows out.

Laura’s farmer husband Tim was on his own in our party, ‘admiring’ this silo in a Show Garden in 2019

The Sanctuary Gardens are little studies of artistry and intent.  Some are jewels, many are not, but you have to be bowled over by the attention to detail. Every weed in exactly the right place.

Every weed in exactly the right place…….

The Great Pavilion is a mad and marvellous place – ‘something for everyone’ has never been a more appropriate expression. Bromeliads, restios, carnivorous plants, flower-arranging, tropical cornucopias……such things are not for me at all, but I would defend to the death their right to be there.  Peter Beales Roses, the British Iris Society, Kevock Garden Plants or Raymond Evison Clematis? You’ll find me skulking round these, pen in hand, adding to my burgeoning list of Must-Haves. 

Kevock always put up a knockout display at Chelsea

Then there’s the Houseplant Studio, the scientific Discovery section, the picnic lunch (usually on a wet patch of grass near the bins listening to the swing singers at the Bandstand, in our case), and the possibility of spotting celebs.

Always nice to spot a Joe Swift or a Monty Don as you drift by

Don’t forget the jolly queue for the loos.…and the shopping.  Dozens of trade stands, selling millions of items, mostly connected with horticulture, from bizarre sculpture to floral scents for the bathroom. You’ll be longing for the Champagne Terrace or a darkened room by the end of the day.

The trade stands certainly require the average back-garden owner to ‘think big’ . Would this fit in with your rockery lay-out?


Getting home from Chelsea Flower Show

Eventually of course, your feet and purse start to swell and contract in that order and sadly, just as Cinderella had to manage her pumpkins, you must head for home while you still can.

This is when remembering which marquee exit brings you out by the main gate is well worth scribbling on the back of your hand. Simply being sure it was next to a hosta nursery is no guarantee of success – there’s a few of them!

Aww we’ve got to get home before our feet actually explode, but how the heck do we actually get out of here?

A quick visit to ‘left luggage’ to retrieve that enormous plant support you now regret buying earlier in the day and it’s off down the Embankment in a moving forest of plants, wheelie bags and Panama hats.

Yes it’s all good fun until you try to get that wrought iron bird sculpture on the London Underground

Not that you have an easier time of it if you’re a driver. For you must get that enormous plant support back into the minibus which by now feels very like an African matatu as you sit on a complete stranger’s lap to avoid crushing your other neighbour’s dahlia.

Chelsea Flower Show minibus
It’s far more important that the plants have space than humans

One thing you and all your fellow passengers will have in common though, is that barely suppressed ear-to-ear grin that says ‘we’ve just had a smashing day’.

NB: Louise has found a beautiful pond plant for us this week. Click on her tab below to find out which one. 

Yes it’s time to get to grips with your pot strategy for the summer, even if that’s just to keep the mint alive! Without a doubt you’ll need to move some plants around and this is the sort of heavyweight transplanting tool you need to get them moving – still at last year’s price too, right 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.

7 replies on “What’s it like to go to Chelsea Flower Show?”

Questionable types? These Chelsea girls are without question the types that know how to seize the day and aim to be as colourful as the show. Great fun!

Look forward to seeing you all at Chelsea on Thursday afternoon…on the NGS joy garden!

Absolutely brilliant and captured the essence of the day completely … such fun and roll on 25th May xxxx

Thank you Jayne, it was great fun writing it as we recalled so many fantastic days at Chelsea. Yes, can’t wait for Chelsea Saturday ! Elaine (and the other two…..)

Don’t forget the boiled sweets to suck – the plane trees give everyone the Chelsea Cough. Enjoy the day!

Oh thanks for reminding us, Cathy! Yes, those plane trees round Ranelagh Gardens are a bit of a menace at this time of year, aren’t they. It doesn’t spoil our day, at least for us, but a bag of fruit pastilles helps a lot. All the best, E, L and C.

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