I don’t know about you, but once I go to a garden show, I want everything to look like it. I can’t stand when the landscapers are trying to repaint the walls or add new plants to my lawn. I want those masterpieces to be the star. But, for all of its boasting of winning them, the Chelsea Flower Show is hardly a garden show.
Whether you’re a Chelsea horticultural connoisseur, or just a garden enthusiast who thinks a show planted in hoards of gold-green indoor plants is aglow with wonder, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. Chelsea is, in the end, a selling point, an over-the-top advert for the UK’s and Europe’s most famous flower show, that’s turning out to be far less than, shall we say, scrumptious.
Here’s what you need to know about why the Chelsea Flower Show is far from being a garden show.
You may need to start with the history.
The flower show wasn’t originally called a garden show. It was first called the Chelsea Allotment Horticultural Society Show. But, it’s long been known as a flower show, and now, it draws the attention of professional landscapers, designers, architects, landscape architects, greenhouse owners, and even the media – this is still its biggest attraction (the Chelsea Flower Show is specifically famous for awarding the world’s most coveted “Best In Show” in every different garden category, as well as the coveted “Flower of the Year” award).
History of its roots can be traced back to a great battle
In 1689, French and English-based gardeners fought each other so badly for supplies that they nearly destroyed the city. As part of their efforts to find stable supplies, French gardeners started to camp out in the environs of the famous garden at Cricklewood. But one of the French contractors got a taste of that decadent suburb, brought back a wealth of tomato seeds, and planned to put it up as a space for gardeners to try out unusual and sometimes out-of-the-box garden designs.
The English gardener was keen to get rid of the weeds, fertilizers, and fertilizers that were building up. Not surprisingly, in 1690 he built a spectacular place – a formal terrace whose centerpiece would be a house – and called it the Chelsea Garden. With the food, lavender, and produce they’d harvested, they’d all be out on the terrace talking about the bounty, until a French gardener stopped them mid-outbreak.
“Paris!,” the French would reply, “London is losing.”
In retaliation, the Brits rebounded by building a garden of their own that has become one of the UK’s most famous.
The original Chelsea Garden was today part of the International Garden Centre in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.
The event isn’t a show of all the plants you’ll ever want to know.
It isn’t all about you or your garden either. Though it’s touted as a showcase of the finest heirloom plants, cut flowers, wild flowers, and gardeners from around the world, far from being a show about you or your garden (something I saw during my last visit) its main point is to show off what’s most prestigious in UK gardening. It’s no wonder these designers go all out with their astonishing displays.
The 2016 event attracted more than 47,000 visitors, along with 5,000 journalists. And last year, the average ticket cost of £27.
What you’ll see at the Chelsea Flower Show isn’t necessarily a good idea for your own garden.
There is one area at the Chelsea Flower Show that’s designed to show off some of the world’s most spectacular garden designs (just so long as you don’t do it yourself, too).
It’s the Plant Boat.
Pip Courtney, the artistic director of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, says the Design Boat is designed to encourage visitors to explore their gardens, beyond the physical plant, to show them there are other elements of design to take in. They have access to a multitude of different expert consultants who can show you how to make your own “plane.”
“The design boat is a challenge for the heart,” said Courtney. “It is to get people to think beyond the garden.”