Spare a thought for the exhibitors frantically preparing for the Chelsea Flower Show next week. Every year is challenging but this year, with the extremely cold and late spring, it has been even more difficult for them.
It’s not an ordinary Chelsea either, it’s the 100th , so everyone is pulling out the stops to try to create the best displays ever!
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the show every year for the past 30 years, either as an exhibitor or as a journalist reporting on the show for the papers or, more recently, for QVC.
We’ve got a special week of shows on QVC next week and as part of our coverage, QVC have asked me and some of our regular guests, including Raymond Evison and Carolyn Whetman to talk about our favourite Chelsea memories. In case you miss the show (Sunday 19 May at 9am) , here’s a couple of my stories.
On the final day of Chelsea many of the stands sell off their plants. It’s an extraordinary spectacle! At my very first Chelsea, I was working on the Hillier stand when a nun, really petite and only about 5ft tall, came up to me and asked if she could buy one of the huge Rhododendrons in the back of the display. I said ‘ Of course’ but warned her that it would be extremely heavy as it had a rootball the size and weight of two bags of cement. She replied that wouldn’t be a problem and that she’d be back in a few minutes. Sure enough, she came back – with a pram- and we carefully loaded the enormous Rhododendron onto the pram and off she went , a tiny nun weaving her way through the crowd with a huge rhododendron wobbling on top of this really rickety pram. It was typical of the determination of many visitors to enjoy a bit of Chelsea at home (and to get a bargain!).
During the late eighties, I set up Alexandra Palace Garden Centre in London. One year, our landscape team was asked to design and build a garden at Chelsea for the Daily Mirror. Her Majesty the Queen visited our garden during her tour of the show, and much to the delight of the newspaper, she smiled and said’ It’s lovely’. The executives at the paper were thrilled and insisted on double page spreads in the paper for the next four days, each of them proudly talking of the Royal approval given to the garden.
What thrilled me as much was that Robin Lane-Fox, the revered gardening correspondent for the Financial Times, loved it too, so much so that he wrote that ‘to judge from the gardens, The Daily Mirror is Britain’s quality paper and the Daily Telegraph is brash trash'. And that’s the wonderful thing about Chelsea, however much is spent on the garden, from a few thousand pounds to many hundreds of thousands, every garden is judged equally. Chelsea is a great leveller.
I’m really looking forward to visiting Chelsea again next week. I’ll be reporting from the show on Tuesday 21st in the Morning show on QVC (9am) and during the day we’ll also be celebrating with a Today’s Special Value pack of Raymond Evison Clematis, featuring a brand new variety that Raymond has named to commemorate the Centenary Chelsea and we’re the very first to be selling it!