by Sandra Hutchinson
This May I knocked one big goal off my bucket list — to attend the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show, held annually in May, on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in the Chelsea neighborhood of London. The Chelsea Show was cancelled in 2020 for only the second time since it began in 1912 (the first was during the Second World War), although some form of an online virtual show took place. The 2021 show was postponed and moved to September.
I actually had tickets for 2021, but of course the pandemic messed up any travel plans any of us had. So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I carefully guarded my 2022 tickets, both digital and printed out, and showed up at the main entry gate around 10 am on the first public day of the show, May 24. (The preceding day is reserved for a visit by members of The Royal Family; the Queen did attend on May 23.)
Because I thought that going on the first day of the show would be advisable, to see the plants and flowers in their freshest state, I had purchased a membership to the Royal Horticultural Society along with my tickets, which enabled me to buy tickets for either the first or second day. I had also bought full-day tickets. Turns out, all of this was a mistake. We later learned from a London black cab taxi driver (who know a lot about a lot of things), that the first day, and probably the first morning, are the most crowded. Tickets go on sale months before the actual event, and I advise checking with the RHS to determine the date when tickets are released. Here’s the website: https://www.rhs.org.uk
Approaching the main entry gates, we saw a throng of people waiting to go through security and show their tickets. On either side of the entry area were towering structures made up of blooming alliums with actual onion bulbs scattered about. Creative and daring, I thought.
The show is made up of several components – a huge indoor pavilion where growers and nurseries display plants; an extensive area devoted to shopping and information booths for British brands ranging from clothing to garden tools to conservatories; and “show gardens,” with themes.
I was a bit like a kid in a candy store, although sadly, I knew I had no room left in my suitcase! Above are displays of boots by Welligogs, and wonderful household brushes from the Oxford Brush Company. Note the hedgehog doorstops and boot scrapers on the top shelf!
Here are booths for Dubarry of Ireland (famous boots) and The Great British Bee Company.
Elizabeth Bradley had a beautiful display. This company sells tapestry and needlepoint kits, many with floral designs. Each year the company releases a new design to commemorate the Chelsea Flower Show.
I adore the products from Weaver Green, a British company that makes textiles from recycled plastic bottles. The throws and blankets are soft and durable, and come in a luscious range of colors.
Inside the huge pavilion was an astonishing array of flowering plants, often artfully arranged, like this display of a Yorkshire nursery, centered on a vintage truck.
Glass sculptural features mimic the lupines, above.
Many hues of calla lilies, above.
Huge clematis flowers.
“North American pitcher plants.”
Many colors and varieties of fuchsia, above.
Not to be forgotten: vegetables, like these beautiful chard plants, above.
A huge draw at the show are the outdoor display gardens. Unfortunately, because of the crowds, we found it difficult to view and appreciate them (let alone photograph them). Here’s an example of one such garden, with a William Morris theme. I gathered that the pergola designs, the structural elements and the actual plants were inspired by the Arts and Crafts designer’s preferences. Even the garden docent’s attire and umbrella are in Morris fabrics.
Here’s a display of an outdoor kitchen and eating area.
I particularly liked these sculptures by Brian Alabaster, shown in a large display.
How charming is this ice cream truck??
Classic willow fencing and carved slate signs, below.
There were cute little fairy-like outbuildings for sale, complete with inside cooking grills.
Of course, this being England, there had to be home conservatories for sale. Yes, please.
These metal trees were fountains, with water flowing over and off the copper leaves.
One wonderful aspect of strolling around both the Chelsea and nearby Belgravia neighborhoods of London around the time of the flower show, it that businesses go all-out to decorate in floral themes.
Here’s a sampling of the fabulous displays. This being the Platinum Jubilee year, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, many of the displays honored Her Majesty.
Peggy Porschen is a well-known pastry shop in Belgravia.
Who doesn’t love Paddington?
Ralph Lauren in Sloane Square went for a picnic theme. The overhead view of a picnic in one of its windows, second photo below, was brilliant.
Here, the March Hare greets customers at another store in Sloane Square.
Being a dog lover, I had to include some images in this post that reflect the British love of canines, and in particular, Corgis, the Queen’s favorite breed. The first photo below (sorry for the unavoidable reflection) is in the display window of Chelsea Textiles, which sells gorgeous fabrics and textiles, including crewels.
Finally, on the advice of my friend Cathy W., after we left the flower show we headed to Sloane Square and managed to secure a table for a late lunch at Colbert. A memorable experience. I had my favorite dish — lemon sole meunière. My husband chose one of his favorites, chicken paillard. The food, the ambiance, everything was perfect. Thanks for the recommendation, Cathy!
For dessert, of course, creme brûlée.
Would I return to the Chelsea Flower Show? Yes, but I would attend later in the week; I would therefore not feel that I had to pay for a RHS membership in order to get earlier-in-the-week tickets; and I would only purchase a half-day ticket, instead of a full day (there is no option to exit the show and reenter). And yes, I would definitely make an advance reservation so I could look forward to another fabulous lunch at Colbert!