Today (Monday) is usually RHS Chelsea Flower Show Press Day… a day like no other in the garden journalist’s calendar. I have never taken for granted the fact that I have been accredited and received my Chelsea press pass and have been able to attend this show. There is always so much to see and so many people who have produced the most spectacular gardens, grown perfect plants and installed everything in a matter of days.
This year Chelsea is going to be a virtual show and throughout the week there are all manner of delights. Press Day is going to be a special members’ only day. The RHS ‘Virtual’ Chelsea Flower Show will run from 18 to 23 May, and the content, once added each day, will be available all week. For more information and an up-to-date timetable of events visit rhs.org.uk/Chelsea and follow #RHSChelsea on social media. Members of The Garden Media Guild (I am a member along with many garden writers and photographers) is using the hashtag #missingchelsea to highlight its support for this iconic show.
Exhibitors and designers who have made Chelsea into the special place it is will be among those appearing at different times during the Virtual Show Week (see RHS Diary below).
RHS Director General Sue Biggs CBE commented that “In the absence of the world’s greatest flower show, at a time when gardening, growing plants and access to nature has never been so important, we are delighted to still be able to bring you some of the very best in horticulture.
“The gardening world has come together to bring garden design and plant inspiration, breath-taking displays and horticultural knowledge to millions of homes so we can continue to inspire everyone to grow.”
In years previous I would have driven down to London from Suffolk to spend some time on Sunday at the showground familiarising myself with the layout and speaking to plantsmen and women, as well as fellow garden writers. But this year I have had to put my smart new floral jacket back in the wardrobe and the hat on the hatstand… and last year’s press pass back in the souvenir box.
So today here are a few of the Chelsea moments that made my day on Press Day in 2019.
Herbs are always high on my list of showstoppers and this example of woad (Isatis tinctoria) floating like a cloud across Jekka’s stand is echoed in my own garden this year.
One of the great opportunities on Build-Up Sunday and also on Press Day is seeing the gardens close-up. Jo Thompson designed one of my favourites in 2019. The Wedgwood Garden combined plants that were accessible for my garden but in their show setting took me to a magical destination through Jo’s use of architecture and water. It is particularly fitting that her experiments with colour in this garden have led her into a new enterprise, Colour My Garden, which she launched a few days ago. It is a subscription-based concept offering year-round bulb design and supply for gardens.
Jonathan Snow’s second Chelsea garden (his first in 2018 was very close to my heart, featuring a Cape Dutch-style house inspired by one of my favourite Cape vineyard’s Babylonstoren – delectable wine and a wonderful garden), The Trailfinders ‘Undiscovered Latin America ‘ Garden, brought to life visions of a temperate rainforest in Chile and makes me wish that a trip there would one day be possible!
Last year one of my favourites was Jilayne Rickard’s garden for Camfed (Campaign for Female Education), for which she won a Gold Medal and the People’s Choice Award. The red earth and the vibrant flowers and foliage took me back to my South African roots.
I always make a bee-line for the Pavilion where the most perfect plants on the planet grown by experts are breathtakingly displayed. It is such a pleasure to be able to step into this space and see the plants without the hustle and bustle of later days during Chelsea week. And I am drawn unfailingly to the South African National Biodiversity Institute – Kirstenbosch stand to see the plants that highlight the regions wildflowers.
And the people behind the displays… there are so many who have become friends over the years and many of whose plants have taken up residence in my garden.
Rob and Rosie Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants have produced dazzling displays for the past three decades, winning 24 Gold Medals along the way. This year was due to be their last Chelsea and they were determined to go out with a floral ‘bang’. Fortunately they will be back for their final Chelsea in 2021.
Anemone Wild Swan was the Chelsea Plant of the Year in 2011… and has been the plant of the year in my garden ever since. About to burst into bloom this perennial, bought from Hardy’s who introduced it, gives so much for so long each year in the garden, with its just-white faces and dusky mauve petal backs.
There may be nothing happening on the actual showground but head over to the RHS website and if you are an RHS member, set up your account and log in to enjoy Monday’s Member’s Preview of the Virtual Chelsea Flower Show.
RHS Chelsea 2020 The Diary – the highlights
Monday 18 May – RHS Members Day
The online show will be officially opened by a welcome from RHS President Sir Nicholas Bacon, followed by RHS Vice President Alan Titchmarsh.
RHS members will be able to join Monty Don on his morning routine, giving visitors a glimpse into unseen parts of his famous garden at Longmeadow as he heads out before breakfast to feed his chickens.
Using an assortment of seasonal foliage and flowers, a top celebrity floral designer will demonstrate how to create a contemporary floral arrangement helping bring the joy of beautiful blooms into the home.
Clematis specialist Raymond Evison will take visitors behind the scenes of his award- winning Guernsey nursery and perennial plant specialist Rosy Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is due to host a potting bench demonstration.
Tuesday 19 May – Perfect Plants
Sarah Eberle, the most decorated female designer in Chelsea history, will welcome visitors into her naturalistic, woodland garden and share top summer gardening tips.
Co-designer of this year’s M&G Garden Charlotte Harris will take viewers on a lockdown tour of some of London’s public parks, highlighting the value of inner city green spaces and shining a light on some of the best performing plants for urban gardens.
Indoor garden specialist Ian Drummond and expert gladioli grower Rob Evans from Pheasant Acre Plants will be leading Tuesday’s Potting Bench Tutorials.
Visitors will also be able to meet the team at David Austin Roses who have been bringing their award- winning roses to the show for the last 37 years.
Wednesday 20 May – Health & Wellbeing
Wednesday’s virtual content will celebrate the health and wellbeing benefits of plants whilst looking at the importance of plant health.
BBC presenter and award-winning designer Adam Frost will explain how he gardens with plant health in mind as he shows visitors around his Lincolnshire garden.
Japanese designer and Chelsea favourite Ishihara Kazuyuki will provide an insight into his own garden at home in Japan.
Florist Nikki Tibbles, Founder of Wild at Heart will show visitors how to create a seasonal bouquet and Todd’s Botanics will share everything you need to know to grow your own show-worthy irises.
Thursday 21 May – Grow Your Own
Sarah Raven will take visitors on a tour of her garden at Perch Hill in East Sussex to showcase what’s ready for cutting in the garden now.
It will be a quieter week than in previous years for the Chelsea Pensioners who will be showing how they have been busy on their allotment during lockdown tending to plants and vegetables generously supplied by South West in Bloom.
Celebrity florist Larry Walshe will demonstrate how to use flowers and foliage from the garden to create a chic table setting whilst vegetable grower Medwyn Williams shares his top tips and tricks on how to grow amazing veg at home.
Friday 22 May – Wildlife & Environment
Tom Massey, inspired by his design for The Yeo Valley Garden intended for this year’s show will be demonstrating how to create an organic, wildlife haven on a smaller scale, whilst award winning designer Ann-Marie Powell will welcome viewers into her Hampshire garden as she shares her top design tips.
Sienna Hosta will be Friday’s expert grower, giving a tour of the show stopping plants grown for this year’s show.
Newlands Nursery will lead the Potting Bench demonstrations showing how to get the best from chilli pepper plants to ensure a constant supply for culinary uses.
Saturday 23 May – Small Space Gardening
Rounding off the week is content for indoor gardening and growing in small spaces.
Last year’s Chelsea Best in Show gold medal winning designer Andy Sturgeon will be giving a tour of his own courtyard garden, sharing design and growing tips for smaller outside spaces.
As orchids are the UK’s most popular houseplant, visitors will meet the UK’s oldest orchid nursery, McBeans Orchids who have amassed over 70 Chelsea gold medals.
Andy’s Air Plants and London-based interior planting duo RoCo will show how to propagate weird and wonderful plants to help transform your indoor space.
Throughout the week
The School Gardening Club will provide parents and children with fun hands on activities as experts including Lee Connelly and Jonathan Moseley provide a range of fun activities including how to create miniature allotments and floral front door displays.
Every day the RHS Advisory team will be joined by special guests including Chelsea favourites Chris Beardshaw. Jo Thompson, Paul Hervey-Brookes and Matthew Wilson who will be on hand each lunchtime to answer visitors’ gardening questions. In addition to the video content there will be a whole host of articles written by experts from across the industry providing planting, gardening and design tips and information on specialist plant species.
Other highlights include special digital exhibitions on the history of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show curated by the RHS Lindley Library team.