Chelsea Flower Show
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SPOTLIGHT: 21 May, 2007
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show
with Shophound Alexia .

Ulf Nordfjell's 'Tribute to Linnaeus' show garden. 2007 RHS Gold Medal. Photo by Angus MacWatt

he annual Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show at the Royal Hospital, famed home of the Chelsea Pensioners since the reign of Charles II, opens London's summer social season with a fragrantly floral flourish this week.

London's summer starts at the Chelsea Flower Show! Attended by RHS President Sir Richard Carew Pole, (whose own stunning gardens at Antony House in Cornwall are well worth a visit in Spring and Autumn), the Queen and members of the Royal Family tour the Show on Monday afternoon prior to a sumptuous charity gala preview when celebrities and garden sponsors will start to make inroads into the 3,000 bottles of champagne, 8,000 bottles of wine and 18,000 glasses of Pimm's that will be drunk here by 157,000 visitors before the Show closes on Saturday.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Date: 22 - 26 May, 2007.
Venue: The Royal Hospital, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4SR.
Access: The Chelsea Royal Hospital, built by Sir Christopher Wren for Charles II in 1682 for his red-coated Chelsea Pensioners, makes an imposing background to the show set in the Hospital lawns overlooking the River Thames.
Tickets: Book online. Tickets are strictly limited and sold in advance. None are available at the gates. The first two days are open to RHS members only. The Chelsea Flower Show is always sold out on the open days. Bargain hunters can expect to pick up some interesting plants on the last day before close, though this is something of a mad scramble.
Further information & RHS Membership: Contact Royal Horticultural Society, 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE; Tel: 020 7821 3000; fax: 020 7821 2304.
Getting there: Take public transport or taxi. Leave your car at your hotel. Parking in Chelsea is extremely limited at any time and totally out of the question during show week. Some parking is available for early birds at 20 per day in Battersea Park, (Albert Bridge Road entrance), a short walk away across the Thames. Nearest tube Sloane Square, (District and Circle lines) is an easy 10 minutes walk from the entrance. Buses 11, 137, 211 and 239 stop closest.

Burlington Bertie's Accommodation Choice:

Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W OJW.
Situated almost in the shade of the Palace, this award winning, 5-star family run hotel, has a long royal connection dating back almost a century to the reign of Edward VII. It is a firm favourite with European and Scandinavian Royalty, British nobility, gentry, civic dignitaries and celebrities visiting the Palace for royal functions, investitures, royal garden parties, receptions, dinners, etc.
The covered veranda overlooking the hotel's walled garden is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed English Afternoon Tea after a tiring visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, while the paneled bar and its deep seated lounge is a popular evening rendezvous for a pick-me-up cocktail prior to fine dining. The spacious dining room offers the best of English traditional cuisine, (noted for roasts of beef, lamb and game in season), presented with stylish and leisured silver service. Expect the best of English asparagus and fresh strawberries during May and June.

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Now in its 85th year, the Show has been described by glossy magazine Harpers and Queen as the smartest social event in the English calender. It has been the sparkling gardening highlight of the social season ever since Queen Mary visited the Show in 1913 and Preview Day has been a fixture on the Buckingham Palace calender ever since. I don't think Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother ever missed a show and the present Queen has missed only one in her 54 year reign.

The Prince of Wales, who approaches gardening and organic horticulture with evangelistic passion, has twice exhibited award-winning gardens at Chelsea. "I love the designing of it", he said of his 2002 Healing Garden garden exhibit which won a Silver medal. "I love creating a picture with plants."

The concept of creating a picture with plants is one that is dear to the heart of Sir Richard Carew Pole who is also a Trustee of the Tate Gallery. "There is certainly a mutual interest there," he commented at the time. "Painters have painted gardens and gardeners have been influenced by painting."

It would be wonderful to see some form of cooperation for an exhibition between the Royal Collection, (of which Prince Charles is a dedicated and aesthetically inspired Chairman), the RHS and the Tate. Flowers have captivated many artists over the centuries and the Royal Collection housed in Windsor Castle holds many priceless examples of early botanical illustrations as well as flowers in fine art. And needless to say, there are many illustrious botanical illustrators among today's 350,000 RHS members.

We gardeners who are not a part of London's celebrity A-list haughtyculture visit the Chelsea Flower Show for down-to-earth horticulture. For beneath all the social gloss, this show is about flowers and gardening. Chelsea has a magnetism that sets our adrenalin flowing, firing the imagination of everyone with green-fingers, be it Her Majesty The Queen, who takes a close hands-on interest in the royal gardens of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral; Prince Charles, creating his Highgrove organic garden paradise in Gloucestershire; Burlington Bertie's son with his small but exquisite city garden paradise and heritage vegetable allotment in Tooting, SW17, or me with my courtyard garden and patio pots. The word paradise, incidentally, is appropriate. It originates from the Persian, meaning "walled garden".

The logistics of the Show are impressive. A total of 600 exhibitors are clustered around some 60 major show gardens, chic gardens, city gardens, roof gardens, courtyard gardens and floral pavilions. One exhibitor boasts of exhibiting no less than 164 varieties of tulip, another 155 varieties of a single flower. Another is showing no less than 41 varieties of lavender, offering an overwhelming scent to intoxicate the senses. The euphoric fragrance and colour of more than one million blooms are presented for us to admire in the floral pavilion and garden plantings. All have been held back in cool storage or brought forward out of their proper season to flower in this week.

While gala guzzlers knock back the champers, Sir Richard and his cohort of RHS judges spend an evening deciding which of the exhibitors are worthy of an award; "Best of Show" in each category, the prestigious RHS Gold medal, a Silver/Gilt, Silver or Bronze medal perhaps. Exhibits are not judged against each other and there are no limits on the number of medals awarded. Tuesday morning brings tears of joy for exhibitors who find those much treasured medal certificates posted on their stands - or tears of sorrow if there is no accolade to take home. Home can be anywhere in the world. Chelsea Flower Show is truly international, with garden designers, specialist nurseries, and horticultural suppliers coming from all over the world to exhibit.

As in previous years, BBC are covering the Chelsea Flower Show extensively with live TV coverage morning and evening each day. You can also see virtual tours, webcams of the gardens/pavilions and a daily blog on the excellent RHS website.

Thanks in part to BBC's television coverage with the popular garden guru Alan Titchmarsh as anchorman over the past few years, this annual event has become much more a "People's Chelsea", with a greater accent on the small gardens to which most of us can relate. I have noted a trend towards the exhibition of more feminine gardens; a welcome move toward more informal and natural planting, coupled with a renewed delight in wild flowers, grasses, and the ferns so beloved of the late Victorians.

The 1990s vogue for structural gardens, where flowers took a subordinate seat to architectural wizardry, are thankfully a thing of the past and I welcome the return to garden basics at the Chelsea Flower Show. It is my annual inspiration to create a sacred space where I can lovingly nurture flowers, shrubs and vegetables to grow and harmoniously transmit their fragrant balm of tranquil peace in my busy urban life.

Selected Links
Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Burlington Bertie's description of the 325 year old home of the famous redcoated Chelsea Pensioners, venue for the Chelsea Flower Show.
Antony House The 600 year old Carew-Pole residence, renowned for its national collection of Day Lilies, and its spring displays of Camellias, Azaleas and Rhododendrons. Gardens open to the public.
Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea and other RHS Flower Show details with live webcams, etc.
BBC Gardening Chelsea Flower Show, 2007. Extensive coverage of all aspects of the show.

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