What Bonnaroo is to indie rockers, the Oscars to movie stars, and the Venice Biennale to contemporary art fans, the Chelsea Flower Show is to plant people: the most glamorous, most famous, most celebrated garden show in a country known for taking its gardening very, very seriously.
At the 100th anniversary of the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Garden Show, HGTVGardens will be on hand to observe the plants, people and splendor of this most storied of flower shows.
I. Can’t. Wait.
There is much to look forward to at this show from May 21-25 featuring more more than 500 exhibitors and 160,000 attendees.
With Chelsea’s centrality in the haute gardening world come, naturally, scandals. With this much money, planning and perfection in the mix (on top of enough glasses of bubbly), there is sure to be a minor kerfuffle or two. Like the tipsy journalist “getting totally legless,” who fell into a carefully arranged designer’s pond, leaving a bobbing champagne bottle as evidence of his folly; or the time a stowaway cat tore around the show in a fit of destruction.
I'm hoping such mini-disasters and rain storms will not strike. I have high hopes for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, my first.
On my to-do list:
Find a British Gnome
Despite the fact that famed gardener Alan Titchmarsh has had celebs like Sir Elton John and Dame Maggie Smith paint gnomes to auction for charity at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, these “gnaff” garden figurines have historically been banned from the Chelsea Flower Show for their unpardonable tackiness. But no longer: the ban has been lifted! I long for some local spin on one of my most beloved garden icons: a Beefeater gnome, perhaps? Or just one of these mischevious fellas with a distinctly Anglo air.
Survey the Union of Art and Plants
Storied YBA (Young British Artist) Marc Quinn, known for creating big, flashy art like a monumental sculpture of his infant son or a pregnant British artist born without arms, will be creating an installation tribute to gardens at Chelsea to be auctioned off by Sotheby's. Sounds like an ideal marriage of the garden show spectacle of nature and of contemporary art.
Get a Glimpse of the Queen
The queen became a royal patron of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1952 and has made regular appearances at Chelsea ever since. Each year Queen Elizabeth tours the Chelsea show at 3 p.m. on press day, when the entire event shuts down, commoners are ushered out and she can peruse at her leisure.
See a Star
Ringo Starr, Sienna Miller, Michael Caine, Jerry Hall, Joan Collins, Roger Daltrey are all either avid gardeners or just memorable past attendees of the Chelsea Flower Show.
Take in the Fashion
Well-known for their witty chapeaux and fascinators, British society types really trot out the straw boaters and bonnets for Chelsea. Upping the style quotient, designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel have featured gardens at Chelsea—this year for the first time, the quintessentially British brand Marks & Spencer will design a garden.
Say a Prayer for Blue Skies
The idea of viewing the show through a sea of black umbrellas is mighty unappealing. Though I am bringing precautionary rain gear, nothing dampens the spirits like viewing flowers through a veil of rain, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that clear skies will prevail.
See What Harry’s Grown
Prince Harry has commissioned a garden designed by Jinny Blom to benefit the children’s charity Sentebale co-founded by the party animal prince, which helps children devastated by AIDS and poverty. His royal garden follows in the footsteps of his father Prince Charles’ 2002 garden, also conceived with Blom.
The British may have lost the Revolutionary War, but when it comes to dry wit and garden design, they may still be our betters. Even if I don't pick up genius ideas to use in my own garden, I long for the contact high with talented people, beautiful settings and new ideas that travel—and especially garden travel—always inspires.
But beyond Chelsea, my London trip will feature a host of garden tours organized by my trip
guide, Colette Vacations, who specialize in garden-themed charters.
Some of the sites I am anxious to take in are Kew Gardens—hosting an exhibit of consumable botanicals, IncrEdibles—Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, Wisley Gardens—where I'll be looking for a glimpse of the Royal Horticultural Society's plant of the month, wisteria floribunda 'Multijuga'—and any other bursts of bloom and greenery I can catch in my cross hairs.
Stay tuned to HGTVGardens for more of my updates from merry old.