Calling Garden enthusiasts: The Chelsea Flower Show is a must!

Bursting with blooms, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is the world’s most prestigious flower and gardening show. Quintessentially English, this is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, new plants, sip champagne and find ideas to take home. To find out why Chelsea Flower Show is a must for all gardening enthusiasts, we spoke to expert Travel Director Philip. Here he tells us about the magic of the show, plus the other horticultural delights and inspiring destinations that await you on British Gardens & The Chelsea Flower Show special interest tour.

Meet Philip

Originally British, Philip studied in Italy and has lived much of his life in Paris. Now residing in Malta, he has a deep love for all of Europe, and of course its gardens. Becoming a Travel Director is something he always wanted to do, and he started this career later in life.

“I love sharing what I know about Europe. I am passionate about the continent as a whole. It’s a privilege to show people what we have to offer, the variety of culture the scenery and the history, and I greatly enjoy learning from our guests along the way’” he tells us.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, England, is the most prestigious flower show in the world. Held every year in May, it is the highlight of the horticultural calendar. The Chelsea Flower Show has been held every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. “For many of our guests this is the highlight of the tour,” says Philip. “We have many keen gardeners onboard who have heard so much about the Chelsea Flower Show. They love to see the gardens and exhibitors selling and showing such beautiful plants. Everything is world class.”

Described as the ‘World Cup of gardening’ the Chelsea Flower Show is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, breath taking floral displays and innovative garden products, with some 168,000 visitors attending the show each year. Specialist nurseries reveal new plants, top designers from Japan to New York show off their creations, and fashion brands and manufacturers launch their latest lines at the trade stands.

“The show is only open for three days to the public, so tickets are very exclusive,” Philip explains. “We are always the first people in, as soon as the gates open to see the show gardens.”

A Quintessentially English Experience

“I think what people like about the Chelsea Flower Show is that it is part of the social season in England, alongside Wimbledon, the Henley Regatta and the Cheltenham Festival (horse racing),” Philip explains. “It is a way of dipping into British history and society.

“Guest’s love the show’s royal connections and the fact that it is a quintessentially English experience. There are lots of stands selling champagne and strawberries, Pimms, clotted cream teas and the famous Chelsea buns.”

The Great Pavilion

The show’s vast Great Pavilion houses prize-winning flowers and floral displays that will blow you away. With more than 100 exhibits, there’s everything from cacti to bonsai trees inside. The Great Pavilion is roughly 11,775 square metres or 2.90 acres, enough room to park 500 London buses.

The Showstopping Show Gardens

The show gardens are the main event at the Chelsea Flower Show, and in 2022 there were 13 gardens exhibited.

“Some of the most innovative gardens in world are showcased, from the top landscape architects and gardeners. Every year they are different,” Philip tells us.

From traditional gardens to futuristic green spaces, exclusive perennials to exotic seeds, the show gardens compete in a number of categories to win gold, silver and bronze medals.

“As soon as we arrive, we always head for the winning garden,” Philip says. “As we arrive early it is easy to see them in relative peace and quiet, as they are the most popular attraction of the show.”

Show gardens are built from scratch in 19 days and dismantled in five days. Over 2,000 tons of earth is moved in preparation for the show. A rock garden was the first type of Show Garden to appear at Chelsea in the 1920s. Nowadays you can expect to see everything that grows with artisan gardens, eco-gardens, and gardens representing brands and countries. The mix of garden design with architectural elements are great sources of inspiration.

“Sometimes show gardens are allied with a cause, to promote a charity. A couple of years ago the [then Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton] the Princess of Wales, was involved in a garden which was hugely popular,” Philip says.

A Royal Occasion

Deeply connected with the Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II was the show’s patron since 1952 and was a regular visitor with her parents as a child. In fact, she attended RHS Chelsea more than 50 times during her 70-year reign.

And in 2019, HRH The Princess of Wales rolled up her sleeves to collaborate with landscape architects on the Royal Horticultural Society Back to Nature Garden, a playful woodland oasis inspired by childhood memories.

Sustainability after the show

A Chelsea Show garden is estimated to cost over £200,000 and, with sustainability in mind, the Royal Horticultural Society seeks to recycle or reuse as much of the show gardens as possible. Some plants are sold immediately to those visiting. Other plants are borrowed, so are returned to their growers for seed collection later in the season. Most of the gardens are donated to charitable gardens or communal spaces, with some elements auctioned off and the proceeds going to charity. For features that cannot be donated or auctioned, they’re returned to where they came from or rest in storage until they can be reused or resold.

Save time for shopping

“There are around 250 shopping stands at the show – I bought a great hat this year!” Philip says with a laugh. “Pretty much everything related to gardening can be found here. Not mass-market products but quality artisan crafts, and gardening and related equipment such as clothing. There are also many artists and sculptors showcasing their work.”

To see the Chelsea Flower Show 2023 and other delights, enjoying delicious dining and superior hotels every step of the way, take a look at our British Gardens & The Chelsea Flower Show premium guided tour.