Chelsea Gets Pruned For 2009

First James found he couldn't get sponsors last year, then Cleve West withdrew his show garden recently. Now it's official: Chelsea has been pruned into a much smaller affair. Instead of the 22 show gardens seen in 2008, there will be just 13 or 15* on offer in May. In view of the usual sponsors attracted to the show - investment companies, banks etc. - I suppose there was an inevitability about it all, but a 30-40% drop rams home how tough times really are.

It looks like visitor numbers will also be down. Last week I had an email from the RHS offering me the opportunity as a member to buy 4 tickets instead of the usual 2. Perhaps this year, there won't be the usual complaints about overcrowding. I do hope that's the case. However, a friend of mine went to a Chris Beardshaw talk recently where he told the audience the space usually reserved for the show gardens will probably include some of the smaller designs. If that happens, I'm concerned the organisers might have missed an opportunity to stand back from the show's usual format and redesign it to be a more comfortable place for both exhibitor and visitor alike.

Are you going to Chelsea? What do you think about the recent announcements? Does a pared down show make you more inclined to attend? The RHS at least are being upbeat about how great this year's event will be. Perhaps a pruned Chelsea will prove this hybrid's vigour: let's hope it sees a focus on good, achievable design ideas shining through instead of some of the overblown excess found in recent years. After all, a tighter budget doesn't necessarily mean an end to the innovation Chelsea is famous for.

* = depending on which source you use: 15 according to the RHS, 13 in the The Evening Standard. There was a buzz of chatter on the subject around the Horticultural Halls last week and 13 was mentioned frequently.


  1. Totally unrelated but I wish to share this with you....

    an Anti- Allotment article that has rather annoyed me. (Carr1e, on the comments list)

  2. It sounds as if it's going to be much easier to see what you want in the marquee, which is, for me, most of the point. And you're quite right, it would be a shame if the RHS missed the opportunity to make a bit more space for everyone


  3. First the 'totally unrelated' Zoe Williams article. Zoe is a lovely girl but knows sod all about gardening. Like many columnists she sees her job as being contentious. I think she's succeeded here. Sigh!
    Second, on Chelsea. I think the RHS is trying to be very upbeat but it's sad when really respected designers and nursery people pull out because it's just too costly. Sheila Chapman Clematis and Matthewman Sweetpeas are just two of the Chelsea veterans who won't be exhibiting this year. What would be really nice (but I'm not holding my breath) would be to have show gardens that demonstrate that you don't need to spend millions to have a wonderful garden. Do you remember that wonderful Irish garden a few years ago? It cost almost nothing. It can be done!

  4. PS: Sorry, just looked up the details of that Irish garden, just in case anyone else was interested. It was by Mary Reynolds, and won a gold medal at Chelsea 2002. It used wildflowers that were grown from seeds and cuttings by a specialist nursery - Mary Reynolds is hot on sustainability.

  5. No surprises with this, its been on the cards since last year when many nurseries had withdrawn from the Pavilion, and compared to previous years there was a huge void of well loved names. The reason for this was it was no longer a commercially viable proposition (the RHS had increased it's charges considerably) for the nurseries to take a stand at Chelsea. The same was evident at Hampton Court last year too.

    Hampton Court is going the same way this year, there will be no Daily Mail Pavilion and very few gardens either. Compared to previous years, last years Hampton Court with the exception of the Daily Mail Pavilion was disappointing too. It was over run with shopping stalls though.

    For both events the tickets remain as high as ever, and I suspect the RHS, particularly in these times of difficult finances has cooked the goose that laid the golden egg.

    Personally I think the RHS has been too greedy, and the problem is exasperated by the recession. I have already said elsewhere that I don't plan to go to any RHS shows this year, I don't believe they will be value for money.

    Oh and btw, I am NOT the Zoë, Victoria and Carrie refer too!


  6. Carrie - I've commented on this over at your place and at the article itself.

    Joanna - I hope so, but see later comments!

    Victoria - 1) I don't mind controversy as long as it's well informed or researched. In this case it's neither. 2) The exhibitors pulling out isn't new - I was talking to my local nurseryman about it this time last year. At Chelsea 2008, 20 of Carol Klein's favourite nursery's weren't there apparently. I do remember that garden, it was gorgeous :) And there was Richard Reynolds Guerrilla Garden at Hampton Court last year too - using all the other exhibitors left over plants if I remember correctly

    Zoe - from what I've been told the prices went up a while ago, but everything else this year means the drain of exhibitors is at its worst. Some 'green shoots of recovery' at the recent RHS London show, with some guarded optimism from exhibitors there.

  7. I noticed last year at the Malvern spring show that there seemed to be less nurseries although there were more gardens. I have to say that I think the cost of some of the show gardens is ludicrous and slightly insulting to us 'normal' gardeners. I would like to see very well designed gardens for normal gardeners - without the cost of shipping in huge lumps of stone or polished metal.

  8. PG - I think there's a greater chance of that happening this year. Hope so.

  9. One of the problems with exhibiting at Chelsea and Hampton Court is not only the RHS costs but the commercial vehicle charge for getting in and out of London.Many of the nurseries and other stall holders have to take a vehicle onto the site every day to replenish stock and this can cost them, I believe, over £100 per day plus parking. Not to mention the hassle factor. My son is fortunate in that once he has set up he doesn't need to drive back in until breakdown - others are not so lucky. So please.please don't boycott Chelsea but come and have a chat with me there!

  10. Part of my enjoyment of your plot is reading the comments of your regular readers, VP. Being on t'other side of the pond, I obviously won't be going to Chelsea. I will, however, follow around after those of you who do go and look forward to the discussions as a result of that.

  11. What a shame if there are fewer gardens and fewer specialist nurseries. I've never been, but would like to go, but the crowds have put me off, and it's a major treck from Cheshire for a day.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Sorry about deleting my first comment VP. I had read that Cleve West's sponsor had withdrawn but did not realise that he had pulled out all together :( I have not decided yet but doubt whether I will go to Chelsea this year. It's been a few years since I have and it's always too crowded for me. The train fare to London puts me off too. I must confess that the main attraction for me has always been the plant exhibits in the marquees, rather than the show gardens. However if there are fewer show gardens maybe visitors will get a better chance to see them close up and in depth so there could be some perks. I have nearly strained my neck in the past trying to peek at them, and have had better views when I have got home and watched the television coverage.

  14. Maggi - congestion charge increases was something I discussed with The Botanic Garden's owner last year. The knack seems to be to get everything there in one go, just like your son does.

    Jodi - I value the comments I get -I'm glad people come here and really add something to what I've started off. It's good to know that others read and appreciate the comments too :)

    HM - I was going to go this year, but I'm not sure now how the old feet will be just a couple of days after completing The Moonwalk :(

    Anna - a lot of people feel the same way as you do. Train fares are prohibitive if you want to get the most out of the day.

  15. I'm going to Chelsea this year and I go for the plant stands in the marquee(and to stock up on plant labels and gardening gloves!). Frankly the show gardens have been getting more and more unreal over the years. When the first thought that pops into my head is "I bet that costs thousands" then I find my interest quickly fades.
    I suspect the RHS is not doing enough to reduce costs for people who want to exhibit, especially small nurseries.

  16. Bananas! The Chelsea show is THEE show worldwide, I think. I'm looking forward to your photos. Last year I went to the flower show in Cincinnati, which they said they modeled on Chelsea's.

  17. EG - the exhibitor costs have gone up substantially, that's why the show's lost so many of them

    Monica - I'm on my way over to check out your Cincinnati show!

  18. I haven't ever been to Chelsea, but I do enjoy watching the coverage on the TV. I do go to Hampton Court. x

  19. Louise - it'll be interesting to see how both shows fare this year.


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