I had a marvellous opportunity to visit Chelsea Flower Show during the build yesterday and what a fantastic time I had there.
Suitably booted, suited (i.e. wearing a Hi Viz vest) and sporting an exhibitor build-up pass (how cool!), I was allowed to wander around at my leisure. This aspect of the show has always fascinated me because I like to know how things work, so you can imagine what heaven I was in all afternoon.
The usual crowds of people of the show days were replaced with a continuous stream of lorries making their deliveries to the various show gardens and stands. If there wasn't a lorry following me down Main Avenue, then it was a digger; if it wasn't a digger then a dumper truck full of compost or a vehicle delivering a fully grown tree was bound to be in my wake. All with hazard lights blinking away merrily and beep beeping when reversing their way down the road (which was frequently). All this was orchestrated by the Traffic Management team who ensured the delivery lorries safely made their way through the narrow entrance gate on Chelsea Embankment or around the corners of the showground roads. These were often quite narrow owing to all the other vans and lorries parked up next to the show gardens and exhibitors' stands
If that wasn't enough, then there was the constant sound of sawing, drilling, hammering, shovelling, and the concrete mixers of a multitude of building sites in full throttle. Unbelievably, noisy parakeets could still be heard above the din whenever they flew over the grounds. And whilst it might seem like there was absolute chaos and bedlam, there was still an aura of calm over the entire showground. No-one was in a [visible] panic: everyone was quietly and purposefully getting on with their job. I was there just a few hours, but everywhere changed enormously in that time as next week's show sprang into life before my very eyes.
One thing which really surprised me - though sporting my project manager's hat it really shouldn't have done so at all - was not everything starts at the same time. The large Show Gardens start first (beginning of last week) as theirs is the biggest job and have the most materials to use. They spread themselves out over where various stands will be whilst they can. Most of these had nearly finished their construction yesterday and had moved on to the planting phase, hence the masses of trolleys of choice plants squeezed into every possible corner. Next come the Urban Gardens (last Thursday) who were nearing the completion of their construction yesterday and are aiming to move onto planting today. The smallest Courtyard Gardens had only just started - and one was still a lonely marked out exhibition area on the ground - though another was already moving in its trees, showing how quickly some of these 4x5 metre plots can be progressed.
The Great Pavilion was another area in the early throes of its transformation. I suspect most of the first week comprises getting it constructed ready for the various nurseries and other exhibitors to move in. Yesterday's main task appeared to be the construction of the plinths for them to take possession. Only some of the larger exhibits were in evidence: Hilliers in their usual position around the Monument, plus Gateshead and Birmingham parks departments with their massive constructions. Owing to the volcanic activity this week, I'm crossing my fingers the Grenada and Barbados contingent are able to get here on time. Judging by the accents in the tea queue yesterday, the Kirstenbosch people have already arrived from South Africa.