Chelsea Preview #1: Order from Chaos

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.

This is just a little taster of what I found yesterday: it's going to be a fantastic show this year. On Thursday I'll reveal a little more, including some of the trends I've spotted :) In the meantime, you can see more at the RHS and BBC Online Chelsea websites.


  1. Fabulous,
    I just loved this sneak peek behind the scenes

  2. Lovely post! I'm going to share it on the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show Facebook Page (we like to keep up with the big boys!!) One day I'll visit, until then thank goodness for the Internets!

  3. that's so interesting... I read and can her you talking :)
    thanks for sneaking in and let us feel little bit of it :)

  4. Really interesting to find out about what happens backstage.

  5. VP, That first shot is one of those delightful English signs~like 'way in'
    (we would say entrance)...Thanks for the behind the scene view. xxg

  6. How lucky to get a look round at all the real work.

  7. Hello fellow Chelsea Flower Show aficionados! I'm Keith Miller from Barbados and I can tell you for sure that the team of volunteers from the Barbados Horticultural Society is definitely planning to fly to London tomorrow evening, arriving UK on Thursday morning,(Icelandic ash permitting of course!!!) laden down with about forty very large and very carefully packed shipping boxes, containing a fascinating variety of blooms and foliage, all collected from private gardens and nurseries around the island.
    As usual, even after the tiring effects of the overnight flight, the team will travel directly from Gatwick to the Chelsea showground, joining other UK based 'Bajans' to immediately start preparing the stand.
    This year’s exhibit, “Sugar Factory Ruins Reclaimed by Nature”, reflects the fact that as the demand for Barbados cane sugar has decreased in modern times then more and more of the factories have closed down. Inevitably, thanks to the glorious power of nature, the ruins of the sugar factories have been beautifully transformed as the benign Caribbean climate and fertile soils have combined to encourage a resurgence of a wonderful diversity of plants and flowers.
    To represent this theme, the Barbados team will work diligently to reproduce the vibrant, tropical beauty of the island by depicting the scene of a factory ruin that has been adorned with a magnificent and exotic display of bright and colourful plants and blooms. The display will include classic Caribbean favourites such as heliconias, bird of paradise, ginger lilies, anthuriums, tube roses, orchids and banana flowers, as well as palm trees and verdant foliage.
    Additionally, long strands of the aerial roots of the Bearded Fig-Tree (Ficus Citrifolia) will hang down from the crumbling factory walls. Interestingly, it is these roots that provided the origin of the island’s name. As early as 1511 maps showed the island as ‘Los Barbados’, which is Spanish and Portuguese for ‘The Bearded Ones’. It seems that the pendulous aerial roots of the Ficus Trees found all over the island reminded these Iberian visitors of the long beards that were popular in their own country at that time.
    Having won thirteen Gold, eight Silver-Gilt and one Silver in a highly commendable twenty-two consecutive years at the Chelsea Flower Show, the Barbados team is pulling out all of the stops to produce yet another superbly designed, expertly crafted and stunningly beautiful floral exhibit for 2010. This is maybe more important than ever this year because two of the team members have been representing Barbados at Chelsea for over twenty years and this might be their grand farewell to the great show - so a Gold would certainly make a wonderful parting 'gift' for them. Go girls!!
    Anybody who is reading this blog comment and going to be at Chelsea, even during the build-up, should come and check us out in the main floral pavilion - Exhibit Stand # GPF 18. - you'll always get a warm welcome. I can guarantee that because I’ll be there myself from Saturday!
    And, if you are interested, on the Press and Celebrity Day on Monday 24th, we have Ainsley Harriott (popular TV Chef) and the very beautiful (and intelligent!!) Miss Barbados, Leah Marville, as our Celebrity Guests. If you are lucky you might even get a drop of liquid sunshine - good old Barbados rum Punch!!
    Best wishes

  8. Oooh, I can't wait! I'm going on Thursday to do a piece for the Indy.
    Isn't that beep-beep-beeping annoying? After a couple of hours of it, I could quite cheerfully throw a large water feature through someone's windscreen. They're still at it on press day.
    But I do like having to wear a hi-viz vest. It means I don't have to worry about what to wear (although cool, elegant people like Mary Keen and Anna Pavord don't bother but just look, erm, cool and elegant.)

  9. Wow, I've been to Chelsea three times in my life and it is always an incredible experience. What fun!

  10. Karen - thanks, there's more to come :)

    Laura - welcome! Thanks for sharing :)

    Ewa - hello! It was a fab day

    HM - it was fascinating - the snippets about what goes on from the various people I talked to were great

    Gail - I made whole collection of those signs whilst I was at Chelsea and I hope to show some more of them soon!

    PG - I did and so will we next week :)

    Joanne - I felt privileged to be there

    Keith - welcome and thanks so much for telling us all about Barbados' exhibit this year. I'll certainly stop by and say hello next week :)

    Victoria - I loved wearing my Hi Viz vest too and it certainly made sure I blended right in. It's only when I handed it back that I realised it said 'Garden Designer of Tomorrow' on the back as it was a LCGD vest!

    CIMS - it certainly was fun and I'm looking forward to my visit to the actual show next week :)

  11. Thanks for sneak preview and have lots of fun with Victoria at Chelsea show soon!

  12. ooh how exciting. I can't believe it's galloping up so fast.

    Lucky you to be there during build-up! I like wearing hi-viz vests too - makes you feel somehow Terribly Important.

  13. fascinating stuff! I hadn't thought about going but now think I should (especially if there is some rum punch in the offing)

  14. This is too exciting for words, VP! How lucky you are to see it in this stage and know what is to come. Chelsea will be a destination the next time we visit the UK, as well as St. Andrews for the Financier can't wait to play there. :-)

  15. Yolanda - thanks, we had heaps of fun :)

    CG - Terribly Important is just how I felt. I was glad it helped me to blend in with everyone else too. I didn't want to give it back either because it was a LCGD one and it had Garden Designer of Tomorrow written on the back!

    Lu - I think you'd enjoy it with or without the rum punch!

    Frances - looking forward to when you hop over the pond again. Hopefully Chippenham can be put on the itinerary too...


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