It is difficult to think of anything more English than the Chelsea Flower Show. Along with Wimbledon, fish ‘n’ chips, the Queen’s umbrella and queuing, this annual pageant is bound to our national identity. It is the highlight of summer for London's high society. Little old ladies in Liberty smocks rub shoulders with Instagramming models and celebrities in sunglasses. Against the sea of blooms, the Queen sports her trademark, block-colour skirt suit.
It is the most famous flower show in the world, held for five days in May in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. From the Queen to rock 'n' roll royalty, this annual extravaganza attracts the great and the good the world over.
With so much on show, it can all be rather daunting, so here's our guide to the best of Chelsea Flower show 2017
Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
Finding your way around: Chelsea Flower Show tips
For the uninitiated, navigating the biggest and best flower show in the UK can be overwhelming. With over 500 exhibitors from around the world, it's worth picking up a Chelsea Flower Show map and doing a little advance planning -- though there's much to be said for stumbling across some of the RHS' more intimate displays.
When you enter through the London Gate on Royal Hospital Road, you'll first come to the Eastern Avenue, spanning the length of the show. Flanked by trader on trader, wander along the avenue and have a look at the crafts and goods on sale. With offerings ranging from artisan soaps to bespoke wellies to hand-crafted garden and home ornaments, there is a shopping experience here for everyone.
From here, you can make your way around the exhibits: to the left are the Ranelagh Gardens, where the Artisan and Fresh Gardens are situated, and to the right are the Show Gardens and Grand Pavilion, which is where the real pomp and excitement awaits. Now to the gardens...
The Poetry Lover's Garden, Chelsea Flower Show. Image: courtesy of Culture Whisper
These smaller plots are the jewels in the Chelsea Flower Show's crown. Celebrating craftsmanship above all, these gardens are all about the artistry of making.
We love The Poetry Lover's Garden; a tranquil retreat inspired by Samuel Coleridge's Romantic Poem, This Lime Tree Bower My Prison. The garden alludes to a spiritual sanctuary in which nature, poetry and the imagination fuse together as one. The sound of trickling water and the dappled light flickering through the wild-flower filled orchard makes this garden space a literary-lover's haven.
Whilst meandering along Plateau Way, look out for the artisan studios, and, in particular, the Linley studio space just beyond, where master craftsman William Warren will be on hand to give his top craft tips. Aspiring makers amongst you - make a beeline for this little wooded cabin nestled amongst the trees.
Show Gardens: Who's in Season?
Crafted by teams of landscapers - under the care and direction of a head garden designer - the Show Gardens at Chelsea are the envy of the horticultural world. The bare plots of land are transformed into seriously impressive gardens that transport you to far away lands in just a few short weeks. The designs of this year's Show Gardens will certainly stop you in your tracks. Below is our pick of the best.
Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China (Show Garden 1):
The Silk Road is inspired by the rich socio-cultural history of Chengdu, the capital of the ancient Chinese Shu Kingdom. Also known as the 'abundant land' thanks to its fertile soils and temperate climate, Chengdu and its environs are at the heart of the garden's design.
While the garden showcases a number of plants grown in the West that have Chinese origins, the centrepiece is undoubtedly the carved symbol of the 3000 year-old Sun and Immortal Bird legend of Chengdu perched on a central theatrical podium. Look closely and you'll spot the silk road passing through the garden that symbolically represents the commercial, cultural and horticultural legacy of the Silk Road Trade route.
The Silk Road Garden, Chelsea Flower Show. Image: courtesy of Culture Whisper
The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden (Show Garden 321)
The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden is another of Chelsea's tranquil paradises. The ruined abbey, the chalk cliffs, the beach with a gently bobbing rowing boat whisk you away from the heart of Central London to the rolling hills of the Yorkshire dales. The garden is on the wild rather than the manicured side and is a celebration of Yorkshire's abundance of wildflowers, grasses and native trees.
The BBC Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens
Celebrating BBC Radio 2's 50th anniversary, the 5 feel good gardens - named after the station's most popular Radio 2 DJs - explore how plants, flowers and herbs can enrich, develop and heighten each of our five senses.
The pick of the bunch is most definitely The Chris Evans Taste Garden designed by Jon Wheatley, where Mary Berry, longtime friend of the Radio 2 breakfast show, has leant a hand to help celebrate the best edible plants grown in UK gardens. Expect to see an abundance of all the basics (salads and celeriac dominate the frontal borders while baby tomatoes climb the walls of the garden's on-site greenhouse), but don't forget to look out for the baking queen herself. The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden garden, which features bold geometric forms that juxtapose a softer more delicate planting palette, is also well worth a good look.
The Chris Evans Taste Garden designed by Jon Wheatley, Chelsea Flower Show. Image: courtesy of Culture Whisper
This year's crop are as diverse in their aesthetic as in their horticultural offering and take you from Mexico, to London via Bermuda. The colour-washed walls of Inland Homes: Beneath a Mexican Sky pop with vibrancy and evoke the eclectic work of Mexican Modernist architect Luis Barragan. The aquamarine pool, the multi-stem trees and the floral chintz sun-lounger will have you dreaming of that much-needed mini-break in no time.
What's blooming in The Great Pavilion
Moving on from the huge range of show gardens towards The Great Pavilion (the central glass-domed structure at the heart of the Chelsea Flower Show) you'll find all the Chelsea Flower show best bits. From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to miniature cacti and historic bonsai trees, the pavilion is a horticultural enthusiast's haven.
Look out for the towering installation of Chrysanthemum cupcakes at the National Chrysanthemum Society's Garden and meander through the classic English roses lining every nook and cranny of Peter Beales' pop-up garden. If a cup of floral tea is more the order of the day, head over to the Wedgwood Tea Conservatory, situated at the heart of the Great Pavilion.
Inviting the very best nurseries in the country to judge and be judged by industry heavyweights - Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded to the best exhibits as a mark of excellence - the Pavilion is a visual feast to be savoured.
Chrysanthemum Society's Garden, Chelsea Flower Show. Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
Design trends at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017
Last year’s show was dominated by rocks, colour, lawns – a real first for Chelsea – and conifers. The conifers have stuck. There are at least four on the main avenue, the silhouettes of pines can be seen throughout the site.
Swathes of naturalistic planting are in vogue once again, and there seems to be a real emphasis on the representation of landscape. James Basson has given us a Maltese quarry, Charlotte Harris has re-created Canada’s Boreal forest for her garden, complete with pines and moss-covered stones. Look out for clematis, too – it’s going to be big this year. Read our comprehensive feature on this year's design trends to look out for here.
Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
What should you wear to the Chelsea Flower Show?
Wondering about the Chelsea Flower Show dress code? If you're having troubling deciding what to wear, Chelsea Flower Show clothes tend to be on the smart side: for women, summer dresses (especially floral prints), tailored trousers and smart jackets are ideal. If possible veer away from towering heels, as you will be on your feet all day (even if a cupcake and a glass of champagne or a 3-course lunch punctuate the day). Men tend to opt for light trousers, shirts and jackets (comfortable shoes again a must).
The weather this year looks set to be scorching (a rare Chelsea Flower Show treat) so we'd recommend a wide-brimmed sun-hat and sunnies for the ladies and gentleman, opt for the lightest of summer jackets.
Chelsea Flower Show. Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
Chelsea Flower Show food and drink: where to eat?
Where to Eat at Chelsea Flower show:
With plenty of places to eat, the Chelsea Flower Show doesn't limit your gastronomical options. Bring a picnic and immerse yourself in the great outdoors at the Band Stand, a special area for dedicated al-fresco diners, or if you've come to spoil yourself, why not while away the afternoon in the bespoke-built Drawing Room by the Dorchester? Head pastry-chef David Girard has created a floral-inspired extravaganza especially for the occasion - the raisin scones, topped with cream, strawberries and edible flowers are mouth-wateringly delicious. Although the Drawing Room is fully booked, there is space for walk-ins. So do give it a go.
Afternoon Tea, The Drawing Room at The Dorchester, Chelsea Flower Show. Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
Otherwise, The Fortnum & Mason Champagne marquee serves seafood platters and light bites. Pimms and strawberries are aplenty across the fair, and the Rock Bank Restaurant operates a full 'Best of British' menu. This is just to name but a few of the dozens of food vendors operating during the show.
Best restaurants near Chelsea Flower show:
If you'd rather avoid the queues, we don't blame you: The Royal Hospital is conveniently located close to Sloane Square tube station and there are hundreds of good places to eat near the Chelsea Flower Show. For the best floral inspired-menus in the neighbourhood, browse our edited selection here.
Unfortunately the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 is now sold-out, so if you're not in luck this year, watch this space for next year's extravaganza. We will let you know as soon as tickets go on sale.
|What||Insider's guide: Chelsea Flower Show 2017|
Royal Hospital Chelsea
Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4SR | MAP
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
25 May 17 – 27 May 17, 23 – 24 May RHS members only 25 – 27 May RHS members and non-members 23 – 26 May 8am – 8pm 27 May 8am – 5.30pm (sell off starts at 4pm)
|Price||£61 standard ticket, all day|
|Website||Click here to book tickets|