Chelsea 2011 by Anne Wareham

May 24, 2011

in Events, Shows

Chelsea 2011 “Is Chelsea still relevant?” – with thanks to Lila de Gupta for the question.

This year I was wondering about the relevance of Chelsea and of show gardens in particular. I think that they are the joyful celebration of gardens made simply for the delight of looking at them (from the outside). I don’t believe this is enough, despite the exposure Chelsea gets, to reach outside gardening to the people who could learn to love gardens for their own sake without looking for ‘take out’ or ‘inspiration.’ The image of gardens is still soft edged, sweet and gardening focused. But we are grateful for small expensive mercies.


So, to the interviews:


Alice Joyce copyright Charles HawesAlice Joyce – a transatlantic view of Chelsea:

Yes, Chelsea is relevant. I hate to be quoted saying it but nothing remotely compares with Chelsea. There may be interesting ideas in shows in the US but the quality and culture of the plants, the sheer quantity of species is unparalleled.

And has been a way to become familiar with where the British garden is in terms of design in comparison to the historic gardens we come and visit – and to see the work of the leading designers in Britain.

Alice Joyce’s website Alice’s Garden Travel Buzz


Mark Gregory copyright Charles HawesMark Gregory

100%. It’s the showcase of British horticulture, design and landscape skills to the world.




Rebecca Wells copyright Charles HawesRebecca Wells

It’s a problem – it’s not relevant to the things it would like to be: ‘take Chelsea home’. In fact, it is theatre and with theatre you don’t ‘take home’ the way to throw a tantrum…

It can be inspired, can make you think or be revolted by it but it’s not a flower show.


Peter Randall Page copyright Charles HawesPeter Randall Page

Gardens are absolutely fundamental to landscape and how we exist in the world.

They are our havens and exist in all our stories from the garden of Eden – absolutely fundamental to us since we stopped being hunter gatherers.


Cleve West copyright Charles HawesCleve West

I don’t know.




Ann-Marie Powell and Lia Leendertz copyright Charles HawesAnne-Marie Powell

I can’t think properly because the judges are coming.

Lia Leendertz

It’s fun, it’s relevant – a firm yes. (practising for Britain’s Got Talent? Ed.)


James Alexander-Sinclair copyright Charles HawesJames Alexander-Sinclair

Of course. The whole point is to show off, which it does.




Lila das Gupta copyright Charles HawesLila das Gupta

Place with thousands of plants – what more could you ask?




Alex Kingston copyright Charles HawesAlex Kingston

Absolutely. Because over the years it has become environmentally conscious, and you get ideas and inspiration for your own environmental planting. You see herbs and vegetables mixed in with flowers and it encourages people to grow their own.



Chris Young copyright Charles HawesChris Young.

Yes – has anyone said ‘no’ yet? What is most relevant are the Artisan’s and the Urban Gardens – some are really nice and they are most relevant.




Stephen Lacey copyright Charles HawesStephen Lacey.

Depends what you mean by relevant and what you mean by Chelsea.




Jane Perrone copyright Charles HawesJane Perrone.

I like the way you ask tough questions. Provided you are aware of the artificiality of Chelsea you can draw a few useful design and plant tips from it.

If you only watched it on tv it’s not relevant. And if you are not intending to rip out your entire garden and start again it’s probably not.

Some trends, eg Grow Your Own take ages to filter through to Chelsea.


Alys Fowler copyright Charles HawesAlys Fowler

It gives horticulture a profile which everyone recognises in the moment. Designwise no because the gardens cost so much to produce that it reduces risk taking. The best way to see designers work would be where they are actually built.

It’s like a cat walk, and if I wanted to know what the clothes were really like I’d actually go and try them on.


Adam Pasco copyright Charles HawesAdam Pasco

To some people. The gardens have gradually become less attainable.

The main purpose is to celebrate plants and gardening. The home gardener will find plants and expertise in how to grow them in the Floral marquee.


Joanna Fortnam copyright Charles HawesJoanna Fortnam. Gardening editor of the Daily Telegraph.

Well, of course. Look at all the people who are here. People love it.




Sir Peter Blake copyright Charles HawesSir Peter Blake

It’s relevant to a certain aspect of Britishness and it’s important that it goes on.





Tim Richardson copyright Charles HawesTim Richardson

Definitely. I am a real fan of Chelsea – where people can do outrageous things like Diarmuid’ It’s a wonderful thing. World class planting. It’s a lot to ask the little gardens to hang to but always very interesting.




Sir Michael Parkinson copyright Charles HawesSir Michael Parkinson. Who he?


Of course, It’s very beautiful, very well organised and very stylish. Why wouldn’t you want to spend time looking at these beautiful things?






Carol Klein copyright Charles HawesCarol Klein.

Absolutely. It’s relevant to anyone who is interested in gardening. Ideas and inspiration everywhere. People are still exploring for plants and gardeners can come and see those plants here. Crug Farm’s stand is the most exciting display I’ve ever seen.



Bleddyn Wynne-Jones copyright Charles HawesBleddyn Wynne-Jones

I’m sure it is especially when you can introduce new plants to loads of people. It’s putting the focus back on plants.




Nigel Colburn copyright Charles HawesNigel Colburn

I hate show gardens. It’s a flower show – the gardens are ancillary. I’m here for the plants and flowers. TV has got it completely skewed because they can’t film plants indoors for pants.

A horrible inversion.



Victoria Summerley copyright Charles HawesVictoria Summerley

Yes, because the RHS at its best do a good job with science and climate change. They are doing a good job of educating the public.

The Show Gardens are fine – there is less crude narrative. In the Marquee nursery men and women show how plants should be grown and demonstrate their expertise.

The knowledge on offer is being obscured by celebrity and razzmatazz.


Matthew Wilson copyright Charles HawesMatthew Wilson

It’s relevant to the industry – which needs a celebratory moment because it’s a Cinderella industry and not taken seriously by government.

We are a pretty downtrodden and neglected industry.

Nor taken seriously by the cultural world. Both the strength and weakness of gardens is that they are available to everybody. The democracy of gardens is wonderful but it means that at its highest end it’s not taken seriously.

Our twins love playing on Barbara Hepsworths’ ‘Divided’ in Dulwich Park – I love that accessibility. The problem with Chelsea – some of it – is that it could be seen as inaccessible.


Anne Wareham editor.


In response to “Is Chelsea still relevant?”

It has never been less relevant and yet never been more reflective of life in Britain in 2011.

Chelsea is about the garden industry, commerce, filthy lucre.

Alan stands astride the show next to his B&Q tower while gala night grandees eat thousand pound dinners and wheelchairs are slowly pushed past a Monte Carlo garden fit for a prince. Hacks bemoan freelance rates while financial giants sponsor gardens, drinks parties, even the title of the show and sell life assurance (but not to the wheelchairs). Plants in the pavilion pumped up and proud – they are fittest, their brothers and sisters (by the hundred) still in cold storage in Worcestershire while large glasses of brown Pimms sell for a tenner and The Times reportedly spend £400,000 on their garden and still don’t beat the DT.

But vitriol apart, like Jerusalem, Chelsea is just a symbol; drawing believers trance-like towards it to worship at the altars of the gardening gods. Once the pilgrimage is over most go back to their grey semis and look out on badly tended lawns unaffected by the brilliant glare of garden miracles.






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