Monday, May 19, 2008

FYI: a guide for Chelsea virgins

Don't feel for one minute you have to look smart. People witter on about Chelsea being the start of the London Season, but that's only when the Queen goes on Monday afternoon. Be comfortable (in any case, everyone's looking at the plants, not at each other). Personally, I favour Birkenstocks or trainers when it comes to footwear (depending on the weather).
Get a map of the showground (there's one in the catalogue, which costs £5, but then you have all the details of all the exhibitors as well). It's very easy to end up going round in ever-decreasing circles, even with a map.
Don't miss the small gardens 'round the back', along the Serpentine Walk. They're really sweet and often have ideas you can recreate at home. And if the weather's hot, it's cool and shady along there.
When exiting, the Garden Gate is the one nearest Sloane Square and the Tube. The Bullring Gate is the one on the Embankment.
Highlights among the show gardens are the Marshalls' children's garden (if you have kids), Daylesford Organic's show garden (for veg and herbs), Cleve West's garden for Bupa, and Diarmuid Gavin's coffee shop garden, which left me unmoved first time I saw it, but it really grew on me.
In the Great Pavilion, the biggest, snazziest stands tend to be the big nurseries such as Hillier's or the foreign exhibits such as Kirstenbosch or the Cayman Islands, so concentrate on the small ones, which tend to be the specialist growers, especially if there's something you want to ask advice about (such as pruning clematis or splitting perennials). You may well have to queue to talk to them, but be patient, they'll get round to you. If they look a bit grumpy and tired, tell them how fabulous their stand looks.