In honour of the much anticipated annual event, which last year saw its first show since Covid, we are dedicating this month’s article to tapping the insights of those in the know, a collection of gardeners, two of whom we’re working with at REDD and one whom we admire greatly.
We’ve probed, prodded and questioned three of the foremost names in the world of garden design and in the UK - Randle Siddeley, Marcus Barnett and Pollyanna Wilkinson (who has a show garden this year) - and got their lowdown on what lies in store, as well as ‘tips and tricks’ for first-time attendees of the show. More broadly we ask them to share a signature piece of advice for those wishing to get in the garden this summer.
Poetically put, Marcus Barnett, eponymous founder of Marcus Barnett Studio, said that “Chelsea Flower Show is the gate that we must walk through to get to summer, you can’t have summer without having Chelsea Flower Show the two are inextricably linked”.
What do you love most about the Chelsea Flower Show?
Marcus: “I love the buzz, the energy, the jeopardy and the extravagance of the show and above all the plants. It never fails to cease, delight and amaze. It’s a deep dive into the horticultural beauty of the garden. Irrespective of careers, when do we ever get to be around such a volume of planting, it’s a wonderful experience.”
Randle: “I always like to see the buildup and the excitement amongst all of the garden exhibitors, there is such a buzz it's almost like doing a marathon as it takes some three weeks to build but the hard work starts well before.”
Pollyanna: “The joy of Chelsea is the opportunity to experiment, push boundaries and design the garden exactly as we want. It's a brilliant way to showcase our studio style whilst also giving a welcome opportunity to step away from the computer and get thoroughly immersed in plants for a couple of weeks. Its also just a huge amount of fun - whilst the whole thing can feel like a stressful blur, show gardens are addictive, collegiate and creatively nourishing.”
What are you looking forward to this year?
Marcus: “Chelsea Flower Show is the zeitgeist of the gardening calendar. Designs this year appear to be trying to more deeply mimic the natural planting environment in which they actually exist. There appears to be a trend for lifting the countryside and transporting it to show. Formal garden designs and layouts appear to waning but pastiche garden designs, that echo their environments, are escalating”
Pollyanna: All of it! A sneak peek of the build this week suggests it's going to be a really innovative and exciting show this year, so I can’t wait to see what everyone has come up with. I am an enormous Sarah Price fan, so her garden is top of my list to visit.”
Randle: “We’re fortunate to be involved with Blue Forest, who make the most incredible tree houses, we landscape the area surrounding their impressive structures and this year is no exception, as we’re going to be creating a full hillside hollow (akin to a hobbit house). It goes without saying, but the moment the show opens is so exciting, to experience first-hand everyone's admiration and enjoyment at seeing what we and everyone else at Chelsea have spent an inordinate amount of time putting together. It is always a sprint at the last minute to get everything looking it's very best.”
First-timer visitor tips?
Pollyanna: “I think Chelsea is about getting ideas and inspiration, so my best suggestion is to go on the website before you go and scout out what you want to see and get there early! Main avenue is always the busiest, so I would start there whilst its quieter and then work round. Wear comfortable shoes and don't rush is - there is SO much to see!”
Marcus: “First timers should always, always visit the David Austen rose garden, the clematis stand (is not to be missed) and the pavilion is planting perfection on acid - not that I know what that would be like! Try, when visiting, to look at gardens and understand what the gardener's and charities' objective and brief were and what it is they’re trying to achieve, it will create a better resonance and it will help you to understand better and appreciate the design - it will mean more to you.”
Randle: “Being a first-time visitor can be somewhat overwhelming especially when there are so many other people all trying to see all the exhibits, my advice would be always to get there early and get to see the main avenue gardens and then allow yourself more time to go into the main pavilion and wander around the other smaller gardens.”