Special: The Chelsea Flower Show
23 May 2024

As always London has too much to see and do – and the best way to explore the place is a little at a time, darting in to see one or two attractions over the course of two days – before retreating and getting your bearings. Otherwise the place is just too crazy – being, as it is – not a single city but rather a collection of them, each with their own character and atmosphere, all overflowing with people rushing on foot, in buses and in trains.

You need to get there when it isn’t peak hour or you’ll lose your mind if you’re not used to it.

Either way, once you get in it’s time to find the right routes that will take you to the right stations to get where you need to go – and all that as people rush everywhere around you.

This time, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – to go to the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital and to see the best and biggest garden show in the world. We have a go to spot in St. Albans, north of the city. We catch the overland train to St. Pancras, then the Circle underground line to Sloane, then leg it from there. I know Kensington but I’ve never actually made it as far as Chelsea before, so it is a new part of London for me – which means it might as well be a new city.

This place is well to do. Well maintained and clean row houses, fancy cars outside, and an abundance of signs telling you that Bob Marley lived here, and this other famous person there, and that other famous person there, and Falcon Scott the Antarctic explorer there. Tasteful gardens and immaculate outfits, trendy restaurants and pretty bags. And the place plays host to the Chelsea Flower Show.

We get checked in – it’s not open to the peasants of the public yet – and still, there are over thousands of people already there.

Everything you can think of. Stalls of art, clothing, trinkets, goodies, books and calendars and memberships, and products – all themed around gardens or to be used in gardens. Enough stalls to fill up a large flea market, except everything is premium and top quality.

A stage where someone is singing, tents for wine, champagne and beer… a variety of restaurants to choose from.

Around the grand pavilion, everything you can think of for gardens. Greenhouses, fireplaces, fountains, sculptures, awning and shades and benches. Small little pods in which you can dine or work or appreciate the view, should you buy one and move it back to the estate. There are ladders and spades and saunas you can pick up – all at special show prices no less.

And then inside the pavilion, the exhibitions come to life. Here there are displays of every kind of flower or plant imaginable. Two sections just on bonsai. Floats representing far-flung countries. Carnivorous plants. Ferns. Several sets of roses – and each with varieties you’ve never seen or smelled before. Orchids. Wildflowers. Succulents. Water plants and indoor plants. Climbers and fungi. A celebration of all kinds of green living things. Plants as symbols, plants as shade, plants as borders, plants as food, plants as art, plants as toys, plants as pets – each section and each row more beautiful and surprising than the one previous.

And outside the pavilion – sections of designed gardens. Galleries of ideas that you can steal and take home with you for your own outside spaces. Some with the kind of impractical exuberance of haute couture, others pragmatic and stylish.

I would not have thought it possible to combine “action packed” with “peaceful and beautiful” – and yet, the Chelsea Flower Show pulls it off. As with most of London’s attractions, a single visit isn’t enough. I hope to return again, and see how every pub, pizzeria and Ralph Lauren outlet in the borough get in on the celebration with displays of their own. If you love plants, its an obvious event for your calendar. If you don’t love plants, you’ll learn to here.

A little bit of rain never stops anyone in the UK.

A wooden dragon sculpture – taller than a roof.

Water features and fountains that look like trees…

All kinds of lovely colours and shapes…

Including those that prefer dry climates…

With displays as creative as any gardener…

And living works of art…

From the smallest trees…

To the tallest climbers.

Meat eaters…

To magical fungi…

More kinds of more kinds than you ever knew existed…

To inspiration you can take home…