RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018: The Highlights

The Resident takes a peek behind the scenes of #RHSChelsea 2018, picking out the top highlights and new features, including a focus on gardening for wellbeing and the inaugural Chelsea Late. Plus, scroll down for our guide to alternative Chelsea Flower Show events…

Words: Alexander Larman
Lead image: The CWGC Centenary Garden designed by David Domoney & Sponsored by Commonwealth War Graves Commission. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 (photo: RHS / Tim Sandall)

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which is returning to London from the 22-26 May, is not just one of the highlights of the city’s social scene, but a global event that brings over 150,000 visitors a year to SW3.

As the show manager Katherine Potsides says: ‘Every year is different as we welcome some of the greatest designers, plants people and floral artists who bring their creativity, ideas and inspiration to the show and set the horticultural trends for the year ahead.

‘This year, we have made changes to the show layout and introduced a new category of gardens, Space to Grow, creating a whole new avenue of gardens with inspiration for all.’

Actress Judi Dench poses with the ‘Dame Judi Dench’ rose named after her on the David Austin Roses exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 (photo: RHS / Luke MacGregor)

Some of the highlights will include an emphasis on environmental issues, led by the designer Tom Stuart-Smith, who is creating the Weston Garden in the Great Pavilion. Stuart-Smith, who has thrice been awarded Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show, is celebrating 60 years of the grant-awarding Garfield Weston Foundation, and his garden will take care to only feature recycled materials and plants.

This will be complemented by Kate Gould’s fantasia on London, the West End Secret Garden, which will be celebrating Chelsea, and its environs, in garden form, using a range of environmentally positive technology in order to create a sense of 21st century London and the relationship between commerce and culture.

This year there’s a huge emphasis on ways in which gardens can enhance wellbeing

Although the Chelsea Flower Show is often associated with splendour and fashion, this year there’s a huge emphasis on ways in which gardens can enhance wellbeing; a collaboration with the NHS and Matt Keighley resulted in the RHS Feel Good Garden, which is designed to highlight how gardens can make people feel happier, more productive and more engaged.

It is hoped that this will offer an insight into the mental health benefits that gardening can bring, and will encourage a wide range of visitors and others to talk about issues that they themselves might have faced.

The Duchess of Cambridge at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 (photo: RHS / Hannah McKay)

Broadcaster and gardener Monty Don, who has been involved with the project, says: ‘I know from personal experience how gardening helps heal many mental and physical ills. When you are sad, a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated, a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety, it will soothe you, and when the world is a dark and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’

Meanwhile, RHS Director Sue Biggs says: ‘There is nothing quite like gardening to help your mind to simply think about the task in hand, be it weeding, pruning or planting. Gardeners have known about mindfulness for generations and with increased pressures through things like social media, now more than ever we need to get outside moving and loving nature to calm us, get some much needed exercise and be kind to ourselves.’

Gardeners have known about mindfulness for generations. There is nothing quite like gardening to help your mind to simply think about the task in hand, be it weeding, pruning or planting

Chelsea Flower Show is also becoming involved in social issues, thanks to west London-based garden designer Tom Massey.

Making his debut appearance at the show, Massey has created the Lemon Tree Trust Garden, which belies its pleasant-sounding name by focusing on the problems faced by forced migrants, specifically the Syrian refugees living in northern Iraq in the Domiz Camp. Massey’s garden is designed to represent the normality and peace that many of those war-torn refugees face when they are able to connect with nature once more.

As ever, there are lighter distractions on hand. Sarah Price’s M & G Garden is a Mediterranean-inspired haven intended to convey a sense of the beauty and wildness of the natural world; should the weather be good, it will be considerably cheaper than a Greek holiday, but just as inspiring and relaxing.

Several leading nurseries including Fernatix and Hillier will be exhibiting, and those who want to let their hair down might well enjoy the inaugural Chelsea Late, taking place on Friday 25 May in Ranelagh Gardens. Expect music, entertainment and various flower demonstrations – and we’d be surprised if it didn’t include a cocktail or two as well.

This year’s Chelsea Flower Show, then, promises to strike a fine balance between entertainment and education. As Sue Biggs says: ‘It is fantastic to see the gardens at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show are reminding us all of the power of plants.

‘They demonstrate the huge impact gardening and green spaces can have on so many aspects of our lives, whether that be at an individual level like helping to improve health and wellbeing or to mitigate against wider environmental challenges.’

5 alternative ways to celebrate
chelsea flower show

Couldn’t get tickets? It’s a common problem. Fortunately, London’s creative
have sprung into action with Chelsea Flower Show-inspired installations
and menus. So there’s no need to miss out…

1 Chelsea In Bloom
This annual festival sees more than 60 shops and businesses in Chelsea decorate their windows in suitably floral splendour. This year’s theme is Summer of Love, inspired by the royal wedding. Watch out in particular for last year’s winner, Hackett, and others including Smythson, Club Monaco and Kiki McDonough. 21-27 May.

2 Chelsea Fringe
The seventh Chelsea Fringe runs from 19-27 May at a host of different venues and settings, mixing a wonderful mixture of public spectacles and horticultural happenings. The Fringe is all about harnessing and spreading the excitement and energy that fizzes around gardens and gardening, exploding out of the showground geographically, demographically and conceptually.

3 Chelsea Flower Show Afternoon Teas
London’s masterful pastry chefs have been hard at work to create a plethora of floral-inspired afternoon teas. From Bluebird in Bloom in Chelsea to Royal Lancaster London’s Bloomin’ Brilliant Afternoon Tea by Lancaster Gate, it’s time to raise a glass and eat cake! Also look out for the flower show-themed Bloom Menu at Gallery Mess, the Saatchi Gallery’s restaurant, featuring the likes of prawn cocktail with viola flowers and pan-fried hake with lovage salsa verde. Check out our pick of the top 5 here


4 Belgravia in Bloom 2018
Belgravia in Bloom 2018, running 16-26 May, is celebrating the upcoming V&A exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, with a larger than life mural, complete with a floral headdress installation, at Eccleston Yards. Over 50 boutiques, hotels and restaurants across the area will display stunning floral installations on their store-fronts. many also creating Frida-inspired product, experiences and food and drink.

5 Meadow at Pullman London St Pancras
Pullman London St Pancras has collaborated with London-based artist Anna Garforth on its Chelsea Flower Show-inspired lobby installation, Meadow. The artwork brings the wonder of nature into an urban environment, where florals have been weaved into the display to create a wild, self-seeded meadow. Until Monday 28 May 2018.