The RHS Chelsea Flower Show might not be taking place this year but, as the most famous flower show in the world, it’s still a cause for celebration.
Today’s guest post is written by Honest Communications, an agency that supports gardening brands and companies (like The Plant Based Podcast!) with their PR, marketing and communications. As part of this the agency is well versed in the goings-on behind the scenes at Chelsea and has worked at the show with names like David Austin Roses and Hillier, which holds the world record for the most consecutive gold medals at the show.
Below, Holly from the agency gives us a unique insight into just how much work goes into a company exhibiting at the show.
People visit Chelsea from all over the world, so the show gives exhibitors a chance to showcase their newest, most exciting varieties to a global audience. That means that the floral displays are incredible, and there really isn’t anything else quite like it. A trip to even the greatest garden centre has got nothing on Chelsea!!
Nor is there anything like the fragrance that hits you when you first walk into the Great Pavilion. The sheer volume, variety and scale of plants is amazing, as is the dedication and horticultural expertise all in one place. It really is unique and mind-blowing.
The process of growing and selecting the plants for a Chelsea garden is meticulous. Growers work relentlessly for months, if not years, ahead of the show to ensure that the plants are at their absolute peak for judging. Technological systems are in place to control the growing conditions, and to ensure that they adapt to the weather – which is no mean feat when you factor in extremes like the Beast from the East.
Hillier’s 2018 garden featured a whopping 8,000 plants. Every single one was perfect. These 8,000 were selected from an initial 1.3million plants, all grown by just three people in huge glasshouses as the company’s 60-acre nursery. That’s quite the job!
Exhibitors can enter their new launches into the Plant of the Year awards. If they win, or are even shortlisted, it can have a huge impact on sales. Who wouldn’t want to buy the plant of the year from Chelsea and have it in full bloom in their garden?!
Chelsea is a year-round to-do list. As soon as the lorries arrive back at the exhibitors’ offices planning will immediately begin for the following year.
The first thing to decide on is the garden design and the concept. From there, the designer selects the planting scheme. I was once fortunate enough to witness Sarah Eberle (the most decorated designer in Chelsea history) on a site visit where she was selecting the plants and trees that she would like in the garden. Her excitement was infectious as she pulled together her “shopping list” of trees. Throughout the process the designer will revisit the site to check on how the plants are growing and adapt plans if necessary.
Planning the logistics of getting everything to the show requires military precision. Around 20 lorries are required to get everything from where it has grown to the Royal Chelsea Hospital grounds that are transformed for the show. Even the order in which the plants are loaded, and subsequently unloaded, must be thought out to make sure the garden is created as planned – all whilst making sure the plants are protected on their journey. I know I wouldn’t fancy being that lorry driver!
There are thousands of small elements to pull together for Chelsea that you wouldn’t even think of – even down to arranging accommodation for the team for the build, throughout the show and then during the dismantling too!
From a marketing point of view, I’m always fascinated by how quickly materials can be produced. For example, once built, the garden will be photographed over the weekend and magazines featuring the shots will be printed and on stand to give out to visitors by first thing on the Monday morning, as well as being in garden centres around the country. Which leads us to the final P.
Press and media attention are vital for sharing the amazing Chelsea experience with those that are unable to attend. Like every other element of Chelsea, planning for this begins months before the show takes place. Journalists are offered exclusive sneak peaks and behind the scenes tours to see the amazing sights at nurseries and the endless rows of Chelsea plants growing, as well as getting to meet the growing team and finding out more about what it all takes. Then there are news announcements to build excitement and anticipation for the design reveal; as well as arranging interviews and magazine features.
Then it comes to press day of the show. I am very fortunate to be able to have access to go to the show on the Monday when it is closed to the public, and I know just how lucky I am for that to be the case – I’ve got a lot of friends who are very envious! Only exhibitors, press and celebrities can attend and it’s a fantastic opportunity to be able to see the gardens without the hoards of crowds that descend on the other days. That is if you get time! Usually my feet don’t touch the floor and I barely have time to grab water yet alone look at the gardens! To make things even harder to take in, the showground closes at 3pm for the Royal Visit when the Queen arrives, so unfortunately I’ve never been able to catch a glimpse of the Queen. I have met other Chelsea royalty though, with Alan Titchmarsh and Mary Berry being regular sightings!
The day quickly becomes an absolute blur. It starts early with the RHS judges making their way around the gardens – all visitors and exhibitors must clear out and stay out of the way for that part.
Then, once the judging is complete, it all begins! Celebrities, journalists and photographers make their way around the show throughout the day, often descending in a pack for any pre-arranged events and photocalls that are scheduled for certain times. Then there’s BBC filming to factor in, all whilst trying to make time to see the show and explore the stunning gardens.
The 2020 RHS Chelsea Flower Show sadly won’t be taking place this year (check out virtual Chelsea here), but that just means the 2021 show will be bigger and better than ever before. If you’ve never been before, I strongly recommend you make 2021 the year to visit!
Holly loves chatting all things Chelsea, so if you’ve got any questions or what to know more about what goes on behind the scenes, drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’d love to hear from you!