Bursting with blooms, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is the world’s most prestigious flower and gardening show. Quintessentially English, this is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, new plants, sip champagne and find ideas to take home. To find out why Chelsea Flower Show is a must for all gardening enthusiasts, we spoke to expert Travel Director Philip. Here he tells us about the magic of the show, plus the other horticultural delights and inspiring destinations that await you on Chelsea Flower Show & Springtime in the Alps, an Insight special interest tour.
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Originally British, Philip studied in Italy and has lived much of his life in Paris. Now residing in Malta, he has a deep love for all of Europe, and of course its gardens. Becoming a Travel Director is something he always wanted to do, and he started this career later in life.
“I love sharing what I know about Europe. I am passionate about the continent as a whole. It’s a privilege to show people what we have to offer, the variety of culture the scenery and the history, and I greatly enjoy learning from our guests along the way’” he tells us. “Of all the tours Chelsea Flower Show and Springtime in the Alps is one of my favorite to run. We see some of the best gardens in Europe along with the most spectacular landscapes.”
THE RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, England, is the most prestigious flower show in the world. Held every year in May, it is the highlight of the horticultural calendar. The Chelsea Flower Show has been held every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. “For many of our guests this is the highlight of the tour,” says Philip. “We have many keen gardeners onboard who have heard so much about the Chelsea Flower Show. They love to see the gardens and exhibitors selling and showing such beautiful plants. Everything is world class.”
Described as the ‘World Cup of gardening’ the Chelsea Flower Show is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, breath taking floral displays and innovative garden products, with some 168,000 visitors attending the show each year. Specialist nurseries reveal new plants, top designers from Japan to New York show off their creations, and fashion brands and manufacturers launch their latest lines at the trade stands.
“The show is only open for three days to the public, so tickets are very exclusive,” Philip explains. “We are always the first people in, as soon as the gates open to see the show gardens.”
A QUINTESSENTIALLY ENGLISH EXPERIENCE
“I think what people like about the Chelsea Flower Show is that it is part of the social season in England, alongside Wimbledon, the Henley Regatta and the Cheltenham Festival (horse racing),” Philip explains. “It is a way of dipping into British history and society.
“Guest’s love the show’s royal connections and the fact that it is a quintessentially English experience. There are lots of stands selling champagne and strawberries, Pimms, clotted cream teas and the famous Chelsea buns.”
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THE GREAT PAVILION
The show’s vast Great Pavilion houses prize-winning flowers and floral displays that will blow you away. With more than 100 exhibits, there’s everything from cacti to bonsai trees inside. The Great Pavilion is roughly 11,775 square metres or 2.90 acres, enough room to park 500 London buses.
SHOWSTOPPING SHOW GARDENS
The show gardens are the main event at the Chelsea Flower Show, and in 2022 there were 13 gardens exhibited.
“Some of the most innovative gardens in world are showcased, from the top landscape architects and gardeners. Every year they are different,” Philip tells us.
From traditional gardens to futuristic green spaces, exclusive perennials to exotic seeds, the show gardens compete in a number of categories to win gold, silver and bronze medals.
“As soon as we arrive, we always head for the winning garden,” Philip says. “As we arrive early it is easy to see them in relative peace and quiet, as they are the most popular attraction of the show.”
Show gardens are built from scratch in 19 days and dismantled in five days. Over 2,000 tons of earth is moved in preparation for the show. A rock garden was the first type of Show Garden to appear at Chelsea in the 1920s. Nowadays you can expect to see everything that grows with artisan gardens, eco-gardens, and gardens representing brands and countries. The mix of garden design with architectural elements are great sources of inspiration.
“Sometimes show gardens are allied with a cause, to promote a charity. A couple of years ago the [then Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton] the Princess of Wales, was involved in a garden which was hugely popular,” Philip says.
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A ROYAL OCCASION
Deeply connected with the Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II was the show’s patron since 1952 and was a regular visitor with her parents as a child. In fact, she attended RHS Chelsea more than 50 times during her 70-year reign.
And in 2019, HRH The Princess of Wales rolled up her sleeves to collaborate with landscape architects on the Royal Horticultural Society Back to Nature Garden, a playful woodland oasis inspired by childhood memories.
SUSTAINABILITY AFTER THE SHOW
A Chelsea Show garden is estimated to cost over £200,000 and, with sustainability in mind, the Royal Horticultural Society seeks to recycle or reuse as much of the show gardens as possible. Some plants are sold immediately to those visiting. Other plants are borrowed, so are returned to their growers for seed collection later in the season. Most of the gardens are donated to charitable gardens or communal spaces, with some elements auctioned off and the proceeds going to charity. For features that cannot be donated or auctioned, they’re returned to where they came from or rest in storage until they can be reused or resold.
SAVE TIME FOR SHOPPING
“There are around 250 shopping stands at the show – I bought a great hat this year!” Philip says with a laugh. “Pretty much everything related to gardening can be found here. Not mass-market products but quality artisan crafts, and gardening and related equipment such as clothing. There are also many artists and sculptors showcasing their work.”
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CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW & SPRINGTIME IN THE ALPS
Spring blooms are just bursting out on this refreshing 18-day guided tour of The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. From the flowers of London’s Chelsea Flower Show to the fresh air of the Swiss Alps, and springtime along the Seine in Paris. Visit Amsterdam and the world’s largest flower auction, Louis XIV’s magnificent grounds at the Versailles Châteaux, and the lily pond of Monet’s Gardens. In the UK, the fabulous Sissinghurst Gardens give way to the magnificent floral displays and show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.
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Whilst the Chelsea Flower Show provides the grand finale to Chelsea Flower Show and Springtime in the Alps, the tour is packed with stunning gardens and amazing blooms.
As the trip starts in Amsterdam you are immediately treated with a visit to the colossal Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Here over 30,000 species are featured, with 43 million flowers and 5 million plants sold daily Monday to Friday. Witness all the action from a specially designed viewing gallery as traders bid against the clock for a mind-blowing assortment of blooms. This is then followed by a visit to Keukenhof, hailed as the most beautiful spring garden in the world. The sea of colour is breath-taking with tulips as the showstopper.
On Isola Bella, the largest and most famous island of the Italian Lake District, admire its incredible palace and stunning Italian-style baroque garden. And near Paris, take a short trip to Giverny and visit the charming house and gardens where Claude Monet lived and worked from 1883 until his death in 1926. The beautiful gardens were the inspiration for his famous water lily paintings.
In the south of England, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens are really special. Designed as a series of rooms, the white garden was the very first of its kind in the world. And at the Gardens of Wisley, explore the beautiful Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden, a picturesque orchard and the huge cathedral-like glass house.
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OTHER TOUR HIGHLIGHTS
“The thing about the trip that is really nice,” Philip says, “is that we go to the well-known cities such as Amsterdam, Munich and Paris. But then we go to the lesser-known ones that you only usually visit on a regional trip. Maastricht for example is a real delight. Guests have no expectations and they really love it. Bozen/Bolzano, the German speaking city in northern Italy, has a beautiful Austrian feel to it and is surrounded by the Dolomite Mountains.
“We also stay in the Swiss Alps. The village of Grindelwald is a truly dramatic setting, with a beautiful valley, fast flowing rivers, lakes and mountains. From here you can even see the iconic north face of the Eiger. To wake up and be greeted with such mountain scenery is something you won’t forget.”
The German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber deserves a special mention. “This is an absolute highlight,” Philip says. “It is usually somewhere people go for a day, but we stay overnight in a charming, typically Bavarian hotel. I like to take guests for a walk after dinner as it is so quiet and atmospheric by night. It is an amazing magical experience. You feel like you have stepped back in time, into a fairy tale. The town’s natural setting over the Tauber Valley is stupendous – you get some cracking views.”
“The Thames cruise provides a great finale to the trip. London lit up at night is just spectacular. The food is delicious and there is also live music. You cruise under Tower Bridge and travel right down to the Millennium Dome, passing the naval college at Greenwich, the Houses of Parliament… it’s just amazing.”
To see the Chelsea Flower Show 2023 and other delights, enjoying delicious dining and superior hotels every step of the way, take a look at our Chelsea Flower Show & Springtime in the Alps premium guided tour.