Ten reasons why I’m glad I didn’t go to Chelsea…


I used to love the Chelsea Flower Show.

Right now, people are digging up gardens, tearing down stands and putting plants in skips. Lorries will have surged over the bridge and into the Royal Hospital grounds with military precision, in strictly numerical order so that they end up exactly outside the appropriate stand.

A few years ago, I would have been utterly shattered on this day, and with a car-full of plants ready to be unpacked.

So why don’t I go any more?

1. I can’t stand Alan Titchmarsh. According to the BBC coverage, he’s been there all the time, and everywhere.

I know that’s not true (see below), but even so. Eergh.

2. Been there, done that, I suppose. For several years I was an exhibitor, and I’m not going to say with whom for reasons that will become clear. Unfortunately, that’s rather spoiled the Show for me as a visitor. For instance, I appreciated the comparative calm of the exhibitors’ facilities, and I appreciated the opportunity to get away from the crowds for a few minutes.

And there was a certain amount of – um – informal bartering that went on. You know: ‘Swap you a pair of Felco secateurs for XX?’, ‘How about we trade ZZ for that bronze iris you liked?’. Also I had congenial colleagues and a car park pass (both vital when you’re there for 12 hours plus, from 7 a.m., and it never stops).

Plus my garden is lovely at the moment. The meadow is really cracking along.

3. I don’t want to queue for hours for an overpriced sandwich, and I don’t want to spend ages hunting out a free square of grass so I can sit down and eat a packed lunch which I have just trailed all around the show, and a lunch which is now nicely warm and a possible health hazard. Nor do I want to queue for ages for a loo that would be more worthy of Glastonbury than the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

And my own garden is doing its thing…

4. When you’re a visitor and not an exhibitor, you don’t tend to start the day the whisky way. One of my colleagues used to bring a flask of hot water and all the makings of a good hot toddy – essential for those cold mornings, before the exhibitors’ refreshment tent has got the breakfasts going.

Did I mention my garden was waking up?

Ah yes, and that brings me to

5. the lack of a hot breakfast on site. The chances of getting off a stand for an actual lunch break being limited, a good fry-up acts as an all-day substitute. As a visitor, it would deal effectively with 3, and maybe even 4, except it’s not possible. Unless you find a greasy spoon nearby, and they’re not as common in Chelsea as they once were.

So, five negative things. Now for five positive ones.

6. If I’m here, as opposed to being in near-central London, I can wander around and pay the garden the same sort of attention I would pay a display in the Marquee at Chelsea (always supposing I could see a Chelsea display, that is, through the crowds). Time to notice the unfurling of  a fern,

for instance, and I do love my ferns.

7. I can do the appreciating plants thing with a cup of tea in my hand. Always a good one. Yes, I suppose I could replicate that at Chelsea, but the tea would be in a polystyrene cup, plus it would be stewed and I’d be likely to drop it, spill it or scald someone – possibly myself – with it.

And who knows, maybe even a pice of cake would be involved here. Home-made cake. Edible cake.

8. When I read an article in the paper written by some eejit who thinks Chelsea is outdated and elitist (no way those loos are remotely elitist, though I could be persuaded on the outdated front) because the idiot in question is living in the past, has probably not been nearer to Chelsea than Hoxton and wouldn’t know a daffodil if it biffed him on the nose, I can say some really rather unladylike things without offending anyone.

This poppy looks as though it’s sticking its tongue out. Quite. Parrrrp.

9. Would I rather take a book, cuppa and aforementioned cake into the meadow, lie down and have a quiet five minutes watching the wildlife (orange tip butterflies mating, where’s David Attenborough?), or would I rather trek across London, fight my way onto Main Avenue to try and see a speck of a prize-winning garden from under someone’s armpit?


10. It’s too hot. I’ve done wet Chelseas (they’re a bugger), cold Chelseas (where’s the whisky?), Chelseas where the pollen left everyone with streaming eyes and noses (nice). But the worst I did was the hottest. It was horrible.

So why would I even think about it, when there’s this

five minutes away? (The black thing in the water is a dog, not a corpse – been watching too many Scandinavian crime dramas; sorry.) Admittedly, I’m lucky here, but even my old south London back garden would have been more civilised.

And with absolutely no danger of encountering Alan Titchmarsh.


32 Comments Add yours

  1. Felicai says:

    I completely understand. So much joy, excitement, happiness and thrills you KNOW you will experience in your garden. Compared to the unpredictable consequence of attending Chelsea, I’d want to stay home too. We know what fabulousness can be experienced in our gardens. Perhaps thats why so many gardeners are reclusive?

    1. kate says:

      Well, quite. I prefer to think of us Chlesea refusniks as sensible rather than reclusive (not that there’s anything wrong with the latter), but I’m sure there’s an element of that!

  2. elaine says:

    Your post made me laugh – you have positively put me off going to Chelsea again – no bad thing – your garden is looking lovely – can I join you in the meadow with a cool glass of something!

    1. kate says:

      Good (on the laugh and Chelsea). It’s so easy to get swept up, and the next thing you know you’re knackered, on a overcrowded train, have placed an unwise order for some bulbs that will never grow and subscribed to a magazine you’d never buy if you saw it on the shelf.

      Pour yourself a virtual glass of something cool and sparkling and toast the fact that we’re sensible!

  3. paulinemulligan says:

    Poor Alan Titchmarsh, what has he done to upset you?! My days of visiting gardening shows are over I think, unless I go in wheelchair, maybe we could use it as a bettering ram to get through the crowds!! Been to Hampton Court twice and Malvern once, came home too tired, too hot, was it worth it, maybe, but you do see more on TV. The legs aren’t getting any younger so shall watch from the comfort of my armchair. Enjoy your meadow!

    1. kate says:

      Alan Titchmarsh – where can I start? 1. Professional Yorkshiremen irritate me deeply, and some of my roots are North Yorkshire. Geoffrey Boycott is another specimen. Tie them up in a bag and hit them with rock-hard parkin. 2. Alan Titchmarsh, sex god. NO!!!! Wrong. Profoundly, deeply, disturbingly wrong. 3. AT the novelist. Also PDDW.

      I did take a friend of mine to Chelsea once in her (new) wheelchair. It was an interesting experience as she kept slapping people on the back with her programme and saying ‘Excuse me, can we just see, please? Thank you!’ in the sort of tones that once quelled native uprisings. Alarmingly, it worked. Just a tip…

  4. patientgardener says:

    Hoorah! I have been tempted to do a similar post. Have hardly watched any of the coverage and the little I did was repeats of the other little bit I watched. As ever AT described it as a vintage year – what again! Many of the gardens reminded me of previous gardens, there was little to interest me. I can see wonderful nurseries at Malvern spring and autumn shows down the road or have a fab outing in your direction and go to Crug. All preferable to a 6 hr round trip on the train, crowds, overpriced food, and gushing.

    1. kate says:

      And that’s another thing that’s wrong with AT. We all remember you saying that last year, Alan! And the year before that! And the year before that!

      (I think I’d better go and get a nice cup of tea and calm down. I knew you were a woman after my own heart…)

  5. Dobby says:

    Funny. Karen & I were talking about Chelsea this afternoon. I too have gone off AT. Also a couple of the others. I admit I didn’t watch every minute of the coverage, but all the big gardens seemed to be stone, water & green foliage. Didn’t see any of the little gardens which I normally enjoy.
    I will stick with Malvern. Preferably on press & members day. Fewer crowds so you can actually see the exhibits. Mind you, that does tend to put a hole in my wallet!!

    1. kate says:

      Ooo, uncanny… (Talking about CHelsea, that is, not going off AT – that’s understandable. And ‘going off’ implies you were once a fan, or am I wrong?????)

      1. Dobby says:

        I wouldn’t say a fan, but I did used to listen to what he said. I now listen to people like you and Karen. Real people with local knowledge who understand the pro’s and con’s of my garden. Also neither of you are trying to be talk show hosts, or are hosts of singing shows! (At least as far as I know??)

        1. kate says:

          damn, we’ve been found out!

  6. Crystal says:

    I’m so glad I didn’t go to Chelsea now, not that I was intending to anyway. I recorded all the TV programmes to watch at my leisure. After fast-forwarding all the AT and co. bits, it didn’t take up much of my time to watch what was left.
    For me, the advantage of watching it on TV, is that they venture onto the show gardens, whilst the Chelsea visitors have to view them from afar.
    Oh and did I mention, you can fast-forward all the annoying bits.

    1. kate says:

      Fast forwarding – now that’s the answer! (How sad that there wasn’t much time spent on the rest – I suspected that might be the case. Hm.)

  7. hillwards says:

    🙂 I have no intentions of going to Chelsea, a little TV coverage in the evenings is as much as I can bear. Most years I haven’t even watched that, but I did make the effort this year. It involved a lot of fast forwarding. Mostly of AT and the number of banal ‘features’ – or dumbed down gardening. 😉 Which distilled it down into a few samey gardens, and occasionally a nice plant.
    It has been very nice being here and just enjoying our garden unfurling day by day, I wouldn’t want to miss that… and indeed a cup of tea, and no crowds. Sold.

    1. kate says:

      And anther one fast forwarding our Alan. Shocking.

      I completely agree with you on the dumbed-down front – it drives me bonkers. I’d have thought there were plenty of us out here who knew what we were doing,and there was no need for it. Grrrrrrrr.

      I’m with you.. Will just make a cuppa and take it out into the sun (with a brief check on the BBC’s somewhat interrupted Torch Relay Live to see if they’ve got a 3G signal yet – welcome to everyday life in this part of rural Wales – and if I can spot anyone I know).

      1. hillwards says:

        I forgot to say: wonderful poppy and popping allium shots. It really is sticking its tongue out! We have a big fat bud on ours just waiting to split, and the first alliums are also zinging… I am watching very closely…

        1. kate says:

          I think the poppy knew I was thinking ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ actually, not ‘stupid journalists…’

          Hope you manage to catch a poppy in a similarly unguarded moment!

  8. patientgardener says:

    So glad it wasnt only me that cant stand it – feel more normal now

    1. kate says:

      I was vaguely expecting to get my wrist slapped for not being a proper gardener / thinking AT should be asked to do something less tasking – like oh, I don’t know, sitting in a dark, locked room with no TV cameras – and whaddyaknow, there are lots of us refuseniks instead. Phew!

  9. Christina says:

    well, I admit I did go! There are no gardens to visit here for inspiration about from wonderful historic ones, was it worth flight, money and stress and this year the heat and missing my garden – I’ll post and let you know! Christina

    1. kate says:

      I am impressed! (I shall be watching with interest to see what you thought…)

  10. Lyn says:

    But Kate, I’ve been dreaming about going to Chelsea for years now! I’ll probably never get there, so the dream is all I have – please don’t spoil it- tell me you were only joking! I need my illusions…

    1. kate says:

      Oh dear, I’m sooo sorry… I’m sure my perception is affected by having worked there (well, that and the toilets). I’m sure it’s still wonderful if you can get in before the public – so you’d need to be an exhibitor or the Queen, basically – and have a private bubble to retreat to when it all gets too much. Hm. Still need to exhibit or be royal…

  11. easygardener says:

    Agree with you about Alan Titmarsh – just too smug – and the toilets are a disgrace.
    I have been to Chelsea off and on for over 30 years and hit a patch in the middle when I could not stand it any more so gave it a miss and did Hampton Court instead. I returned just after they began using the new marquee and stopped the stupid one way system – much more space and less crowded.
    Unfortunately viewing the gardens is still a scrum which is why we do them first.
    I still love going but get there early and do the gardens then the marquee. Still my favourite garden show but you do have to be in the right frame of mind because it is very tiring. Thank heavens for the seating by the bandstand.
    I think each vivitor should be asked to identify four common flowers and two garden tools before being allowed in. That would soon reduce the numbers 🙂

    1. kate says:

      You seem to have just the right attitude to Chelsea (and the – er – primitive facilities). I went to Hampton Court too for a couple of years, but it didn’t do it for me. Have yet to try Malvern and Tatton. Not sure I’m strong enough…

      I’m with you on the quick test, 100% We used to collect daft enquiries (it stopped them being quite so irritating if you knew you were saving them up) along the lines of ‘I’m looking for a plant with a blue flower that my grandmother used to have in her garden, do you know what it is?’ I asked how big it was, thinking delphinium. Answer: ‘I’m not sure. Does it matter?’ That one really stuck in the memory…

  12. Hi Kate, I am currently ploughing through the recorded Chelsea coverage, immensely grateful that I can fast forward through most of it and increasingly irritated by the shear lack of intelligent commentary or information. There are nuggets of useful ideas, I scribble down planting combos that appeal, but mostly, it is quite litterally a waste of space on my hard drive. Very disappointing. As for A.T., insufferably smug and coy, grates more and more every time I see him. I wish I could believe the BBC would be brave enough to change the presenting team, but he seems to be broadcasting royalty. Was great to see Joe get a gold though, and Chris B.

    1. kate says:

      Fast forwarding seems to be a common theme with almost everyone who’s recorded CHelsea – what a shame; just goes to show that something’s gone adrift somewhere. Wipe it off and replace it with something more motivating, that’s what I say… but cheers indeed for Joe Swift.

      (And you know my views on AT, not at all surprised that you’re another! That combination of smug self-satisfaction and twee coyness is a real winner. Not.)

      Welcome back, by the way!

  13. Harriet says:

    Agree 100% Who the hell is Alan Titmarch anyway? What did he ever do to qualify for such blanket televisual coverage? There has to be someone out there who can talk intelligently and knowledgeably about plants and gardens without being so smug and irritating. And as for Geoffrey Boycott ….!

    1. kate says:

      Well quite. How interesting that the words ‘smug’ and ‘irritating’ crop up so often when talking about AT except, it seems, at the BBC. Argh (I think I even prefer Geoffrey Boycott. Well, maybe not, but it’s a close-run thing)….

  14. Pen says:

    Well I’m going to stick my neck out and say I did go to Chelsea this year and had a good time. Spent Tues evening and all day Weds there. No probs with the loos (and I’ve been to Glastonbury – yeuch!) though a ridiculous shortage of handwashing facilities. The key is to arrive v. early and see the show gardens first, the rest of the time can be spent in the Grand Marquee getting up close and personal with the plants and growers (where the people there to ‘pose’ rarely tread). I traveled very light and wore a big, and I mean big, straw hat which gave me extra personal space. I left at 3pm on Weds and spent the rest of the afternoon in the Chelsea Physic Garden which is 5 mins walk away and a real treasure. Would I go back…not every year, but I would like to go again. Just my 2 pennies worth!

    1. kate says:

      Glad you enjoyed it (and I’m even more glad that they’ve done something about the loos). Your hat strategy sounds like a very good one, and I certainly second the getting the early idea. My problem, I suppose, is in part that I was spoiled by having an empty Chelsea to myself before the visitors actually arrived…

      Hope you enjoy it as much next time!

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.