This was the question I posed last week to some of the exhibitors at Chelsea; weeks if not months of preparation, long journeys, finding sitters for the nursery, securing accommodation in London, long days of build up, nail-biting during judging and twelve hour days during the show.  For what?  Silly question.  It’s Chelsea, known worldwide as the pinnacle of gardening shows and a Chelsea gold is worth all this effort.  It occurs to me that the RHS should only give gold medals as this is the only accolade deemed worth having.  Is even a silver-gilt worthy of note?

Nurseries have to apply to the RHS for a pitch and not everyone is accepted, so simply being there is ‘like being selected for an Olympic team’.
‘A gold medal from Malvern – so what?  Gold at Hampton Court means a bit more, but Chelsea gold is the ultimate prize’.
‘People take you more seriously if you exhibit at Chelsea’.
‘It means you’re one of the big boys’.

There is a section on the judging card for scale of endeavour and it amazes me that anyone could get less than full marks for this section.  Getting plants into peak condition and in flower for one particular week in May requires real dedication – daffodils, hyacinths and tulips side by side with roses, agapanthus and dahlias.

The immediate return on investment might be the sale of some seeds, or the recently introduced blister packs of plug plants.  Orders taken at the show can be worthwhile, but one exhibitor told me that his orders from the show have dropped over the last ten years – he hopes that people are going home and ordering on-line.  Others reckon that the  payback might come months or years later when they are approached because someone had seen them at Chelsea.

And many of the exhibitors were due to break down their stand on Saturday, drive home, unpack and then load up to go up to Gardening Scotland which opens to the public on May 31st.

So I think the best answer to my question ‘Why do you exhibit at Chelsea?’ the answer which encapsulates all the determination and dedication, is ‘Because it’s there’. 

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2 Responses to Why?

  1. Rosewarne Gardens, Bedfordshire Garden Designers says:

    Slightly surprised to read that you consider “a gold from Malvern so what? Gold at Hampton Court a bit more but Chelsea gold is the ultimate prize” an RHS medal has the same judging criteria regardless of location. So those at Malvern and Hampton are just as much worthy of praise, if not more so because they don’t have such ludicrous budgets thrown at them as the Chelsea main ave gardens….

    • gillians says:

      Words in italics are comments made by nursery people at the show – not my views. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I was also only talking about the nursery exhibits in the Floral marquee, not the Main Avenue gardens, which as you say are heavily sponsored and funded.

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