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The Best in Show of UK Garden Shows

Apr 16, 2014

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For keen gardeners a visit to one of the UK’s summer season of prestigious RHS Flower Shows is a must. But which one to start with?

Chelsea Flower Show

Many would say the pinnacle of Horticultural Show experience is Chelsea. Held in the auspicious grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital this annual institution is a firm part of the summer event circuit along with Henley and Wimbledon.

All day entry tickets for non RHS members cost £58 per person and it’s easy to reach by taxi or public transport. It’s the place to see and be seen! Many dress smartly to attend. If you are expecting the show gardens to be all in a row as they appear to be on TV, (It’s like the University Challenge effect), it’s not the case, they are interspersed in clusters around the site.

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The main show gardens do get busy and it doesn’t matter which day of the week you go this is something that you need to factor into your visit as it’s a relatively small site and you can’t enter the gardens themselves, you just glimpse them from the front edge.

But the opportunity to speak to the designers of gardens like the award winning Laurent Perrier garden and receive a hand out on their planting schemes is very worthwhile.

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The artisan gardens are completely different all together from the glitzy corporate show gardens. Set in a woody glade they are spaced evenly in an intimate row and their inspiring uses of confined spaces are delightful. This area is also an excellent place to relax and take refreshments are there’s plenty of seating areas and musical performances taking place throughout the day.

Tips for Chelsea - The site isn’t all one gradient so flat shoes can be a good idea. Visit later in the day and receive reduced entry fees. Don’t miss nearby Chelsea Physic Garden an amazing insight into the links between plants and modern medicine and an oasis of calm away from the fray of Chelsea.

Hampton Court Flower Show 

Hampton Court Flower Show takes place in July, the height of the summer, in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The spacious event is pleasantly flat and allows for easy flow around the site to see all it has to offer.

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A relaxing walk along the riverside brings you to the main entrance where you are immediately accosted by the sights and sounds of the show. It’s more of a gardener’s garden event. Ahead of you are an array of food and refreshment stands to take a quick coffee, buy a Pimms or grab some breakfast to fortify you for you garden experience.

From here it's straight onto the show gardens, laid out in rows, with wide avenues allowing you to see them from many angles up close. Leading on from here there’s a very varied selection of retail stands selling everything from artificial grass to gazebos and peat free compost. Other interesting asides include the floral tents and food tents showcasing local UK produce and BBC Wales attending with their weather van. Visiting in 2013 one of our team was able to present the weather just like they do on TV. A fascinating insight and a lot of fun. 

There’s something for all the family and a very diverse range of plant sales to purchase from and like Chelsea a plant crèche to deposit them at while you go round.

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The sites split in two by the water and guests cross on bridges affording picturesque views of Hampton Court Palace. There’s plenty of places to pick a patch and rest your feet or take a seat and dine in comfort.

In terms of price it’s cheaper at just over £23 for a full day and there are shuttle buses from the event to convenient public transport points.

It pays to plan your visit in advance. Watch the coverage on TV and decide what it is you want to see the most and see that first, perhap visit a particularly busy event area around lunch time when it might be quieter. Aim to spend around 3 hours at the event minimum and if you want to take home a permanent momento the last day is sell off day at garden shows so if you have the transport means you can pick up a star buy or two!

And there's always next year to try another. If you want to visit one of the many shows outside London, Tatton in Cheshire is very enjoyable and well laid out in the estate of the Egerton family now operated by the National Trust or later in the year the Malvern Autumn Show.

Many of our staff are keen gardeners. They have visited these events and and others around the UK in their spare time as well as many prestigious overseas gardens worldwide so please do call us for inspiration or take a look at the RHS garden holidays brochure which we work in partnership with.

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