The world renowned Chelsea Flower Show is a sell-out every year. Avoiding the inevitable crowds requires planning, military precision, and the indispensible Country Life guide to survival.
Make a plan
* Plot your exact route to the Bull Ring Gate, which is the main entrance. The nearest tube is Sloane Square, and the nearest mainline train station is Victoria (1 mile away). Buses stop mere yards away, and taxis will of course take you all the way there, (but the roads do get very congested). There’s a car park at Battersea Park, where you can hop on a courtesy bus, but again, this gets very full very quickly.
* It’s worth knowing that if you’re visually impaired or in a wheelchair, a show ticket will cover the admission of a helper, so don’t fork out for two. Babies and children under five are not admitted. Nor are animals, except guide dogs.
* Clothing is a conundrum, especially as the weather seems to be becoming increasingly unpredictable. It can be swelteringly hot, or a complete wash-out. Either way, umbrellas are a good option…if it rains, you’ll be dry, if it doesn’t, you can implement your own brand of crowd management and prod people out of your way. Wear comfortable shoes with waterproof soles, and a wide brimmed hat to protect you, lest it be tropical.
* Arrive as early as you possibly can, to get ahead of the crowds. In fact, arrive, look around, eat and leave, as early in the day as you are able. Alternatively, there’s a lovely evening to be had if you go late in the day, when the crowds are already starting to disperse and the shops are less hectic.
* Travel light. There is a left luggage service on the showground, but less is definitely more.
HM The Queen enjoying last year’s show
* Buy the official catalogue on arrival. Quite apart from timings, it gives you cafes, loos, restaurants and champagne bars, listed under ‘services’.
* Don’t leave anything to the last minute. If you want to get somewhere leave masses of time, weaving through the throng takes a lot longer than you’d imagine. And avoid the loos around lunchtime. The queues are phenomenal.
* Your ticket does not let you leave the showground and come back, so if you are there over a mealtime, you will need to eat on-site.
* There is a bank on the showground, which will exchange foreign currencies, as well as replenish funds
* The ‘services’ section of the programme will show you where the lost property is, alongside first aid, official meeting places, and a guide to tracking down lost children (or adults). There is also an RHS free gardening advice service, which is mapped in the same place.
* Exits are marked in the catalogue. It’s worth leaving before everyone else, as taxis and buses get overwhelmed.
* Plants can only be bought during the sell-off at the end of the last day of the show. But this is something of a scrummage, so be prepared. It’s a bit like the last day of the sales…but plants are heavier than clothes.
A scene from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011
What to look out for in 2012
* Sixteen show gardens: Designers include Andy Sturgeon for show sponsor M&G Investments, Joe Swift for Homebase and 2011 Best Show Garden winner Cleve West for Brewin Dolphin.
* The Great Pavilion: Hillier Nurseries are getting into the Olympic spirit with demonstrations from the Team GB fencing team. King & Co are planning to display a life-size topiary of a Formula One car. A suitably artistic exhibit inspired by the paintings of Monet will be exhibited by The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies.
* New: There’s a new category in the form of ‘Fresh’, which will showcase experimental, less traditional gardens. RHS Environment offers suggestions on how to make the most of green spaces, and information about the science of greening.
* Artisan Gardens: Last year’s new addition is back. Designers use natural materials and traditional craftsmanship to create their masterpieces. Inspirations for this year’s pieces include literature, landscape, travel and water.
* Fortnum and Mason will host the Hospitality Village this year for the first time. Offering Jubilee-themed packages for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, canapés or dinner, they will only use ingredients grown and sourced from the UK. A selection of drinks including champagne and Fortnum’s
red and white wines will be included in each package. Prices start at £199 per person, excluding VAT. This is bound to be very popular, so book early at www.fortnumandmason.com