From a real-life flower fairy to a giant stone sculpture, here are some of the wonders on display at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show.
As wonderful as the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show gold medallists are, they’re anything but the only show in town as our selection of the best bits shows.
1. A real-life flower fairy
The most exquisite creations everywhere you can see — and yet the most striking ‘person-in-swish-dress’ picture of the week was taken in front of a patch of cow parsley growing wild in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The dress in question is, rather amazingly, made from grass roots that are sprouted in beeswax moulds and then shaped into a sort of natural textile by Zena Holloway, who calls the material ‘both reality and metaphor’.
2. Upside-down tulips
The show gardens are all well and good for fans of thoughtful design, but the true mad scientists of the plant world are to be found in The Great Pavilion at the Chelsea Flower Show — the huge marquee universally referred to as ‘the tent’. These stunning tulips growing upside-down were our favourite example; you can see how the flowers are even fighting to right themselves.
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3. The Chelsea Pensioners stealing the show
The beard, the smile, the plethora of medals — this Chelsea Pensioner stole the hearts of all he met at the show.
4. The most colourful garden on show at Chelsea 2023
Of all the florists, gardeners and gurus, this fabulous display was put together by the Parks Department of Birmingham City Council.
5. The great and the good, everywhere you look
From A-list actors (not least Dame Judi Dench) to stars of previous generations you’d barely thought about for years (among them Britain’s former Olympic 100m champion Linford Christie), celebrities are so plentiful at the Chelsea Flower Show that sheer weight of numbers mean that they can go about their business with barely more than the odd raised glance in their direction.
The exception: HRH The Princess of Wales, whose appearance at the show caused a mini-stampede towards whichever garden she happened to be heading for at any given time.
6. Limitless ways to drain your bank account
Chelsea is as much a shopping opportunity as it is a flower show, but this year the ‘best in show’ in terms of retail therapy was a close-run thing. Right up there are this giant carved stone replica of the Sphinx and the 15ft-high horse you can see in the background off to the right. Both can be made to order by outdoor furniture maker Andrew Martin; expect to pay around £20,000.
7. SW3 x Game of Thrones
If modern-day reproductions of ancient sphinx and horse sculptures isn’t your thing, how about the driftwood animals of James Doran-Webb? They’re something of a Chelsea institution, with show goers always keen to see what each new year will bring. The answer in 2023 is an astonishing dragon, placed high above the crowds with a wing-span which must have been at least 20ft. Amazing.
8. All choked up
Now this is something we never saw as kids while wandering down at Surrey Street Market in Croydon of a Saturday afternoon.
9. Chelsea camouflage
Yes, there were people inside. Yes, they were still able to move around. No, they weren’t being dive-bombed by pollinators. And no, we didn’t manage to persuade them to go and pose beside the stall in picture 10.
10. Your stall can be any colour you like, so long as it’s pink
11. Time to take a seat
Dragons weren’t the only spectacular wooden creations on display: these gorgeous benches in one of the balcony gardens looked as comfortable as they are beautiful. But have they been polished and finished so much that they’ve begun to lose some of their natural joy?
12. The orchids you’ll almost never see in the wild any more
The stunning orchids on display at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show weren’t just delicate and beautiful; they were also part of a reminder that orchid varieties are some of Britain’s most endangered blooms.
13. Unspoilt natural beauty done right
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the weeds-and-rubble garden named best in show in 2022 — much to the chagrin of our columnist Alan Titchmarsh — there were endless displays of natural-looking flowers. Sadly, many were disappointingly similar: at least half a dozen seemed to be made up almost entirely of cornflowers, alliums and ox-eye daisies. The best, though — such as Sarah Price with The Nurture Landscapes Garden — managed to mix up colours, textures and sizes in an effortlessly gorgeous display.
14. A mini-Manhattan made of flowers
The best single flower at Chelsea? It’d be impossible to choose one over any other, but this magical display of ‘Manhattan Lights’ Lupins really was breathtaking, looking for all the world like a miniature version of the Chrysler Building.
15. A new lease of life for Georgian (and Louis XIV) garden sculpture
Several stalls at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show focused entirely on selling garden antiques. They were absolutely irresistible. Somehow a weathered, battered, chipped and lichen-covered statue of a lion (or a similarly-aged bird bath, or water trough, or similar). You might pay £6,000 for a nice 18th century piece; but for a garden centrepiece to bring a smile every time you see it, we can understand entirely if you decide to open your cheque book. (Note to the under-40s: a cheque book is what we used before PayPal and VenMo were invented.)
16. Influencers doing their thing
We’re not kidding when we say that this lady climbed her stepladder then proceeded to lean out to the left at such an angle that we were convinced she had to fall off. It was hard to watch — so we went round the corner to get a coffee and a salted caramel chocolate brownie. Thankfully, no crash or scream of pain was heard. She is a true pro.
17. Authentic Korea music
Fascinating that the evolution of musical instruments on opposite sides of the world should throw up a pair of ancient Korean instruments that are, when you look closely, effectively just a huge guitar and a harp. As for what they sounded like? Let’s just say that perhaps they weren’t tuned to the sort of notes Western ears might expect.
18. A coronation-themed gardeny thing
Well, somebody had to do it. And have we mentioned that our Country Life Coronation Celebration Special is still on sale?
19. A game dame
Told you we spotted Dame Judi.
20. Things to make you wonder
Five full minutes staring at this made it no less clear what was supposed to be going on.
21. A royal steed
A hobby horse fit for a king.
22. Roses to die for…
If your screen was scratch-and-sniff, you’d barely believe the staggering aroma coming from this display.
23. …while also upstaging the great David Austin
Cheekily, the rose stall above (and in picture 22) was right next to David Austin’s spot — and, we have to say, outdid it as a spectacle. Pete has come a long way since Eastenders.
24. Hats off
The cloudy weather in London so far during the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show has meant that fewer Panama hats than normal have been on display. But we’ve a feeling these chaps will still sell out by the end of the week.
25. Time for a quick shower
The £100,000 shepherd’s hut on display at SW3 prompted lots of questions: firstly, it feels like that shower screen needs to be a bit more substantial; and secondly, what sort of shepherd would live in a hut like this?
26. The tulips that got stuck in the shredder
Quite what combination of natural variation and gardener ingenuity produced these mesmerising tulips we’ll never know, but anyone who can make a flower with a cut-off jeans vibe commands our respect.
27. The Chelsea Flower Show Medieval Torture Stall®
Okay, so these aren’t giant mantraps, or instruments of cruel punishment from a nearby dungeon: they’re for edging your lawn and paths without having to spend hours digging out trenches for stone slabs.
28. And there’s you without your funfair pop-gun
29. Bubble trouble
Being able to pull off a catsuit made of giant sequins is almost as impressive as the bubble artistry.
30. And finally… there are even some pretty flowers