What's a flipping silver gilt when it's at home? Why does a show garden differ from a artisan garden? Do I have to wear white linen trousers to get in? Will they know the only flower I've successfully kept alive is a flaming Katie from Tesco? These are the questions you will face if it is your first time at RHS Chelsea. In this blog I'm going to look a little bit at the marketing behind the show and share first time tips and advice for novices. Don't worry if it all else fails, just retire to the champagne tent and start asking everyone 'which was your favourite plaaaaant darling'?
The marketing behind RHS Chelsea Flower Show is pretty epic, I mean let's face it, you probably have heard of it even if you've never stepped inside the pavilion marquee in a pair of white linen trousers and trilby hat (backpack optional). The press coverage starts months in advance but by this point the tickets are often a sell out and most people will catch up with it on the BBC or forego the pleasure altogether.
This year was my first time and luckily for me, my mother was an RHS member so we went on Members Day (not the same day as the Royals unfortunately as would have loved to have chatted growing a vegetable patch with Prince Harry). What's amazing about it is the scale. Within the grounds of the Royal Hospital is extraordinary and there's thankfully plenty of behind the scenes videos and coverage to demonstrate the organisation that goes into each garden.
It is in some respects an elitist game with even the tickets making sure their is a distinct order of play here, and there were grumblings about the lack of diversity and even the lack of female judges. I myself thought there were few millennials hanging around and also the small numbers of people on social media vs the number taking photos.
The RHS has schemes to encourage young folk and a photo competition to get more people sharing, plus I spotted an Instagram takeover, but still a long way to go I think. This is certainly a niche audience and i was surprised how many things I needed to understand to appreciate it. So here's my beginners guide to RHS Chelsea Flower Show from my experience in 2016
Order of Play: So as I said there's the Royal day, a VIP day, members day, and then errr normal folk.
Timings: You can buy tickets for full days, from 3.30 and 5.30. We went for 3.30 and it's just enough to get round the show gardens and pavilion plus artisan gardens and for a glass of bubbly yah before leaving at 8pm when it closes. Arrive earlier than your ticket time as queuing can be pretty long but efficient.
Clothes: What to wear for Chelsea Flower show? Flats. Trainers or closed toe shoes or you risk someone standing on your feet. And pay NO ATTENTION to Princess Catherine/Kate Middleton in her beautiful coloured elegant dress and coat or any of those BBC presenters in their floral numbers and suits, Chelsea Flower Show is casual. I went in trainers, jeans, leather jacket and scarf - we went on a randomly freezing day - but something like this is practical! As Alan Titchmarsh says, umbrellas are pointless, it's too busy.
£10 guide for you sir? Don't buy the guide unless you like a catalogue of adverts. Instead there are marshals everywhere with printed maps to guide you.
Research: Have a look before you go at what you want to see. With all the crowd surf it's easy to miss something. Try the BBC and RHS and make a list.
Plaaaaaants - Said p-l-aaaaaants. You are allowed to ask questions, write things down and take photos so take your camera and a charger. You can also buy stuff, but if you're on limited time I would swerve that.
Show Gardens - The much coveted show gardens are well worth a visit, they will be super busy! There are also more boutique/bespoke Artisan gardens that don't get top billing but are well worth a look - like the one with the little mini in it 🙂
Sponsors - It won't take you too long to work out that the gardens have big bad-ass sponsors - like banks and such the like. At least they are spending that cash in a nice way.
Gold: Everyone wants a GOLD! Ok so there are a few tiers. There's Gold, Silver Gilt and Silver. The designers can put so much effort in that it can be a disappointment to get a Silver Gilt in some scenarios. Yikes - more on RHS website.
Getting in: You'll come from Sloane Square (Circle & District Line) in Chelsea and it is quite organised and civilised. Go around half an hour before your ticket time as you can spend time queuing to get in - which when you're on the clock can be annoying!
Drinks: There are places to eat and drink with Champagne, Pims and good old fashioned cups of tea being top of the bill. Pricey but always a luxe experience to have Champagne in a plastic flute in the middle of all those gardens!
Right, that's all for now, make sure you keep an eye on RHS website for 2017.