In the Garden, People, Places & Spaces, Travel Notes

My London Trilogy – Part I: The Chelsea Flower Show

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The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show (as it’s formally known) is the penultimate mecca for gardeners young and old, pro or novice and really, anyone who just loves flowers.

So imagine my thrill when on my book tour last fall in Atlanta, I received an email from Margot Shaw ( the wonderful founder and publisher of my favorite magazine, Flower ) inviting me to England for a week in May 2015, to of course include Chelsea. To make it even more seductive, she was collaborating with Charlotte Moss, whom I’ve long admired, and who would be celebrating her delicious new book Garden Inspirations, as well as her passion for decorator Nancy Lancaster (a Virginian, as is Charlotte.)

Staying at the Sloane Square Hotel, just three blocks from Chelsea’s location on the Thames, made logistics so easy, especially for an 8:30am start. The weather held up (except for one rain while we were, fortuitously, lunching under a tent,) the mass crowds had not yet appeared and I had the luxury of zipping along, snapping away madly. My first impression? A wonderful, compelling variety of gardens that didn’t take work to understand and provided quick takeaways for inspiration.


All in all, Chelsea looked even spiffier, more inviting and keyed to my personal interests, than eight years ago when I first attended. So here you go, a sampling of my favorites; unfortunately space doesn’t permit the inclusion of all the glories that make up this extraordinary show. And if you can’t make it across the pond to Chelsea, come to the Newport Flower Show in June (the “American Chelsea,” as we like to say, given the shared outdoor settings and selection of gardens.)

This week was so exhilarating and magical that I’m going to splurge and do three blogs capturing this glorious trip.

Enjoy! And congratulations to the winners.

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden

Awards: Best Show Garden and Gold


From top garden designer, Dan Pearson, a jaw dropping achievement that is one of the largest gardens ever at Chelsea. The design is inspired by two areas on the grounds of the famed stately home, Chatsworth, a re-creation of their nineteenth century Rockery and Trout Stream. Indeed, the effect of this wild garden was achieved by using a “meadow roll,” grown off site, laid like turf and then used as a naturalistic base for additional plantings. Mmm, gardeners take note…

The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden

Awards: Silver-Gilt and Best Fresh Garden


A soaring metal female sculpture, at the head of the DNA helix-shaped pathway, symbolizes the strength of all those fighting breast cancer. In a touching juxtaposition, the dark water in the pools ripple every 10 minutes to highlight the shocking fact that 1 woman every 10 minutes will be diagnosed with breast cancer, while ribbons of soft pink plantings represent optimism and convey the hope and promise of cancer research.

Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities

Award: Gold


The choice of a formal geometry symbolizes the physical infrastructure of a community, while vibrant plants denote social elements within…diverse in origin, color and character but working together to form a successful community.

Following the Show, the entire garden will become the centerpiece to a new community project in East London.

The Telegraph Garden

Award: Gold


Inspired by the De Stijl movement in avant-garde modern art, this is the most intimate and inviting of the Show Gardens. Strong rectilinear geometry with vibrant color blocks and textural relief emphasize the tenets of this Dutch art form from the early twentieth century.

Personal Universe Garden

Award: Silver


Designed as a private space for families with children, this small creation works from the premise that children’s inquisitive minds can be stimulated organically through contact with nature. The fascinating waterfall concept is worthy of a second look.

And meanwhile, under the Grand Pavilion, with its horticultural riches…

Birmingham Cathedral

Awards: Diamond Jubilee and Best in Show in Grand Pavilion

A breathtaking exhibition, which invited a slow circle around to be sure not to miss any details…and I still came back twice.  The designers didn’t forget a thing, including the pews. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

A wealth of Japanese maples…

japanese maples

Hydrangeas of all colors and shapes

Chelsea Flower Show

And a charmingly funky garden shed with a riot of colors outside its doors.

Wyndford Farm

And my favorite vendor…

Chelsea Flower Show

One last gardening side note…who knew there was such a thing (at least in the UK ) as a robotic lawn mower? Husqvarna, which sponsored  “The Time in Between” garden, has had them available since 1995. But even more interesting to me, as a topiary lover, might be their  battery-powered hedge trimmer, which is more lightweight than gas versions and therefore less tiring on the arms and easier to hold at awkward angles.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

6 thoughts on “My London Trilogy – Part I: The Chelsea Flower Show

  1. Bettie, It is always a real treat to see your web pages. Full of interesting observations and great pictures. Each time I look at it I learn something new about gardening. You gave a great report on the Chelsea Flower show. Almost like being there. Green Thumbs to you. Caterine

    1. Thank you, Cat. Only wish you’d been with me. How’s your “cat” along the wall?

  2. Bettie,
    Are you sure we were on the same trip? How did you manage to see so much more than I did? What fabulous photographs, and such attention to detail. You’re amazing! I got to go all over again through your blog. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Such fun being with you, Nancy. I’m reliving this fabulous trip, too, over and over. Weren’t we lucky?!

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