The Chelsea Flower Show, held in England every year in May, is considered to be the trend-setting event for garden and landscape design. Producers of ornamental plants both exhibit at the show and are contracted to grow plants for the impressive show gardens.
Palmstead Nurseries in Kent, UK, has grown plants for many events and shows, including the Olympics, and various RHS shows, including Hampton Court and Chelsea; with over 50 years of experience in supplying wholesale plants for trade, Palmstead Nurseries has also been involved with many other large scale city projects, including the regeneration of the gas works at Kings Cross, The Barbican and many more.
Chelsea Flower Show is important to the nursery because it offers the chance to work with many inspirational figures, be part of a well-respected and massively important institution, and contribute to some innovative, imaginative, and ultimately sustainable concepts that can be brought out of the show and into people’s own gardens. It is this influence in shaping how gardens look and the plants that become popular that makes Chelsea Flower Show such an important event.
Client expectation and the ability to meet or align with designers’ creative vision is often the most challenging factor for Palmstead Nurseries. Working with living things and the weather can present great challenges, which, although outlined at the beginning of a project, can be an issue when the time comes to plant a show. This is particularly true for Chelsea Flower Show, which is open for one week only, and all plants are expected to be at their best.
Preparing in advance can reduce the pressure of delivering plants at their prime for major events. How far in advance before the event Palmstead Nurseries can prepare will depend on the project and the customer, and the time of year. Sometimes preparation starts up to a year in advance or more. Sometimes the lead times are short and do not allow for long-term preparation.
A new theme is developing for Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Responding to global concerns about biodiversity loss, attention is turning to the contribution of urban environments in providing space for nature. Conversations about rewilding cities and creating resilient landscapes include the choice of plants for gardens and how they are managed.
At present, Palmstead Nurseries have not really experienced a huge amount of change in plant palette/choice in relation to climate change; however, it is inevitable that change will come. Currently, the nursery does look to promote more drought-tolerant plants and more UK-orientated planting. This is especially important when looking at biosecurity and temperature extremes like those experienced in the UK in 2022.
As city authorities consider their commitment to increasing trees and green space, attention turns to finding available space, and many cities find that a large percentage of green space belongs to private gardens.
Of the 1.569km² of Greater London, 24 per cent is private garden space, of which approximately 57 per cent is vegetated cover. The capacity of this private space to provide a habitat for nature may be enhanced by the judicious selection of plant species and combinations and how they are managed. These choices are influenced by the interaction between garden designers and growers, and Chelsea Flower Show is the stage upon which this interaction is played out.
In the experience of Palmstead Nurseries, most designers are well-informed and knowledgeable. The nursery does sometimes get asked for their advice, and their comments allow the designer to adapt their approach if required. How the 2023 theme of ‘wilder’ design at the Chelsea Flower Show will inspire behaviour change is of interest across disciplines. It may inform policy and practice in cities that promote the concept and the reality of urban rewilding.
This article first appeared in the May 2023 FloraCulture International.