Visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show isn’t all about wafting around sniffing hyacinths and Instagramming roses you know – taking care of the practicalities such as what to wear, how to get there from the tube and, always important in my book, when and where you’re going to eat will all make a visit much more enjoyable.
I was lucky enough to pop down to the show yesterday, and, as well as enjoying some truly magnificent displays of flowers (including a whole wedding chapel made out of them!) I also managed to scout out some practical tips on visiting the show.
1. What to wear to the Chelsea Flower Show
Although there is no dress code, most people I saw were rocking a smart/casual combination. Some people like to treat the event as an occasion to dress up; I saw men sporting jaunty striped blazers and chinos, while many women went for outfits involving one or more floral element (coats, dresses, little jackets – you name it!)
My main advice for choosing your outfit though would be firstly, make sure you wear comfy shoes, because there is a whole lot of walking (some of it on grass) and although you might look lovely, you will regret heels when you’re sinking into the mud.
Secondly, dress for the temperature outside. I visited on a chilly day and it gets seriously cold being outside for hours if you’re not wrapped up warmly. Even the ‘inside’ areas are basically tents open at both ends, which makes them equally nippy. I recommend some kind of vibrant-printed coat if you want to be warm but still feel ‘dressed up’!
2. How to get to there
I certainly wouldn’t bother driving unless you need to. The event is no more than 10 minutes from Sloane Square tube station (which is only one stop from Victoria main line station) and as soon as you exit the Underground there are loads of signs showing you exactly what route to take.
On your way to the event, you’ll be able to admire beautiful floral displays outside some of the shops en route, and, in my case, this car with a crown. Anyone else want one?!
Oh, and of course, make sure you say ‘good morning’ to any Chelsea pensioners having an early stroll around their gaffe.
3. What time to arrive
Sorry late starters – I would 100% recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid the crowds, as it does get seriously busy. The show actually opens at 8am, and I’ve already decided that, if I’m lucky enough to return next year, I’m going to get in there with the early crowd.
Certain gardens get particularly rammed (for example, you had to queue a while to look at the see of poppies gracing this year’s show). So, do a bit of research online before you arrive and then you can march straight to these main attractions at the beginning, leaving you free to take a more leisurely pace for the rest of the day.
4. What to eat and drink
Okay so obviously I didn’t get the opportunity to sample all the tasty delights of the Chelsea Flower Show food stalls. What I will say is, if you can possibly manage it, try not to sit down for a coffee or eat lunch at the ‘standard’ times, because the queues are LONG (we went for an 11am coffee and cake and the poor girl I was with was queuing for ages!)
If you can stagger it a bit, that might help. Alternatively, you can book into one of the show’s fancy restaurants for a meal (you might have to remortgage your house) or take a more budget-friendly approach and bring your own food, making the most of the on-site picnic areas.
5. What to take in your handbag
Well, firstly, do not take a huge bag that you’re going to regret carting around all day. However, there are a few bits I’d recommend taking, including an umbrella or sunglasses/SPF (depending on the weather!), some sort of camera, a notebook if you’re a really keen gardener and most importantly, cash!
I made the mistake of taking a bag that was so small I couldn’t even fit my purse in it (#ladyproblems), meaning I couldn’t indulge in all the gorgeous shopping stalls that border the show. I did, however, get to visit the Heyland & Whittle stall to meet owners Paddy and Ursula. I already knew the brand for its lovely hand-cut soaps, which I sold many moons ago when I was a journo intern and working in Fortnum & Mason every weekend and evening to pay rent on my Brixton hovel! However they now have a huge range including dreamy diffusers, an outside candle that repels bugs (genius) and a range of ‘Clementine and Prosecco’ scented products that have done phenomenally well, which is no surprise really given that every girl my age is obsessed with the bubbly stuff.
There were loads of other stalls too, selling everything from flower-themed cards to practical gardening tools and outdoor furniture. And what will the gardeners themselves be buying? According to one exhibitor I chatted to, some Gold Leaf winter gloves – he told me he had pruned 2,000 roses and they didn’t have a scratch on them, which I think it a pretty good selling point!
6. What to do
Well, obviously look at EVERYTHING, go shopping and if possible, quaff some Champagne.
But my main tip is this: speak to people. There are so many exhibitors there with such an extraordinary level of knowledge that even someone who has very little knowledge of gardening (cough cough, me) can get a real insight just by chatting to people about what they do. Green fingers, here I come…