Chelsea Flower Show 2023: embracing the wild

Chelsea Pensioner Billy Knowles lends a hand to transform the grounds of the Royal Hospital for the return of the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which opens to the public on Tuesday 23 May, running until Saturday 27 May. They are pictured on The Peter Beales Roses stand within The Great Pavilion.

The Chelsea Flower Show, a yearly spectacle that brings together fashion, flowers, and fungi, has taken a sustainable direction and approach this year with its ecological theme of embracing the wild. The concept of ‘wild gardens’ is nothing new and has grown in popularity over the past decade, and this year’s show takes it to a whole new level.

Carly Rogers: Dreamscape. Floral Art. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023.

Numerous show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show embrace native plants, trees, and a predominantly green color scheme, complemented by the inclusion of nettles, dandelions, and other flora. Additionally, these gardens showcase a commitment to sustainability with the use of salvaged and upcycled materials. In contrast, the Great Pavilion bursts with vibrant colors, adding a captivating spectacle to the event. Notably, this year’s show also welcomes first-time exhibitors, such as the Caley Bros, who specialize in mushroom cultivation.

The Fauna & Flora Garden. Designed by Jilayne Rickards. Sponsored by Fauna & Flora and Project Giving Back. Show Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Stand no 339.

This year’s Chelsea Flower Show showcases a surprising twist to the gardening tale as weeds take center stage, appearing in a third of the show gardens. In a bid to challenge the negative perception surrounding these plants, certain horticulturists are advocating for a rebranding effort, suggesting terms like “weed heroes” or “superweeds” instead. However, this initiative has faced criticism from some gardeners, including presenter Alan Titchmarsh, who accuses the judges of the Chelsea Flower Show of capitulating to environmentalists overly focused on rewilding.

The Fauna & Flora Garden. Designed by Jilayne Rickards. Sponsored by Fauna & Flora and Project Giving Back. Show Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Stand no 339.

One standout garden that captured the attention of attendees including Dame Judy Dench was the efforts of Fauna and Flora garden sponsored by Flora & Fauna and Project Giving Back. The garden resembles the Central African landscape, complete with eucalyptus and banana trees, as well as an authentic gorilla nest and served to commemorate the charity’s 120th anniversary and the success of their gorilla conservation work dating back to 1978. Additionally, the garden aimed to underscore the significance of untamed areas in British gardens, demonstrating the impact of nettles, brambles, and weeds on animals and insects both in Africa and the UK.

The Centrepoint Garden. Designed by Cleve West. Sponsored by Centrepoint and Project Giving Back. Show Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Stand no 322.

This departure from the norm adds an exciting twist to the overall experience. The vibe is very much of walking through enchanted meadows and sustainable oasis. Think less manicured lawns and more wild, untamed and free. Less lavish and colourful and more green and unplanned (although clearly in this context it is very carefully planned!) I love the concept although the execution can come accross as a bit ‘samey’. Amidst the sea of green, there are a few vibrant bursts of color in planters, but the art of intricate planting design seems scarce. The show as a whole exudes a do-good attitude that extends beyond the gardens themselves and speaks of a change in society and culture.

Monday 22nd May 2023.Picture Credit Charlotte Graham .Picture Shows..In an historic first for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which opens tomorrow, Manoj Malde, who designed the vibrant and colourful RHS and Eastern Eye Garden of Unity, married his partner Clive Gillmor, on the garden this morning. The unjudged RHS Feature Garden celebrates the richness in the unity of cultures, traditions and backgrounds as a thriving community space, where gardening brings people together.

In a historic moment marking inclusivity and love, a couple celebrated their union at the Chelsea Flower Show, becoming the first same-sex wedding ever hosted in the event’s 110-year history. Manoj Malde, an ambassador for inclusivity at the RHS, joyfully wed his husband Clive Gillmor in a traditional Hindu ceremony held in the enchanting Eastern Eye Garden of Unity. This milestone serves as a powerful testament to the evolving spirit of acceptance and diversity within the prestigious flower show. As Bob Dylan famously said, the times they are a-changing and Chelsea Flower Show is changing too.

Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden. Designed by Wild City Studio: Designers Jon Davies and Steve Williams. Sponsored by Centre for Mental Health and Project Giving Back. Show Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Stand no 330.

In addition to the visual splendor and environmental consciousness, the Chelsea Flower Show recognises the profound impact of nature on mental health and well-being. The incorporation of gardens that encourage people to get outdoors serves as a testament to the therapeutic benefits of spending time in natural surroundings. Studies have shown that engaging with nature, whether through gardening, walking in green spaces, or simply immersing oneself in natural beauty, can have positive effects on mental health, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. By highlighting the importance of outdoor experiences and the restorative power of nature, the Chelsea Flower Show contributes to a greater understanding of the vital connection between our environment and our mental well-being.

The Princess of Wales Kate Middleton visits RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. She is pictured with school children for the first RHS Chelsea Childrens Picnic

The Chelsea Flower Show’s inaugural children’s picnic was graced by the presence of the Princess of Wales, who joined students from various participating schools.

Samaritans’ Listening Garden. Designed by Darren Hawkes. Sponsored by Samaritans and Project Giving Back. Show Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. Stand no 325.

Overall the show is less romance and more realism this year focused on sustainability, well-being and ecology above aesthetics. Think less Instagram curation and more raw creativity. A new chapter for this iconic event that has been running for 100 years.

Lucy Vail Floristry: .Another Blooming Heatwave. Installation. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023.

Didn’t make it to Chelsea Flower Show this year? Check out the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival on 4 – 9 July 2023. More info and tickets here.