Review of 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017'

Let's make one thing clear: I am not really that much of a gardener but I do like gardens and enjoy puttering about in one if one is to hand. But as far as recognising different types of plants I am afraid I am quite hopeless and my capabilities are sub-amateur at best. Having said that, I have always wanted to visit THE most famous plant show of them all – The Chelsea Flower Show – and living in London made this dream much easier but some planning is definitely in order for a visit…

The weather during my visit was quite sunny and the ground was dry so I was very lucky. The amount of things to see here is absolutely incredible and the flowers are amazing. The trade stalls in the Grand Pavilion are many times just as impressive as the show gardens surrounding (and, of course, both are judged for prizes).

We arrived early at just before 9 am after having queued for about 15 minutes on the surrounding streets (then briefly at security) and ended up staying until after 7 pm so it was a very long day and we only just managed to walk past even stand and exhibit. The food was OK though I wish we had known about the specialist food vendors in the forested area before going to the large, extremely crowded and rather pricey “Rock Bank Restaurant & Food Court” (we had to share a table and it was very stuffy inside).

The show gardens were, as always, magnificent though often they are difficult to see with the crowds around them. Probably best to visit these first in the day then the pavilions and stands later…The space inside the Grand Pavilion is quite generous so it is very seldom you feel crowded.

The flowers. Well, what can I say? Absolutely mind boggling the different flowers on show and the huge varieties. What was also nice to see were a few displays on fruit and vegetables as well (the potato stand was incredible showing a LARGE number of different types of potatoes I had no idea existed; stand 207, “Marrice & Ann Innes” sponsored by Thompson & Morgan).

The display of strawberries from “Ken Muir Ltd” (stand 146) was incredible - To see the number of strawberries and the varieties, quite impressive.

My highlights were the large display from “Walkers Bulbs@Taylors” of Narcissus at stand 110 with the amazing display of cacti (most in bloom) nearby at “Southfield Nurseries” (stand 111).

Even Birmingham City Council had a whimsical and very impressive stand (214) - “A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley”.

“Bowdens” at stand 160 even had the “Australian State Coach from the Royal Mews” on display in the middle of their amazing array of hostas…

The show gardens were all spectacular with the dancing water (having speakers under the containers) an early eye-catcher - “The Zone Ball Listening Garden” (stall 291).

As was the “Welcome to Yorkshire Garden” (stall 321) complete with waves and beach…

The gardens are generally so incredible that you can't believe they were just put in place for the show, looking more like they had been there forever. Most are so natural and beautifully presented.

There were some disappointments such as “The Linklaters Garden for Maggie's” (stand 2) which was accessed rather awkwardly up some stairs (to look down into the walled space) but was ultimately quite boring. The “M&G Garden” (stand 320), consisting of several giant walls of water was spectacular to look at but had little to do with plants and more to do with architecture.

The Linklaters Garden for Maggie's

The music at the Band Stand was not all that great but it was a place to sit down after a lot of walking all day. It was nice getting away from the massive Grand Pavilion and environs to walk amongst the trees.

The flower arranging exhibit (“Floral Design Studio”) beside the restaurant and food court was interesting but did not really wow. Most of the day there were massive queues to get in but later in the day we were able to just walk straight in.

All in all, a great visit. Tickets are a bit expensive but if you love flowers and plants you will be in heaven. Brave the crowds and wade on in…

Tips and Tricks

Here are some of my thoughts if you want to visit…


Tickets are incredibly difficult to come by and typically sell out a month or so in advance though best availability is generally for the weekdays and I would not bother for the sell-off day (Saturday) unless you are just interested in stocking up on plants as, of course, many of the exhibits will be taken down by then and the hours are also reduced. It is members only on Tuesday and Wednesday. You can get tickets from 3:30 and 5:30 at reduced cost but remember the show is huge so I highly recommend you get the full day ticket so you can make the most of the show. The show hours are 8 am to 8 pm on all days except for Saturday when the show closes at 5:30 pm.

Getting Around

The show is enormous and the grounds not so much so it is often extremely crowded. Get a show guide (£10) and have a look at the map to get your bearings.

The Great Pavilion dominates the site (off to your right as you enter the site) with show gardens and trade stands surrounding it. In the woods to the east are a number of stands, a few more show gardens and additional places to eat.

The Great Pavilion

Food and Drink

Restaurant and Food Court

Some have said that you should bring your own food and drink but I think this is probably a bit of over-kill and just means extra stuff to be carrying with you (never mind potential hassle with security as you enter the site). There is food and drink on site on the far side of the Great Pavilion with the large(ish) “Restaurant and Food Court” and a small area of stalls to the south-west but I would actually suggest you give this a miss and go into the woods on the east where there is the “Artisan Food Market” and a number of other stalls which offer more options at better prices and in nicer surroundings.

Band Stand

Many sit in the seats at the Band Stand, listen to the music and have their lunch…A break from the show.

General Tips

A few general things to keep in mind:

  • TALK to the people on the stands - They know what they are talking about and they are VERY helpful
  • DO make sure you have a look at the show gardens - They are amazing so make sure you have time to see them all. You can always buy things on-line so you don't need to see all the trade stands but the gardens are unique
  • DO prepare for whatever weather - It can be hot, it can be miserable, be prepared for both. It can be very muddy in the trees if it has been raining…
  • DON'T MISS the “plants of the year” at the RHS booth in the Grand Pavilion - These are often truly amazing.
  • DO pick up a brochure for the best gardens (they all have them) - If you want to be reminded of a truly amazing display.


The pictures we took are too numerous to include in this post but I have made them available on FLICKR if you wish to have a look…


Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-05-25

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Location: London (England)

Address: Royal Hospital Chelsea Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4SR ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Sloane Square

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7881 5200


Home to the famous red-coated “Chelsea Pensioners”, the Royal Hospital also plays hosts to many events particularly in the large fields on the grounds between the hospital and the river.