The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is without a doubt the most famous horticulture exhibition in the UK. Each year it attracts over 500,000 visitors ranging from royals, to keen horticulturalists and plant scientists alike.
This year I visited RHS Chelsea for the first time with the UKPSF Executive Officer, Mimi Tanimoto. Although the weather forecast predicted heavy thunderstorms, Mimi and I remained undeterred to make the most of the day, strategically planning our visit to the outdoor gardens in the morning when the weather was dry and sunny.
Our first stop was at the M&G Investments garden, sponsors of RHS Chelsea, where the BBC was filming Chris Beardshaw giving that day’s coverage of the event. Following this we browsed the other entries including the gold award-winning No Man’s Land Garden by The Soldier’s Charity, and the RNIB’s double award-winning Mind’s Eye Garden.
My clear favourite was the RBC Waterscape Garden designed by 27 year old Hugo Bugg, the youngest garden designer ever to achieve a gold medal for a show garden at Chelsea. The garden’s design reflected global water issues, depicting the contrasting themes of storm water and drought. I was particularly taken by Hugo’s use of cracked earth effect flooring to resemble severely parched land.
As the grey rain clouds began to loom, we went into The Great Pavilion to investigate the Discovery Zone exhibits. At the top of our list was the bronze medal-winning Fera stand, “Plants need passports too!” I thought this was particularly important as it showed visitors the close links between horticulture, plant science and policy – something which is often overlooked.
The stand was arranged inside a shipping container complete with plant-themed airport signs and oversized plant pests (such as the Oak processionary moth and the Citrus longhorn beetle) crawling out from the beautiful foliage and suitcases. Here we learnt about the different ways in which plant pests sneak into the country (e.g. as stowaways in people’s luggage or by hitching a ride on ornamental plants imported into the country) and the resulting havoc they can cause.
Next on our list was a visit to the Rothamsted Research silver medallist stand which had the theme of “Petals and Pests”. Here we spoke to Darren Hughes who explained how petal colour and flower smells can be used to exploit plant-pest interactions and reduce the need for pesticides. For example, the team had dyed the petals of turnip rape (Brassica rapa) plants from yellow to red in order to deter pollen beetles. This works because the beetles haven’t evolved a red colour receptor in their eyes so they essentially can’t see red flowers.
We were also shown a glass case containing a rose plant, aphids and ladybirds. Darren explained that despite hundreds of aphids being put on the roses in the morning the majority had been eaten by the ladybirds, leaving the roses uneaten by their pesky pests!
We finished the day by exploring the rest of the stunning displays in The Great Pavilion. There was so much to take in, from enormous elephants made from orchids to specialist stands with every shape and size of bonsai tree imaginable. It was a fantastic day of plant overload, giving me plenty of inspiration for ways in which to improve my tiny patio back in Bristol!