By Leanne Cloudsdale

Is there anything more British than being a back-seat driver? The popularity of television shows like Bake Off and Masterchef confirm the view that ‘us Brits’ like nothing more than chipping in with our own ‘expert’ opinion – from the comfort of the sofa. We’re a nation of amateurs, masquerading as the dog’s bollocks. Happy to be the ones judging, rather than ‘doing it’ ourselves. And, before you frisbee your phone across the room and yell, “But how does all this
relate to the Chelsea Flower Show?” Let me explain.

When there are prizes to be had and accolades to be won, the elbows get sharpened as much as the secateurs. The Chelsea Flower Show vibe has remained largely the same since it started in 1913 – which is, essentially, the best of horticulture descending on the poshest of London’s postcodes, for 5 days of nodding, eye rolling and genuine frivolity. A peculiar mix of pomp and grit, it’s an opportunity for window box gardeners and landed gentry to bump shoulders and cast aspersions over someone else’s geraniums.

Gardening is a topic we can all relate to. That dead Yukka from IKEA you never watered. The smell of your grandparents' greenhouse when the tomatoes were ripening. The surprising weight of a growbag when you decide it’s time to grow up and plant some vegetables. Point is, you don’t have to be a posho to appreciate the true meaning of nature and outdoor toil. Council house, country house, it’s a universal language, a leisure pursuit – part of our collective psyche.

A microcosm of the U.K. with Pimms, plants and Ainsley Harriot saving a Boomer from drowning after she fell into one of the water features (a true story) – anything can happen at the CFS. Aside from a couple of gaps between the two World Wars and Covid lockdowns, this garden centre on steroids never fails to attract the crowds. Held on a compact 11 acre site on the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital, there’s nothing quite like it. Spitting distance(ish) from Buckingham Palace, with a marquee big enough to get a mention in the Guinness Book of Records, the green-fingered cognoscenti prune and prep for years in advance to stand a chance of winning an award.

Landscape architect and friend of Aubin, Will Dutch, is currently fine tuning his first ChelseaFlower Show exhibit. The design process began in 2022 (and not a gnome in sight! Slipping one of those into your floral border is guaranteed disqualification). Asked about why he thinks the CFS has remained such an evergreen part of British culture, Will explained, “The Chelsea spirit is all about showing off the pinnacle of horticulture, from specialist growers who devote their lives to one family of plants – to the big main avenue show gardens that everyone comes to see. The best thing is walking around, listening to the passing comments that people make; the supercritical and the ‘Ooohs’ of amazement. It’s the one place you can see the world’s best designers showing off their talents. It gives everyone a sense of being somewhere special and you can kind of pretend – if you want to – to be a bit posh for the day!

The camaraderie and friendliness has just been amazing. Everyone there - designers, growers, contractors are there to put on the best show possible for the public. No one is really competing against each other – the competition element is set up in a way that you are competing against yourself, you are judged on your own brief and how well you conform and execute the garden against it.”

It’s man vs mower in the heart of the capital. An inner-city village fete mega-mix with Kate Middleton judging the jams. A place where you don’t have to speak Latin, but it helps. On the last day, CFS organisers pay homage to the most British of all hobbies – bagging a bargain. A bell rings at 4pm and all hell breaks loose as plant-fanatics charge about on the hunt for cut-price Bonsai trees and a Koi Carp. A cocktail of Blitz spirit and total chaos, just like Blighty itself.