Garden Destinations: Transformed by Chelsea

As a young and enthusiastic gardener (perhaps “obsessed” is more accurate), I didn’t travel much. Our family vacations were always centred on the interests of my young son and although nature was often involved, traipsing around gardens were not his idea of a good time. Instead, I subscribed to English garden magazines (Gardens Illustrated and The Garden) for inspiration, and visited local gardens and garden events.  I was immersed in the gardening community and involved in garden club activities, so I wasn’t horticulturally deprived. But like many others, I had to wait until mid-life to spend my vacations doing what really pleases me. Thanks to those British magazines, my dream was to experience the Chelsea Flower Show in London, England. Eventually, England and the Chelsea Flower Show became my first “garden destination”. I was transformed by Chelsea and so was my garden style.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is without a doubt the garden world’s most anticipated event. Garden lovers come from all walks of life and from all over the world. At Chelsea the latest garden trends are revealed by the world’s top designers and growers. This show is not the largest show in the UK (Hampton Court is bigger), but there is a buzz and an atmosphere at Chelsea that is unmatched anywhere else. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere, and yes, it can get crowded at times, but no one seems to mind. You never see any miserable faces (even when it rains).

That first time, the show gardens were a magnet for me. They oozed inspiration one by one. Being able to view different garden styles side by side made it easy for me to hone in on my preferences, helping me to figure out what was “me.” Up until then, I had liked everything I saw and my garden at home reflected this. It was a bit of a hodgepodge (I’m afraid I am predisposed to hodgepodge, but at least now I know it).

It’s true; we can’t grow everything the Brits can. But chances are if you fancy a particular colour combo or garden style, you can find plants at home that can be substituted to create a similar look or feel.

In the Chelsea Flower show marketplace, row upon row of vendors entice you with everything you can imagine…from tools to garden ornaments to furniture. The locals drag carts behind them loaded with the newest in plants and garden gadgets. Alas, (and maybe it’s a good thing) the airlines these days have weight restrictions to help save me from temptation.


For plant nuts, the marquee is the place to be. Here, the growers’ stands display specialty plants – Streptocarpus (my passion), lavender, foxgloves, roses, chrysanthemums, hostas, vegetables and much, much more. Some of the displays are living works of art. It’s easy to while away a few hours here.

As for floral designers? Inspiration knows no bounds.

Every garden lover should see Chelsea at least once. Chelsea is celebrating 100 years in 2013, making this is an especially good time to visit with many special events planned.

For years I have travelled with Donna Dawson of and Since 1998, she has been taking garden lovers to worldwide destinations and now I help her run some of her tours. Visiting Chelsea with Donna typically involves a week or so overseas when many of the world’s great gardens are at their best and not far from London.

For 2013, Donna has put together an exciting itinerary that includes Paris, France (for Monet’s garden at Giverny and more) and England for the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as other choice gardens. How can you resist? For more information, check out

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