Story and photos by Brenda Bolton, Mobile Master Gardener — Gardeners love to visit gardens, and no vacation seems complete without one. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to visit the oldest and most prestigious of the world’s famous flower shows: The RHS Flower Show at Chelsea in London.

Now is the time to buy your tickets for the May 22-26 event. Being properly and stoically British (“there is always next year, dear”), Chelsea limits ticket sales to preserve the show’s character. Imagine: 157,000 tickets can go fast, and prices increase in April. Chelsea is sponsored by the U.K. Royal Horticultural Society, the oldest horticultural nonprofit in the world. Book your tickets at:


The earliest RHS show was 1862, but in 1913 it moved to the lovely grounds of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea on the Chelsea Embankment of the Thames. Proceeds benefit the medical and housing programs there for military retirees, known as England’s Pensioners or the Men in the Scarlet Coats, who cheerily greet visitors. The scarlet red poppy, a wildflower on the roadways, is the floral symbol for the Men in the Scarlet Coats.

It is said that a designer of any repute must “do Chelsea” and an award winner reaps enormous benefits. Perhaps this explains why the display gardens at Chelsea represent the voluntary efforts of hundreds and donated display elements, ranging from plants to mature trees to actual constructions such as solariums, potting sheds and real stone walls. A single large Show Garden can cost $350,000, all donated.

The entire show is planned and prepped in off-site nurseries and greenhouses for a full year, but the show is raised “from the grass up” in one month, most of which is done in the last eight days, with breakdown amazingly accomplished in two days!

The magnitude of the effort is staggering. The show covers 11 acres with a 3-acre pavilion housing almost 100 breathtaking displays of worldwide plants both familiar and exotic. There are 10 or more Show Gardens, more than 15 smaller Artisan Gardens — which are theme-designed and known for creative innovation — and others such as the 2018 special small-space urban gardens, from terraces to street gardens. The current RHS program focuses on sustainability and “Greening Grey Britain,” a reference not to little old ladies at tea, but rather to reducing man’s paved footprint.

More than 200 vendors offer anything a gardener can desire, from gardening tools or shoes to plants and botanical art, or those gorgeous English and European stone and ceramic urns and even greenhouses and stoneworks. Each vendor display is its own work of gardening art.

The 2018 theme is “Glorious Gardens and Beautiful Blooms.” The photographs accompanying this article on from the 2016 Chelsea Show illustrate the overwhelming sensory experience that is Chelsea.

Come back in two weeks to enjoy a Master Gardener Chelsea photo journal, and on dismal January days, remember that spring is near, so Chelsea can’t be far away. UPDATED: READ PART II OF THIS STORY HERE.


What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting
When: Thursday, Jan. 11, 10:30-11:45 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Stevia, presented by Jack Lecroy, Urban Regional Extension Agent

What: Mobile County Master Gardeners 2018 Spring Seminar
When: Saturday, Feb. 17, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
Speakers: Susan Haltom, Restoring a Historic Garden (author of “One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Homeplace”) and Carol Reece, Ordinary Plants/Extraordinary Stories
And more: Door prizes, silent auction, delicious box lunch, beautiful garden setting!
Cost: $35, non-refundable advance reservations are required.
Deadline to register: Feb. 9. Send checks payable to MCMG to 2221 Dogwood Court N., Mobile, AL 36693. Call 251-209-6425 for credit card purchase.

(Photo / Brenda Bolton) “The Garage Garden” won the 2016 Artisan Garden President’s Award at the RHS Flower Show at Chelsea in London. For more photos from the show, see this article on