If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show, congratulations. At the time of writing there are only £99 public day tickets left. Note for next year: apply earlier.
Approach the 101st flower fest with the right preparation and you’ll enjoy yourself much more.
Plan your visit: there’s a whole section of the RHS website for just this, so take a look; saves clogging up the pathways thumbing through the show catalogue. (Do buy a copy if you haven’t already ordered one with your ticket.) Plan how to get there, and the best entrance to use. The Routemaster shuttle bus from Victoria is fun. Decide what’s most important to see, and plan your route. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Are you there for the shopping; to gaze on the ranks of perfect orchids in the Great Pavilion, to sip champagne and people-watch, or to check out this year’s most-talked-about gardens?
Check the weather: showers and sunny spells are forecast, with a high of 16°C. So you’ll need a raincoat or a waterproof poncho, as well as sunglasses
Wear sensible shoes: you’ll be doing a lot of walking so choose comfortable, supportive shoes that keep out the wet; the going can get squelchy.
Go hands-free: you’ll most certainly be juggling a camera and catalogue; maybe a notebook and pen, so take a rucksack or across-the-body bag. Pick an outfit with plenty of pockets – useful for stashing the camera/catalogue/notebook while you’re picking up plant lists.
Take pictures, lots of pictures: you might think you’ll never forget how the all-white meadow-style bed was planted, but visual fatigue does set in. If you want a comprehensive record of what was there, take a photo of the garden’s namepost before you capture the garden itself. That way, you know what was where, and by who.
Don’t have a memory lapse: once the camera’s out, you’ll be amazed at how many photos you just must take. Take a spare memory card and batteries, and if you’re using your mobile, delete photos from the phone so you’ve got plenty of room.
Take an antihistamine: never had hay fever? There’s always a first time. At Chelsea it’s four seasons in one day: summer bedding, spring bulbs, trees and grasses are all at their peak. all pumping out pollen simultaneously.
Even if you haven’t displayed an immune reaction to the fluffy darts of the London plane tree, which pepper the site before the gardens are built, how do you know that none of the exotic specimens from South Africa (in the Sentebale garden) or Barbados (in the flower-arranging pavilion) will set your nose running and eyes streaming? And that’s before the ill-chosen perfume clashing with the scent of the flowers gets up your nose.
Be patient: Everyone wants to see those gardens. There are a lot of people there. Over 160,000. So expect polite jockeying for position to get the best views, and queues for the loos.