Cold Unseasonable Weather Affects Chelsea Flower Show


Photo: B. Alter: Chelsea 2006

Baby it's cold outside and the flowers are feeling it. The Chelsea Flower Show, the queen of all flower shows, is feeling the pain. Due to open on May 24, 2011, garden designers are getting cold feet.

It's been a strange year: a cold winter, the hottest, sunniest April on record and little rain. The result: all the flowers are ready and blooming about three weeks too early. What to do?


Photo: B. Alter, Chelsea 2009

It's part of the pattern of changing weather here in the UK, with winters getting stormier and colder and springs and summers hotter and drier. Watering bans are becoming more common as the rains decrease. Types of flowers that can be grown here are changing too, with more tropical varieties being introduced.

The planning for a Chelsea Flower Show garden starts well in advance and designers depend on certain flowers and shrubs being in their peak at the time of show. However this season has been bright and sunny and now temperatures have dropped. Explained an RHS staff: "The really cold winter in December stimulated a lot of trees, shrubs and bulbs, and then the weather turned mild from January onwards started incredible growth, especially in wisteria, flowering cherries, rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and fruit trees."

So horticulturalists are resorting to all kinds of tricks--and last minute re-designs--to keep their gardens in the running. Not to mention their reputations, and chance for the much desired gold, silver and bronze medals that mean instant fame and fortune in the English gardening world.


Photo: B. Alter, Chelsea 2008

It's ingenuity and quick thinking and an extensive botanical knowledge that will count in this race against. time. Designers are substituting varieties and introducing new ones, which will make for a more interesting show. Said one: "This year the Chelsea classics will have already flowered and we'll be seeing a lot of flowers that traditionally bloom in June or July." So there will be a totally different palate of colours as some may be forced to substitute the Chelsea usuals such as tulips and peonies for salvias and roses, which naturally peak in June.

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Photo: B. Alter, Chelsea 2009

One bulb company has had to borrow refrigerator space from a neighbouring farm to hold back the 2,000 bulbs that it cultivates for the show. They have to store them at 2C to keep them from flowering too soon. Additional colour may be supplied by butterflies, which are also arriving much earlier owing to the balmy spring and appear to be thriving.

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