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Highlights From the First Ever September RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Published on September 28th 2021

by AlanGardenMaster. All rights reserved

A close up of an autumn flower garden
The world-famous Chelsea Flower Show has never been held in autumn before.
This year's show celebrated the season, reflected by a new colour pallet, themes and categories.
So how did this show differ from the usual summer celebration, you might wonder?
I've been a visitor and exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for more than 25 years now, and this show has always celebrated spring.
In the spring show, you'd typically find plants Rhododendron, Azalea, Peonies, Iris and Cherry trees, Roses, Delphiniums and Lupins.
David Austin Roses with Vivienne Westwood models
David Austin Roses stand with Vivienne Westwood models in spring 2011
The autumn show presented the opportunity to display a much more vibrant and warm range of colours. There was also the possibility of a much more tropical theme.
A close up of an autumn flower garden
A riot of autumn colour at Chelsea 2021

1. First impressions

With the Coronavirus pandemic still underway, my first concern was safety.
The show was held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Vast, the showground was on the banks of the River Thames.
As a regular visitor to this show, I found much more space than usual and far fewer people on site.
Entry to the showground and security procedures were not noticeably different.

2. The plants on show

I had expected lots of vibrant coloured Dahlias, Chrysanthemums, Michaelmas Daisies and of course, Ornamental Grasses.

Ornamental Grasses

There were quite a few Dahlias and many daisies of many types, but the Michaelmas Daisies were lacking.
A girl in a pink flower is standing in front of a flower filled cart
A Dahlia filled cart from Dahlia Beach
Like when Dahlias went out of fashion and became 'must have' perennials today, it looks Chrysanthemums are going the same way.
Some great stands were displaying Chrysanthemums, including this spectacular one with approximately 20,000 blooms!
A display of flowers
Spectacular display of Chrysanthemum blooms
A new exhibitor brought in vogue Salvias along with a spectacular stand. In my opinion, these hard-working and easy to please plants should be in every sunny garden!
A pink flower is in a garden
Middleton Nurseries first time Salvia exhibit
Another first-timer was the GreenJJam plant nursery. They showed a massive range of Penstemon, another popular perennial with a very long flowering period.
A pink flower is in a garden
Penstemon displayed by GreenJJam

3. Celebrating autumn

For me, autumn is about harvest, and so I was looking for seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There was some but not a huge amount.
Apples sitting on a table
A market cart of apples from R V Roger
Ken Muir's strawberries filled the Pavilion with their scent at a spring show, but there was no exhibit from them in autumn.
Strawberry fruits
Sweet smelling strawberries
That perfect contrast between show-stopping flowers and stunning foliage was at the show, but you had to search for it.
Many exhibits looked the same as they would have for a spring date.
Dahlias and banana leaves
Dahlia and Ensente banana leaves

4. The Great Pavilion

Usually, the Great Pavilion is stuffed full of plants and people but not this autumn.
The Chelsea Flower Show Great Pavilion
A small part of the Great Pavilion
The Pavilion is a massive space to fill as it covers 12,000 square metres or nearly 3 acres!
There were many gaps between exhibits which gave one the unusual opportunity to see them from a distance. And more to the point, the back of someone else's head wasn't in the way.
Many exhibitors pulled out when the show moved to autumn. But others stepped up and filled some of the space.
Villaggio Verde brought their colossal Olive trees and Italian Cypress to fill the centre of the Pavilion. Together with the street carts, it brought an Italian feel to the show.
Form Plants exhibited huge topiary plants and trees with many effectively under-planted with ornamental grasses.
Trees and grasses in large pots
Large trees and grasses from Form Plants
Raymond Evison excelled even his high standards with his simply superb display of Clematis.
He breeds most plants and, even though the season was late, the Clematis were in full bloom.
A Clematis flower
The new Clematis Tsukiko from Raymond Evison
I was delighted to see Surreal Succulents from Cornwall at their first Chelsea Flower Show. I first saw their great plants and display at the Malvern Spring Flower Festival a few years ago.
As well as a superb range of well-grown succulents, they brought along some exciting new inter-generic hybrids between Aeonium and Sempervivum.
These are called x Semponium
A succulent garden
A great range of succulent and xerophyte plants

5. Discovery exhibits

An area in the Great Pavilion is set aside for education and current issues.
Naturally, the environment featured strongly here. The RHS display encouraged us to think carefully about water use in the garden.
But the display that took the accolade of the Best Discovery Exhibit was David Domoney's with Evergreen. The theme was houseplants and how they change our lives.
An information board
A small part of David Domoney/Evergreen houseplant display

6. New show garden categories

There were new show garden categories at the autumn show this year.
Balcony Gardens
This category aimed to inspire anyone who lived in an apartment and owned a small garden. The displays demonstrated how you could create a beautiful green area, with limited outside space.
A balcony garden
The Balcony of Blooms
It's thought around 3 million people have taken up gardening during the Covid pandemic, and many of these have no outside garden.
These balconies were packed with great ideas to maximise the use of these small areas.
Sanctuary Gardens
With the slower pace of life, the stress, and isolation that has come along with the pandemic this year has shown how gardens have become even more important sanctuary.
A close up of a flower garden
The popular and beautiful Parsley Box Garden just wraps around you!\
Reflecting the harsh winters of Scandinavia, the sanctuary garden from Finland had a very naturalistic slimmed-down plant selection.
A man in a garden
The Finnish Soul Garden
Container Gardens
Small gardens with hard surfaces lend themselves to container gardening.
But many container gardeners are renters. They enjoy growing plants in pots that they can take with them if they need to move!
A close up of a flower garden
The IBC Container Garden demonstrates up-cycling and forest bathing\
Houseplant Studios
The increase in the sales of houseplants during the pandemic has been meteoric!
A store front at day
The Pharmacy of Houseplants is packed with innovative ideas for indoor plants
There seems no end to the interest in sharing our homes with indoor plants.
Plants and pumpkins spill out of this garden studio
Plants and pumpkins spill out of this garden studio

For more on the new autumn categories, read my article on the 10 Trends That Shaped Chelsea 2021.

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