Though we are veteran exhibitors in the Grand Pavilion, the design and build of a Chelsea exhibit is always a huge and challenging undertaking, but it is also extremely rewarding and we have a lot of fun along the way.
Burncoose Nurseries has been displaying plants at Chelsea Flower Show for over 40 years with a monument stand in 1992. Every year we pick a theme and we select the plants that tell the story, and when you see it all come together you get a real sense of achievement because you have been on a journey to bring the original idea into fruition.
Past themes have been: ‘Plants and Their Pollinators ‘, which exhibited plants that have adapted to work with their particular pollinator – the Magnolia and the Beetle, and the Cruel plants and Moth. We have made a ‘Memory Garden’ that told a story of how plants can be used to trigger memories, and provide ideas of planting combinations for sensory and dementia gardens.
‘Trees of the Future’ is the theme for 2023 and it has big focus on sustainable and ecological planting for the future in our changing climate. This collection of trees, shrubs and perennials have been brought together as increasingly important choices for gardeners as we experience longer, hotter, dryer, summers.
‘Trees of the Future’ is our theme this year and it will be an example of sustainable planting for the future. Inspired by the work of Tony Kirkham from Kew, these trees are not native but they have been chosen because they are not hosts to disease, can support wildlife and can survive in our changing climate while also help to combat against it.
We decide our theme in August, then the fun bit starts as we begin to build plant collection. We have a big, double-span, show tunnel, filled with beautiful mature specimens that we add to it every year as the theme changes.
Choosing plants that will be flower in time for the show is a headache. We can see the seasons have changed because some plants that were once perfect for Chelsea like the Enkianthus are now pretty much over. Rhododendrons and Azaleas are hit-and-miss too.
We try our best to hold plants back or bring them on. One year we had trailers of plants parked in different locations on the nursery depending on whether we are trying to hold them back or bring them on, which drove our Nursery Manager mad.
Burncoose Nurseries is a busy mail-order nursery and Chelsea is right in the middle of our busiest time of year. The nursery must continue to run in a smooth and efficient way, and the Chelsea team has to by-and-large operate around that. All of us who work on the Chelsea project carry out other roles in the nursery, which are also time critical.
I am more fatalistic now and think what will be will be when it comes to nature. We can try our best but it’s not in our power to alter it. I think it helps to be flexible with the plants and planting plans. We have a general idea of what will go where depending on growing conditions, but if a plant is not in flower, it’s not the end of the world, and we can choose an alternative. We are lucky to have the whole nursery to choose from.
One of my favourite things of the year is walking down the herbaceous beds and picking the plants we want to use. It is like a painter choosing their colors and pallet.
The load takes a couple of days. We pull the plants we are going to use out. We carefully pack them on to Dutch trolleys, wrap any flowers and protect delicate foliage as much as we can. We have a 7.5-ton lorry that is literally filled from floor to ceiling.
Before I joined the nursery, I had never seen packing like it, it really is extraordinary, but despite how ram-shackle the lorry looks when we open the big door when we arrive at Chelsea, the plants are unscathed and arrive as the show quality plants that we packed originally.
Building the stand is pressured but also extremely fun. The atmosphere is fantastic as everyone is working away building their creations. It is extraordinary the lengths we all go to build these magnificent exhibits that we take down a week later but we all get completely caught up with the vision and thrill to exhibit our plants at the world’s most prestigious horticultural event.
Burncoose Chelsea Show Stand Co-Ordinator.