I always thought this was one of the biggest flower shows in London but after catching a Better homes and Gardens special the other night, turns out its not, but don’t let that deter you, its still one of London’s most prestige flower shows and occupies a good couple square kilometers of the Royal Hospital park. As a testament to this, tickets sell out almost as fast as Big Day Out (used to), so getting in early to save disappointment is a must. Tickets are available by date and by time with the cheaper ones being later in the day or towards the end of the show dates.

Sloane Square is the closest tube stop but there are plenty of buses and other unofficial cash-inners doing regular runs. Walking down Lower Sloane St, take the right into Royal Hospital Rd. to get to the main entrance and collect your tickets, otherwise you will end up having to circle the whole block as there are no other entrances (one on the south western side but its for members and media only).

Some very handy tips are listed here which will help you through the day but in general it’s a sea of people everywhere you go and a little bit of a maze to get around.

Main Avenue

Main Avenue is the first place to start with larger companies and stores displaying and selling products and flowers. Smaller vendors with crafted items and garden ornaments branch off from this along with fully recreated garden entries, these ranged from rustic to ultra modern minimalistic styles. Unfortunately getting a nice wide shot can be quite difficult with the crowd and little ol Mavis doesn’t help by elbowing you in the ribs or obscuring your shot with some wayward pointing.

The definite highlight is the Great Pavilion which houses hundreds of displays of cut flowers, new varieties, exotic plants and exhibits on how to go completely over the top with them. Some of the simplest displays were just as eye catching as the elaborate thanks to some clever arranging.

One of the first things even the most casual observer will notice is the variety of colours, think Hyacinths don’t come in magenta, think again. The next observation is the countless new hybrids and completely new varieties available and not just thanks to the UK’s flower friendly climate. For the most part, viewing is rather easy in the sense that similar varieties and countries’ natives are grouped together. There was even an Australian natives section, sadly amongst all the colour and flair it looked more like the backyard of my old share house after not mowing it for 9 months than a flora display.

The Bonsai exhibit stood out in an understated simplistic way but was dwarfed in size, colour and sheer “Whoa! That would’ve taken FOREVER” with a ceremony display of Thai flower arranging in the shapes of animals (elephants and fish) and temples garnished with further origami style weave crafting of dried leaves and reeds.

Further creativity was on display with the finalists of the Chelsea Young Florist of the Year competition, where entrants had to create a jacket made from or heavily cover in intricate live flower designs.

Back outside, you’d have more luck finding a spot to eat, rest or use the bathroom at a music festival than here. Long queues and people who don’t function well in crowds (or are too old to care) are a problem but if you come prepared with some snacks or don’t plan on staying more than a few hours it wont be enough to ruin your day. Even better when you realise you’ve gone the whole event without getting hayfever! 😀

Photo tip: A mid range zoom macro lens should cover all your needs for this event. A wide angle may be helpful for the bigger displays and “getting it all in” if you manage to squeeze your way to the front. Ambient light is still plentiful even in doors thanks to semi opaque ceilings so flash wont be necessary.

Next up, we hit the shops at Hammersmith and Covent Garden.

Complete Chelsea Flower Show 2011 photos here

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here