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It’s May and its Deja vu as Oxley’s prepare to exhibit our luxury outdoor furniture at the RHS Chelsea Flower show for the 28th time on stand SR14. This year’s show will take place from 24th – 28th May.
For 28 years we have been privileged to witness the amazing logistical planning and all the countless hours of human effort that go into putting on this carnival of English garden design brilliance. Two central London football pitches are transformed in 6 weeks into the world’s best garden show which is open for less than a week. A month later you would never know it had ever been.
The physical environment of the show is unique. It is held at Royal Chelsea Hospital, the retirement home of ex British Army soldiers, known for their distinctive red coats. These veterans quite rightly want to see what is going on in the grounds of their home as the show build-up happens. As massive rocks for a display garden’s waterfall are installed there will often be a small group of red coated observers offering, from a safe distance, jovial advice to the crane operator. The display gardens, planned by the very best garden designers, can only be built in the available timeframe by highly experienced landscapers, who have pre-planned every hour of their time on site. Every plant for these gardens has been carefully grown over the winter and spring months so that it is looking its absolute best when planted.
The show generates joy and excitement on a daily basis. As the gate opens at 8am, people rush to see the favourite gardens that they have seen on the BBC. On the first Tuesday there is the annual performance of the medal presentations for the best gardens generating enormous emotion for the winners who have worked so hard for so long.
The changes over the years have been gradual. In 1993 when we first exhibited there was a particularly hot Member’s Day. As the temperature climbed, the loudspeaker announcer informed the crowd that it was permissible for members to remove their jackets (but obviously not ties). Since then, there have always been those that dress up as if going to a Buckingham Palace ball. These are contrasted by those that will visit dressed up as a radish or some other vegetable. What was very much an English crowd has changed dramatically over the years and now visitors come from all over the world.
Outdoor furniture fashion has changed more noticeably. When we first showed our cast luxury aluminium furniture the competition was mostly dark green or white plastic. By the end of the 1990’s, one show had 27 exhibitors selling teak garden furniture (we counted). But fashion goes around and most furniture exhibitors are back to selling plastic furniture, now beige or grey. There are many more exhibitors showing wonderful garden sculpture than in the early days and the central marquee, which was once a sweaty mess, is now a brilliant exhibition space for all the extraordinary horticulturalists from around the world.
Some things about the show never change. Every year there is the same incredulity about the cost of a jug of Pimm’s. At each show the crowds part to give the TV camera crews easy passage and every year the Gala evening preview is a cocktail party on steroids. While hundreds of thousands of people visit this honeypot of activity, a few streets away, you wouldn’t know the show was on, it is absorbed by London.
Exhibiting our wonderful luxury aluminium outdoor furniture at the RHS Chelsea show for so long has been hard work and extremely time consuming but we still look forward to it every year. It’s uplifting to be an active participant and to watch so much talent creating the show in such a very short time, in such a very small space.
The English at our best.
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