Chelsea Chop and the Flowershow

24. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
Categories: english, Seasons, Spring | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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Our Garden, Chelsea 2007 Chelsea Flower Show © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Our Garden, Chelsea 2007

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Auf Deutsch lesen – This week I would have been in London for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, but as with all large events worldwide, this too was cancelled. It has long been the main event in the gardening calendar for many gardeners.  The very first Great Spring Show took place in 1862 at the Society’s Gardens in Chiswick in West London, but in 1888 it was moved into the city at the Inner Temple by the Thames.  In 1913 it moved once more to the Royal Hospital Grounds in Chelsea along the river embankment. Only during World War 1 and 2 were the annual shows cancelled, until now.

MMedienrummel auf der Chelsea Flower Show © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Medienrummel auf der Chelsea Flower Show

Ever since, the Royal Horticultural Society has been organizing this annual show with its spectacular nursery displays of perfect blooms and immaculate showgardens designed by the top names in garden design. They always look like they’ve been there for years, whereas in reality three weeks earlier, the entire area was just a London Park with grass and tall trees

Virtual Chelsea

As every plant is grown to absolute perfection, and every last detail in the gardens is planned to be immaculate, Nurseries and designers start preparing a year or more in advance for it. So, when the RHS took the decision to cancel the event this spring, much work had been done already, materials sourced, plants prepared.

Screenshot rhs online youtube
Screenshot RHS on Youtube

But as this is such an important date in the calendar of anybody interested in gardening, the Brits are making sure Chelsea is not forgotten this year. The Website of the RHS has been offering daily internet events this week, with talks, demonstrations and virtual tours of gardens of the gardening great. On social media like Twitter, Instagram but also on Youtube there has been a wealth of postings under the hashtags #MyChelseaGarden and #virtualchelsea.

Struggling industry

Aurikel Spezialisten: Eine der viele kleine spezialisierten Gärtnereien © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Auricula specialists

Chelsea is the place where growers launch new plants and companies present new products that have been painstakingly developed over years. It is the place to see the latest trends in design and planting, the place to meet up with friends and colleagues and exchange information and ideas. With nurseries and garden centers closed for many weeks during a critical time in the gardening season, this year has been a very difficult year for many. Growers of herb-, vegetable- and bedding plants were forced to destroy their stock as they could not sell it. Few growers have the facilities to offer mail order, so some nurseries organized not very lucrative local delivery services at great cost and effort. But at the end of the day, no grower likes to throw away a plant so they try anything they can to find them a suitable home.  

Blackmore and Langdon: Die traditionelle Rittersporn und Begonia Gärtnerei hat an jeder Show teilgenommen seit 1913!
Blackmore and Langdon – in Chelsea since ever!

Chelsea Chop

Rückschnitt oberhalb eines Blattes - Chelsea Flower Show © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Cuting back above leaf

Many of you will rightly think all this has little to do with you. But it is important to remind you that it is Chelsea time, as the only aspect of Chelsea that can take place this year (and in your very own garden!) is the famous Chelsea Chop. The Chelsea Chop is the trimming back of summer and autumn-flowering perennials by about one third to delay the flowering, to make them flower on slightly shorter stems, or to make the plant more branched. The reason for its name is simply that end of May is a good time to do this, and as Chelsea always takes place at the end of May, it is an easy way of remembering the time you should be doing it.

Reducing flowering height of perennials

Sedum gleich nach der Rückschnitt © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Sedum after cutting back

I have stopped Sedums from becoming too top-heavy and falling apart; shortened the flower spikes of tall perennials such as Veronicastrum or Helenium, or sculpted larger groups of Phlox, so that those at the front flower a little lower, making it a more attractive whole.

For more information

If you are unsure how to go about it, have a look at James der Gärtner’s film on Youtube on this subject:  . If you want to experiment more, there is a very helpful book that explores the subject at great depth, sadly only in English. “The well-tended perennial garden” from the American author Tracy DiSabato-Aust, published by Timber Press is a very practical book that explains which plants will respond well to this treatment, and what effect you will attain.

Have a look at your plants and see if any would benefit from a little help and have ago. You simply cut back the top of the plant by about one third, to just above a leaf. From there it can re-grow and make a new flower bud. Be bold – after all it is only one seasons’ growth that will be affected, next year they will grow back to their usual height. You will not kill the plant and it will still flower – maybe a little shorter, maybe a little later! Have fun!

Phlox-new shoots © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Phlox-new shoots


Detail our garden 2007 - Chelsea Flower Show © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Detail unseres Gartens auf der Chelsea Flower Show 2007
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