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Our Golden Experience At Chelsea Flower Show - Creating A Tropical Floral Arrangement

Participating in the Chelsea Flower Show is a dream for many gardeners and designers, and in 2018 it became a reality for us. As we stood amidst the grandeur of one of the most prestigious horticultural events in the world, we were filled with anticipation, excitement, and a touch of nervousness. Here’s a glimpse into our journey and the unforgettable experience we had at the Chelsea Flower Show. 

Application & Acceptance

After submitting photographs of previous work and information about awards we had won we received the exciting news that our application to exhibit at Chelsea had been accepted! We were over the moon but with only 8 weeks to the show there was much preparation to be done.

The Road to Chelsea

Preparation for the Chelsea Flower Show begins long before the event itself. For months, we were immersed in planning, designing, and fine-tuning every aspect of our design. From conceptual sketches to selecting the perfect plant materials and flowers, every detail was meticulously thought out. Our class title was "Tropical Dream," and after much deliberation we decided to name our exhibit "A Glimpse of Paradise." The idea was to have some of the floral designs partially hidden by large tropical foliage, giving viewers tantalizing peeks of vibrant colors and exotic blooms. 

We spent countless hours experimenting with various colors, flowers, and foliage. Our mock-up, was about seven feet tall and four feet wide, but it was imperative that we used the tropical plant material in our practice run to really see how the design  would look in reality, not just on paper, and to make any necessary tweaks.

A week before Chelsea, we were ready to go. However, we faced a logistical hiccup: our stand had a square base, but the base given to us by the Chelsea Flower Show was round. A trip to the local DIY store and a bit of joinery magic later, we had a round piece of wood with a hole in the center to fit over the stem of the stand, making it look seamless.

Our next hurdle came from with our flowers ordered from a tropical wholesaler, but the Saturday before the show, we got a call that our flowers were held up in customs at Manchester Airport due to a missing signature from Holland. Sunday came with no resolution, and we had to rethink our design as we drove down to London. Just as we were about to re plan our whole design, we received a call saying the flowers had been released! 

Arriving at the showgrounds was a surreal experience. The Royal Hospital Chelsea grounds were abuzz with activity as exhibitors from around the world assembled their stunning displays. The sense of camaraderie among the participants was palpable, with everyone sharing a common love for horticulture.

We were due to start our designs at 10pm, working through the night to be finished by 6am.

Creating Our Floral Design Exhibit

After months of planning, we were finally ready to bring our vision, “A Glimpse of Paradise,” to life. Following our briefing in the Floral Design Studio, it was time to put our weeks of meticulous planning into action. For the first few hours, we were ahead of our carefully planned time schedule. However, staging overnight, we had not anticipated how much slower we would work as the early hours of the morning approached.

We are fortunate in working together that we approach projects very differently and have different strengths and skills. Debbie focuses on detail, while Louise’s strength lies in being a big-picture person. This complementary dynamic held us in good stead with this design. Stepping back from a design and taking breaks is crucial when assembling a large floral arrangement. It helps to reveal issues that need to be addressed.

Using large tropical leaves in this design meant that both the actual balance and the visual balance needed to be spot on. With only a couple of hours left to complete our design, Louise noticed an issue with the visual balance. It was going to be quite a gamble to rectify it in the time we had left, but once you see an imbalance, it’s impossible to leave it as it is. So, only a short time left we re-arranged a substantial portion of our design and thank fully it worked. Phew!

The large tropical palms created a stunning framework. We nestled in dendrobiums, textural celosias, and pincushion proteas.

Heliconias added a dramatic impact, while glossy, smooth anthuriums provided a restful contrast to the rough textures in the design. The lush plant material gave an overall feeling of wellbeing. To add a touch of intricate detail, we delicately painted the rippled edges of the livistona palm leaves with orange to repeat the orange in the tropical flowers, bringing rhythm in to the design.  We completed the exhibit by placing the title on a small circular board with the wording written in various seeds. The round board replicated the circular base, symbolizing continuity and nature's curves over angular lines.

It had been both exhilarating and exhausting watching our design come to life and we hurriedly gathered our things to leave the design studio before the deadline, only to find our car had a flat tire! It was amazing that we even made it to Chelsea!

The Show Opens

When the gates of the Chelsea Flower Show open to the public, the energy is electric. Thousands of visitors eager to explore the imaginative and exquisite displays. Seeing people admire and engage with our exhibit was a proud moment for us. The positive feedback and genuine interest in our design was particularly heartwarming.

One of the highlights was interacting with fellow exhibitors. The exchange of ideas, tips, and stories enriched our experience and provided us with fresh perspectives and inspiration. It was a reminder that the world of horticulture is vast and wonderfully diverse.


Judging and Awards

Returning the next day, we peered through the glass front of the design studio and were still pleased with our design. Nervously we went in, knowing the judging process at Chelsea is rigorous. Louise remembers kneeling to read the card underour exhibit... we had won a Chelsea gold medal on our first attempt! We were elated beyond words.

" Our "Glimpse of Paradise" had truly lived up to its name, with one of the judges commenting, "it simply does what it says on the tin." Later, a friend asked what marks we had received. We had no idea! We eventually found our mark sheet and realized we had scored a perfect 20 out of 20. We spent the rest of the day in a happy daze, enjoying the delights of Chelsea.

Reflections and Takeaways

Participating at the Chelsea Flower Show was an incredible journey filled with learning, creativity, and camaraderie. The experience pushed us to innovate and think critically about our design choices. It also connected us with a global community of like-minded individuals who share our passion for floral design and sustainability.

Reflecting on the experience, the challenge of working under pressure and adapting to unforeseen circumstances brought out the best in us. Our complementary strengths and the ability to step back and reassess our work ensured our design was as harmonious and visually striking as we envisioned. Despite the potential setbacks, the satisfaction of seeing our completed design made all the hard work worthwhile.

As we packed up our display and bid farewell to the Chelsea grounds, we carried with us a treasure trove of memories and experiences. The Chelsea Flower Show is more than just a competition; it was a celebration of nature, creativity, and the relentless human spirit that seeks to cultivate beauty and harmony in the world.

We look forward to returning to Chelsea, with new ideas and even greater ambitions. Until then, we’ll continue to draw inspiration from the magic of Chelsea and forever cherish the achievement of our gold medal design, a special accomplishment we were delighted to achieve together.

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