Traditionally, when both Londoners and visitors to the UK capital think of gardening, springtime and Chelsea together, the one – and only event – that automatically pops into their heads is the Chelsea Flower Show. And for good reason. An annual stop on the society calendar, in addition to being (not just one of the UK’s but) one of the world’s pre-eminent gardening showcases that’s open to visitors, or those lucky enough to get it to it and score tickets, it’s pulled in crowds of trowel-and-spade-loving punters to the elegant environs of this spot of West London for decades upon decades now. But has that all changed? Well, perhaps not – entirely – but there’s certainly a new kid on the block now… and it means business.
Sure, the Chelsea Fringe, which likes to run concurrently with (or, at least, overlap) its bigger ‘competitor’, may only be in its seventh year and isn’t exactly looking to dethrone the latter, but it’s undoubtedly an event that’s, well, a fast grower. Excuse the pun. That said, this is a festival that, given how it’s grown and naturally expanded, isn’t exactly the competitor to the Chelsea Flower Show it could be seen as; it’s much more an alternative.
For instance, this year perhaps more than any more, the Chelsea Fringe (running from Saturday 19th May to Monday 27th May) will be taking place across a whole number of different venues and settings – great, then even if you’re not staying at one of the hotels in Chelsea UK like the San Domenico House hotel Chelsea. Indeed, it’s set to include a brilliant blend of horticultural happenings, community celebrations and public spectacles. Just to start with.
More than mere gardening
What does that mean? Well, generally speaking, The Fringe likes to see itself as a very 21st-Century, organic sort of gardening-based festival; the emphasis is on harnessing and spreading the enthusiasm and energy that whirls around gardens and gardening, rather than enabling relatively well-off peeps to stare longingly at unrealistic ‘show gardens’ (although, sure, there’s a place for that too). Instead, this mostly city-wide cornucopia of events seeks to encourage that sense of freedom and opportunity visitors and participants might find inside to then go home and express themselves through planting, harnessing growth and gardens.
To that end then, its organisers likes to say of the Fringe that it ‘explodes out of the showground geographically, demographically and conceptually’. Impressive and rather poetic words, but frankly, true; when you consider its many and various events cross the gamut, covering and combining, as they do, everything from fairly standard and broader gardening to art and music to child-themed activities, with the likes of grassroots community garden projects to avant-garde art installations regularly thrown in for good measure.
Moreover, and very admirably, there’s an open-access principle in practice across every event and every venue, which means that, yes, within reason anything goes – that is, so long as gardens, flowers, veg-growing or landscapes are at the centre of what’s going on. Basically, it encompasses so much – each year, its contributors (giving of their own time for free) create installations, events and experiences, exhibits, talks and walks to delight, intrigue and spark the minds, eyes and noses of all visitors.
To find out exactly what’s going on the at Fringe this spring – be sure (and be warned!), they’ll be myriad things – check the official website; you’re bound to find something that piques your interest, especially if you’re particularly green-fingered! And, even if not, why not just pop along to one of the events anyway; you never know what you may get out of it unless you do…