The road to Chelsea: Communities in Bloom

Welcome to our Co-op ‘Communities in Bloom’ 2021 Chelsea Flower Show exhibit.

The road to Chelsea is never easy but our 7th exhibit was particularly protracted: a global pandemic and several lockdowns, cancellations and delays to the Chelsea Flower Show. We started working with the Co-op in the summer of 2019 but the exhibit was not finally on show until September 2021.

Most people don’t realise the amount of thought, planning and effort, from so many different people, that goes into achieving the final display and this is a record of the journey.

The Co-op were new to exhibiting at Chelsea but took on board the challenges with enthusiasm. Our relationship with the Co-op team, their suppliers, growers and the floristry teams was highly collaborative throughout, despite the delays, a global pandemic and changes of staff and to the exhibit.

It was a pleasure working together and we all felt the exhibit reflected a message of hope for the future and commitment to local communities.

The final exhibit is created through a combination of pre-building and refining the physical structure with careful sourcing and selection of flowers.

Mock-ups enable refinements to the floristry and messaging, together with feedback from stakeholders, before arriving at an exhibit that is ready for Chelsea. A huge amount of planning and paperwork, schedules and timetables lies behind this to make sure we get things right on the day.

February – March 2020: PRE-BUILD & PRE-PANDEMIC!

Building the structure in early 2020

March 2020: 1st MOCK UP before 1st LOCK DOWN

Mock-ups are vitally important to try out ideas with plants and flowers; to let the florists show their skills and explore what works in reality.

Our 2020 pre-build at The Palm Centre in Ham ended shortly after our first mock-up when the pandemic meant Chelsea was cancelled; we, and the rest of the country, were in lockdown.

Everything was put into storage and put on hold until we had the go ahead to restart for Chelsea Spring 2021 ….no wait….. September 2021

Many meetings were held remotely and much discussed, but nothing happened in real life until July 2021.

July 2021: MINI MOCK UPS

Lockdown restrictions were partially lifted in early July 2021. We travelled to Lincolnshire to carry out a number of mini mock-ups with the floristry teams; to explore the changes that had been made and to re-engage with the process and the people involved.

July – August 2021: Back to the Palm Centre

We got the exhibit out of storage at the end of July and restarted at The Palm Centre. We needed to prepare for the second mock-up and make some revisions to the structure because of the changes to the theme.

August 2021: FINAL MOCK UP

The second mock up gave us a chance to see the flowers and plants in situ: to check how they look together and to work out the all-important numbers.

Many changes to the flower choices were required due to the change of season. Our May exhibit would have featured tulips, alliums, stocks and peonies. A September exhibit focussed on delphiniums, hydrangeas, gladioli, sunflowers and snapdragons amongst many others!

We monitored the displays afterwards to see how long we could expect the cut flowers to last.

September 2021: BUILD UP

The Royal Hospital

Build up starts in the Great Pavilion on a Tuesday with everything ready for judging 6 days later. Early starts, careful planning, attention to detail and late finishes.

3 days to put the structure together and 3 days working with the florists.


An intense 3 days making the floral displays, hard work for all and many helping hands needed.

Midnight Sunday: FINISHED AT LAST!!

A late finish on Sunday night at midnight: too dark to check everything is clean and tidy!


Chelsea came and went with its’ usual drama and excitement. Great feedback from judges and visitors… and a Gold Medal made it all worth while!


With careful use of biodegradable floral foam, capillary matting and a hidden water supply, the flowers and plants lasted throughout the 7 days with only the need for minimal refreshing of a few faded blooms.


Final day sell off at 4pm is a great Chelsea tradition! We sold the flowers for charity and were left with very little as you can see!


After the Sunday sell-off the show closes to the public, but we stayed on to dismantle the exhibit. We recycled most of the unwanted timbers, recycled the green waste and returned artefacts and furniture from the exhibit.

All the potted plants were gifted to two horticultural charities: Roots & Shoots and the Fircroft Trust. The climbing frame and slide, pencil fence, picnic table and bench are all heading to Co-op Academy Schools.

Pleased to see so much go to good homes.

With grateful thanks to everyone who worked on the exhibit: too many people to mention by name.
It really is a collaborative effort!

Co-op working with their flower suppliers
Flamingo Flowers, MM Flowers, JZ Flowers:
The florists and growers who provided the wonderful flowers and floral displays.

Follow the link to see more photos of the completed exhibit:

Chelsea 2021 Communities in Bloom

August in the garden: orange, purple and pink

August is the month when early summer’s green flush is over. As we swelter, here is an eclectic selection of flowers, with a concentration on hot oranges, purples and dark pinks, that are looking good even in the heat, and providing high summer gorgeousness.

Clockwise from top left: R. Burgundy Ice, Chippendale, Soul, Lady of Shallot, Darcey Bussell, Lark Ascending, Happy Piano, Jazz & centre: Princess Anne

Most roses are still going strong, after their first flush in late May. There are so many stars but particularly beautiful are:

R. The Lady of Shallott whose coppery tones and strong growth flourishes even in shady places.

R. Princess Anne is dark pink and very floriferous, one of the last still in flower in November. Perfect shaped open flowers.

By contrast, R. Burgundy Ice, is dark purple. Slow to establish and prone to blackspot, but the flowers are unusually dark and attractive, it is coming into its own after several years.

[EXOTIC POTTED: We keep in pots to move into protection and keep dry for winter.

Canna love the heat, both flowers and foliage are stunning and the statuesque growth adds height to any planting.

C. Black Tropicana is one of the tallest varieties and really creates impact at 6′ tall.

C. Golden Orb is a gorgeous warm orangey yellow.

C. Happy Julia is smaller than these at only 2′ but flowers prolifically with a beautiful soft apricot orange. Part of the Happy series!

Canna Clockwise from top left: C. Tropicana Black, Gold Orb, Tropicana, Happy Julia, Red Velvet

Agapanthus are always worth including, although it can be difficult to  get lots of flowers, we’re still working on that!

A. Black Pantha is darkest purple

Agapanthus Black Pantha

Late summer wouldn’t be the same without Salvias: now extremely popular: helped by the amazing Salvia border at RBG Kew; visit this if you possibly can for ideas. Our favourites include some tender varieties, which we keep in pots in a dry place over winter. Salvias hate winter wet and will often disappear over winter for this reason.

It’s an enormous genus and hard to choose which ones to highlight as there are so many, so this is not an exhaustive list, just what is working well for us.

S. Nachtvlinder: darkest purple, subtle and elegant

S. Hotlips: red and white and definitely the easiest, toughest Salvia, overwinters quite happily for us.

S. Cero Potosi: lipstick pink, really stands out in the border.

S. oxyphora: tender and exotic, with furry dark pink flowers and delicious herby nectar if you suck the flowers.

S. Peach Parfait: this missed out on pruning earlier in the year and has flowered so prolifically

Salvia Clockwise from top left: Lavender Dilly Dilly, Big Blue, oxyphora, Nachtvlinder, Hot Lips, Cerro Potosi, Peach Parfait

Tender Pelargoniums love the heat and sun and are doing brilliantly this year because of it. We particularly love the scented leaf varieties.

New to us last year is P. Saffron, which has very dark pink flowers, and is so floriferous even in the smallest of containers.

Annuals sown from seed in April/May are really coming into their own as summer progresses.

Helianthus  Harlequin is multi headed in shades of copper, bronze and orange. It’s taller than we expected as it towers over Tagetes Burning Embers, in the veg bed.

Annual climbers:

Ipomea Grandpa Ott: is the most gorgeous iridescent purple, but blink and you miss the flowers! Luckily there are plenty of them. This is the easiest and most prolific of this genus that we have grown, and seeds around for years to come.

Cobaea scandens: exotic dark purple, it always looks mysterious!

Sunflower Harlequin
Zinnias including top left Senorita, top right Queen Lime, mid right Lilliput Orange, mid & bottom left Scabious type & mid bottom:: Queen Lime Red

For cut flowers and sheer gorgeous variety we have

Zinnias, with their stiff  upright habit they don’t need any staking and every sort of shape and colour.

Cosmos are hard to beat and beautiful, particularly dark C. Rubenza and frilly C. Double Click varieties.

Cosmos clockwise from top left: Rubenza, Frizzy Picotee, Double Click varieties, Pied Piper Red

Lastly, and it is hard to know when to stop, as there are so many plants worth including, a mention must go to beautiful Fuchsia magellanica Versicolor, with it dark pink and purple drooping flowers and gorgeous foliage. Quite different from the usual blowsy non-hardy varieties. A more sophisticated plant altogether.

Seashore Garden

The Glasshouse

Before and After: the White Garden