This May, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea will once again bloom as the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show returns for five days of floral-themed festivities. From Tuesday 23rd to Saturday 27th May, exhibitors and guests alike will enjoy inspiring displays and cutting-edge design themed around new season plants and flowers, all held within the grounds of the historic Royal Hospital Chelsea.
If you’re heading to the event, or considering attending next year, read on for our guide to visiting Chelsea for the Flower Show. With the help of jeweller and Chelsea local Tessa Packard, a designer who shares our passion for creating beautifully made pieces, we’ve answered your essential questions: from dress code requirements to dining destinations and the local haunts you simply won’t want to miss while you’re in the area.
There will be 25 gardens to peruse this year, with common themes including health and wellbeing. Several of the gardens will showcase inclusive green spaces designed to help socially deprived communities connect with nature, as well as gardens created with the intention of supporting patient recovery in hospital. In Land of Healing: Korean Mountain Light, Korean designer Jihae Hwang will highlight how a rewilding project in her home nation has helped prevent a number of plants from becoming extinct, including more than 1,000 medicinal species. Elsewhere, the wheelchair accessible Horatio’s Garden has been created by Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg for patients recovering from spinal injury; it will be relocated to Northern General Hospital in Sheffield after the show, to benefit patients and staff. This is part of a new initiative at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which requires all gardens to have a plan for life beyond the event, whether that means they’re relocated in their entirety or rehomed in parts.
In addition to 12 Show Gardens, there will be a series of smaller Sanctuary Gardens dedicated to embracing the wellbeing benefits of outdoor spaces, as well as a number of gardens included in the All About Plants, Balcony and Container categories.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show doesn’t have a specific dress code, but guests are usually well-dressed – among frequent visitors celebrities and members of the royal family, who are always impeccably turned out. However, as the event takes place largely outdoors, it’s worth thinking practically when choosing your outfit. Leave your floor-length ballgown at home, and consider packing layers, sunglasses and something waterproof. Day dresses, skirts and trouser suits are popular choices for women, with many choosing to pay homage to the occasion with floral prints and botanical designs. "If I had to put together a last-minute outfit I would probably dive into Zara in Duke of York’s Square," says Packard. "That place has everything."
As is the case for women, there are no rules for what men should wear, although guests typically lean towards a smart-casual dress code. We would recommend leaving your favourite three-piece at home, and instead pair a polo or collared shirt with chinos and a lightweight jacket or blazer. Select footwear that is both practical and stylish, such as boots, brogues or boat shoes.
If it’s been raining, the ground will be soft and uneven underfoot. You’ll also be on your feet for most of the day, so comfortable, flat shoes are key.
Hats aren’t necessary at the Chelsea Flower Show, however, if the sun is shining, you may want to bring one with you. In this instance, size does matter – select a modestly proportioned style to avoid obstructing other people’s views of the gardens. On this occasion, fascinators are too formal.
The Charity Gala Preview marks the start of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and takes place the evening before the official opening date (this year, that's Monday 22nd May). It is an exclusive and very popular event, with tickets sold each year by ballot. If you’ve been lucky enough to receive one, you should observe the official dress code: a cocktail dress or a suit with an optional tie. This event is outdoors, so keep an eye on the forecast and come prepared for wet weather if needs be.
There will be several fine dining options to choose from, including Spring Garden at Chelsea, set in the woodland grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and serving dishes from renowned chef Skye Gyngell; The Drawing Room, which serves a floral-themed breakfast and champagne afternoon tea; and The Ranelagh Restaurant, where dishes are cooked using locally sourced meats, sustainable seafood and seasonal vegetables. Several of the dining destinations can only be booked as packages, so visit the RHS website ahead of arrival to avoid disappointment. For light bites to grab on the day, there are cafés, food courts and picnic areas dotted across the event space.
If you fancy dining beyond the boundaries of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, you’ll be in the perfect area for it. On the nearby King’s Road and the surrounding streets, you’ll find lots of eateries ranging from boutique independents to more well-known names. “I’m a big fan of Stanley’s; they’ve done a great job with the space and the food is pretty good too,” says Packard. “For fine dining, my partner and I love Le Colombier on Dovehouse Street. It’s wonderfully antiquated in its décor, the service is great, the food is uncomplicated, and the tables are nicely far apart. I always order the steak tartare with chips.”
Yes – while guests are asked not to bring their own alcohol to the event, there will be several marquees serving refreshments, including a dedicated champagne bar.
If cocktails are more your thing, Packard recommends scouting out the local area for tipples worth raising a toast to. “I love Big Easy; it’s Americana overload but the margaritas are strong, cold and generous in size,” the designer says. “For something a little sexier and more subdued, Azteca is nice. I like to have one mojito at the bar before moving on to dinner.”
The easiest way to travel to the event is by tube. Sloane Square Station is a 10-minute walk away and is served by the District and Circle Lines. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs shuttle buses from both London Victoria, which is the closest train station, and Battersea Park, where public parking is available – this must be pre-booked with your tickets. If you are using a sat nav, enter postcode SW11 4BY, which will take you to the park’s Rosary Gate entrance. Fancy arriving in style? Nothing beats hailing one of London’s traditional black cabs.
For those coming from out of town, this is the perfect opportunity to explore the sights of Chelsea. Book a hotel close to Sloane Square, where you’ll be within walking distance of the show and among some of west London’s best shops, restaurants and bars. Luxury hoteliers The Hari, Belmond and Jumeirah Hotel & Resorts all have outposts in the surrounding area, but for something a little more intimate, Packard recommends “11 Cadogan Gardens; it’s got a design-led vibe and it’s a boutique, which I really like.”
“The Chelsea Physic Garden is definitely one of my favourite hidden gems in the area; the café is great for afternoon tea too,” says Packard. “I also love the gardens of St Luke’s Church (they have a very sweet snack bar there). Another little Chelsea gem is Bibendum, which is great for oysters and white wine. I’d also recommend popping into the Saatchi Gallery or the National Army Museum.”
Look out for Chelsea in Bloom as you wander around – the free festival runs in tandem with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and sees local shops, restaurants and hotels transform their façades with magnificent floral displays. If you’re left feeling inspired, pop into our flagship store on Fulham Road to make the most of our Bunched by OKA service – we have resident florists in all 13 of our boutiques, who can help you create your own arrangement using our collection of faux flowers and fauna. Chelsea Flower Show, here you come.
Hero image: The RNLI Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022.