These are the real gardeners, with green fingers and green blood in their veins. They come in crowds from the Tube station, straggling over Chelsea Bridge laden with bags filled with sandwiches, rolled umbrellas, notebooks and cameras.

At 6.45am yesterday, as Royal Horticultural Society members await their first sight of the Show, the ranks are swelling. Gardeners rise early, thrilled by the cold, chill earth, the spectral flowers, the awesome nature of what they and their maker have created. They queue patiently, murmuring Latin incantations, their faces weathered and hands calloused by devotion to the ancient art of propagation and cultivation.

Walpole, Pope, Repton and Roper are bygone inspirations, now they listen to Gardener's Question Time and cherish information.

Here are the bedders and the seedsmen, the instant gardeners and the horticulturalists. And then there are the putative plants people who are slightly precious, who love the Latin but not the hard labour.

Digitalis, delphiniums, acers and betulas are woven in with the Barbours, waxed hats, Pac-a-Macs and Thermos flasks. In half an hour there are a hundred people.

'Get a life,' shouts an irritated steeplejack from his passing van. Relentlessly they gather. By opening time (8am) there are hundreds of them. There is a garden west of Eden and it's called Chelsea.

Mr and Mrs Jordan.

They have come by car, by bus and on foot, rising at 5am to start the journey from Amersham in Buckinghamshire.

'Well our's is a bit bigger than a postage stamp, what would you say, quarter of an acre ? ' wonders Mr Jordan.

'Shrink that a bit more like an eighth,' says his wife. 'Well it feels like a hectare when you're digging it,' he says.

They used to live in Australia and consequently have come to appreciate the English climate. 'It was a joy to come back to the weather, they grow, they grow, so beautifully. We love a cottagey garden,' adds Mr Jordan.

They travel all over the country searching out unusual specimens. 'She likes to find new varieties, we take notes.'

They spend on average pounds 1,000 a year on the garden. 'The price of plants these days, it goes so quickly although we do a lot of propagating as well. We never take cuttings, my mother used to,' says Mr Jordan 'but I just pretended I wasn't with her. In fact she used to call it her pinch garden.'

'I think you should do your own thing in the garden, I like mixtures of colours, not blocks. We visit millions of stately homes, we get ideas,' says Mrs Jordan.

' I got rid of all my bind weed last year, I haven't seen it since. Solid attack, that's what it needs,' offers Mr Jordan helpfully.

Joanna and

Kevin Hoffman.

Kevin Hoffman has loved horticulture since he was 15.' My grandmother started me off. By the age of 12 I had my own greenhouse and then I took it up as a profession,' he says.

Their garden is small, 55ft by 14ft but it's packed with goodies. 'I used to be a great rose lover, I was just rose-mad for years, we used to go to all the specialist rose shows.'

Now his taste is much broader, it encompasses new varietes of roses and sweet peas, his wife's favourite flower.

'Percy Thrower was my great love but now I suppose it's Roy Lancaster,' he says. 'I'm not an avid listener to any of them now though, I just like to get out there and get on with it.'

Joanna has packed a picnic. Her wicker basket contains champagne, salmon sandwiches and strawberries. 'It's a lot cheaper to bring your own,'she confides.

The biggest battle in their garden is fought with the slugs. Big, fat, horrid orange ones. 'Last year I think they had iron teeth,' muses Kevin.

Gina and Pat Hooker.

Gina is an Italian, born near Vicenza. 'My garden, it's my Italy, quite Mediterranean, she says in broken English. 'It's full of figs, grapes, lots and lots of fruit but for me it has to be about beauty and vegetables. It's so relaxing,' she says. 'We have almost 20 step over apple trees, the little ones, they are very pretty.'

For Pat the early plants are the most important. They have 25 camellias and four magnolia grandifloras in their 50ft garden.

'We come here to see the flowers, it's a tradition, we come every year and now we know one or two of the growers, you come here to share an interest, you get to know these people. We used to go to Wisley and attend lectures, Wisley we love.'

They do not spend a fortune on the garden, they grow from seed and carefully cultivate.

'When we go to Italy I raise up roots and I'm always asking people to send me things.'

They have a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a small chicken in their bag. They will eat it listening to the band. 'One of the pleasures here,' says Pat.

Jane Barraclough.

Jane is lucky. She has a garden which spans two-and-a-half acres in Surrey. 'Originally it had the most fantastic trees, it was famous for its Cedars of Lebanon but I lost many in the storm a few years ago.'

She has since spent a a great deal of money on it. 'Now I'm into herbaceous, I don't think I could go without some old-fashioned roses, they smell divine, scent is terribly important.'

'My mother influenced me, she had a beautiful Queen Anne walled garden, it was small but full of beauty.'

She comes to Chelsea for inspiration. 'I shall take copious notes which I shall probably never read again,' she laughs. 'No, I suppose I will find one or two plants that will stick, you always notice something new here.'

Her duffle bag contains apples and satsumas. She expects to stay for the day. She has come on her own but already she has made some friends. Gardening, they all agree, is in their blood.

Albert Anderson and his daughter Miss Marylin Anderson

They have been up since 4am, driving through the deserted roads from Newbury.

He knows the journey well. Albert Anderson has been coming to Chelsea since 1936. He is a retired head gardener and in his time has worked for Miss Wilmott (garden buffs will wilt at the very name) although he started off at Spetchley Park in Worcestershire.

'My garden is the size of a postage stamp, 8 yards by 8 yards, and the greenhouse is small,' he says. 'I chose it on purpose, I wanted to concentrate on the cricket club,' he says softly. 'But then she goes and buys a half an acre,' he says gesturing towards his daughter. She looks sheepish. 'It's idyllic though, thatched cottage and an old cottage garden, we're really just perfecting it.'

Marylin has been brought up to appreciate gardens. 'I love all my herbaceous, old-fashioned plants like the hollyhocks, delphiniums, the foxgloves. I come here to get ideas, I'm not looking for anything in particular, I love being surprised.'

Although Albert comes for ideas, it is really a chance to meet up with old friends, other head gardeners, swap stories and histories of plants.

He's not bothered by this week's furore about tradespeople at Chelsea buying in flowers and passing them off as their own. 'It's nothing new it's been done ever since the start, it's the display that counts, it's a show.'

Marylin sucks the first of her boiled sweets.

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