Gardening: Green is the colour, Chelsea is the name

Anna Pavord takes a peripheral view of the greatest show in earth

Beltane was the old way of celebrating May's rebirth, a Celtic feast of fire, sacrifice and general mayhem. Now we have the Chelsea Flower Show with the enigmatic figure of Sir Simon Hornby, president of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), as our modern day Green Man.

The show is an anachronistic triumph. No one sitting down today to plan a mammoth event of this kind would think it possible for it to take place in London SW3. The great marquee alone covers three-and-a-half acres and takes 20 men almost as many days to put up. Exhibitors spend about pounds 20m putting together their stands, and this year there are 20 show gardens. The majority of the exhibits are live, with highly specific needs as to food and drink. These are not as as easily available in Chelsea as Big Macs and halves of lager.

Part of the excitement of Chelsea is the excitement that surrounds all ephemeral, tented events: the sudden transformation of the setting, the atavistic lure of an itinerant life to those whose futures are firmly shackled to the 8.05 from Woking, the smell of crushed grass. You can get that at any county agricultural show, but Chelsea's strangeness lies in the fact that all this happens slap bang in the middle of the most densely populated city in Britain. All these pulsating, growing, flowering things suddenly arrive in the middle of a place marked out by Tarmac, concrete, tin and barrenness. The other, and most important, thing that marks Chelsea out from other horticultural shows is the standard of the plant and garden exhibits. You will rarely see anywhere a display of flowering bulbs as brilliant as that put together by Avon Bulbs (stand K5, great marquee) or violas in such profusion as those brought to Chelsea by Bouts Cottage Nurseries (stand H5, great marquee).

I'm so mesmerised by the plants at Chelsea that I rarely get near the artefacts: the conservatories clustered round the central marquee hissing "lifestyle, glamour" at those of us who are still strangers to the scatter cushion. This year, I'm making a determined effort to do "sundries", as the RHS quaintly calls them. I'll be making a beeline for:

l Errington Reay and Company's salt-glazed stoneware pots. This Tyneside pottery was founded in 1878 and is the last remaining commercial pottery making salt-glazed ware in England. The soft, muted colours sit well in a garden setting and the sheen of the glaze catches the light in an intriguing way. Errington Reay and Co, Tyneside Pottery Works, Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 7HU (01434 344245). Chelsea stand NR3.

l Great Houses, Castles and Gardens of Ireland. There is still less awareness than there should be over here of the fabulously romantic cache of gardens only a ferry ride away in Ireland. We're sailing again along the south coast of Ireland for our holiday this summer. I'm allowed ashore only once or twice to look at worts, so have to make the most of the opportunities. Get the new booklet about Irish properties and gardens open to the public from Ms A de Buitlear, Hillsbrook, Dargle Valley, Bray, Co Wicklow, Ireland (0035 312 862777). Chelsea stand CW7.

l Ivelet Books, which stocks a wide range of antiquarian books related to gardening. They have luscious botanical prints too, including fern prints by Walter Hood Fitch, botanical artist at Kew Gardens in the mid- 19th century. Ivelet Books Ltd, 18 Fairlawn Drive, Redhill, Surrey RH1 6JP (01737 764520). Chelsea stand EA105.

l Raffles Thatched Garden Buildings: in my mind's eye I see one of these at the end of our lawn with a hammock strung, Guyanese style, from the central post over to one of the outer supports. Focal points - that's what I need in life. A pity they come so expensive. But the birds would love it. Free nest sites all round. Raffles, Laundry Cottage, Prestwold Hall, Prestwold, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 5AQ (01509 881426). Chelsea stand SR22.

l Starkie and Starkie's sharpening systems: whetstones, files, cones and steels, including the DMT Doubleside Diafold, a folding whetstone that offers two grits for a greater sharpening range. I like the idea of whetstones. Unfortunately whetstones don't like me, and I have never acquired the lazy ease, the flashing pas de deux, by which our butcher sharpens his cleavers. "It's a man thing," said one of our daughters. But there's no reason why it shouldn't be a woman thing too. Starkie and Starkie, Unit 39, The Heathers Industrial Park, Freeman's Common, Leicester LE2 7SQ (01162 854772). Chelsea stand EA36.

Admission to the Chelsea Flower Show is by advance booking only. A credit card hotline is open 24 hours a day on 0171-344 4343. Tuesday and Wednesday are reserved for members of the RHS. An all-day (8am-8pm) ticket on Thursday costs pounds 25, an afternoon ticket (3.30-8pm) costs pounds 14 and an evening ticket (5.30-8pm) costs pounds 8. An all-day ticket on Friday (8am-5pm) costs pounds 23. Plants and sundries will be sold after 5pm on Friday.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
people
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

English Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, the childW...

English Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, th...

Maths Teacher (One day per week)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Maths Teacher (one day per week) Gr...

EBD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Science Teacher Greater Manchester

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits