New brand of club culture at the Flower Show

Chris Gray
Tuesday 12 November 2013 03:49
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The Chelsea Flower Show and dance club culture would, at first glance, seem to have little in common. But the Royal Horticultural Society's decision to make the show less elitist has paved the way for some cross-fertilisation.

The RHS created two new categories in the small garden section for this year's show and threw open the door to all comers. One of the results is the "Hip and groovy dance pad" in the new "Chic" category.

Designed by 34-year-old Jo Wilde, a clubber who is as much at home in Ibiza as she is in Kew Gardens, it is unique among entries at Chelsea in featuring a dance floor, a bar and hydraulically operated lights that rise in a circle surrounding the dance area.

Ms Wilde, a former textile designer exhibiting at Chelsea for the first time, said: "A lot of people don't want a garden for plants, they want it for other reasons. So why not have a bar and dance floor? Gardening evolves and it is really about just being outside, and that's what we are trying to say to the Chelsea committee."

The other new category under small gardens, "City", was included as an acknowledgement of the growing demand for outside areas to suit urban singles.

Entries included "High flyers' haven", designed to provide nesting options for garden birds as well as stress relief for executives, and "Green and misty light" in which old bottles, hub caps and garage doors were mixed with plants to create a tiny wetland area.

The small gardens section attracted 200 entries altogether. Previously, it had only been open to colleges and societies affiliated with the RHS, not to members of the public. Forty-three of the entries were successful, an unprecedented number.

Although the public has been able to enter before, it was only in the large show gardens category, which is beyond most enthusiasts' reach. Show gardens can cost up to £200,000 to put together, but even the most expensive of the smaller gardens will not cost more than £15,000.

Stephen Bennett, the Chelsea Flower Show's director, said widening the criteria for entry had already changed its character.

"I'm very happy that this show is an elite event in terms of the quality, but I want to address the accusation that the show is elitist," he said.

"This is, or has been, a top-of-the-range show for wealthy people, but now we are getting a wider range of exhibits and a lot more folk who have got more modest gardens who can relate to them."

Economic growth - Chelsea profits

* The show makes up to £2m profit each year, which goes towards the £33m the Royal Horticultural Society spends annually on education and research.

* It costs up to £5m to run and generates turnover of up to £30m for its exhibitors.

* The show has two full-time staff. During show week this rises to 5,000.

* Its overall economic impact for London and Britain is estimated at between £150m and £200m, helped by the 20,000 overseas visitors who stay for up to two weeks.

* Eight hundred people take three and a half weeks to build the show, laying three miles of piping, installing 185 lavatories and using enough canvas to cover six football pitches.

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