If you thought the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show was all about fragrant flowers and beautiful blooms, think again! Of course, flowers play a major part in the annual show - held in the grounds of Chelsea's Royal Hospital - but many of the exhibits are of an edible variety.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 will reveal the best gardening displays on the planet from 22nd to 26th May. Inspired exhibits from the most prominent florists, garden designers, plant specialists and nurseries will enhance the hospital grounds in one of London's most attractive boroughs.
In fact, it is the horticulturists' equivalent of Paris Fashion Week, when thousands of visitors flock to the show to admire the gardening masterpieces on display.
First held in 1913, the Chelsea Flower Show has taken place annually ever since, apart from a break during the two World Wars. Exhibits contain species from all over the world, and gardens are created by well-known designers, such as regulars James Alexander-Sinclair, Matt Keightley and Sarah Raven.
The show always attracts huge crowds, including the Chelsea Pensioners, famous artists and a host of celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Jerry Hall, Rupert Murdoch and Demi Moore, who have all been spotted at past shows. It also attracts its fair share of royal visitors, with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, attending in recent years.
New for 2018
This year, the Fresh Gardens category has been revitalised into Space to Grow, with designs aimed at providing take-home ideas for visitors to the show. The eight Space to Grow gardens will line Royal Hospital Way.
There will also be ten show gardens on Main Avenue, including a popular return by Sarah Price after a five-year-absence. She is best-known for her Olympic Park planting in 2012, when she also won a gold medal at Chelsea Flower Show.
The eight Artisan gardens on Serpentine Walk and Ranelagh Gardens feature a selection of smaller gardens, in which the designers have faced a challenge to create a work of art using natural, sustainable materials, often on a restricted budget.
Gardens with vegetables and fruit crops are always a popular addition to the Chelsea Flower Show exhibitions. One of this year's highlights will be Tom Massey's thought-provoking garden, based on his visits to Iraq's refugee camps as part of the Lemon Tree Trust charity.
The trust helps refugees to learn about agriculture, so they can take practical steps to ensure they have sufficient healthy food. Massey's Lemon Tree Trust garden will be filled with herbs and edible plants, highlighting a resourceful, space-saving approach to gardening in areas where there may not be much water.
The garden is special because Syrian refugees from the Domiz Camp in Iraq have assisted with the design, after embracing the harsh living conditions that they call home. Full of fruit trees and crops ready to harvest, the garden includes plenty of edible plants and herbs that are used in traditional Middle Eastern cuisine.
Edible gardens are not a new idea at the Chelsea Flower Show, although there is no doubt they are growing in popularity in recent years. In 2017, the show's plant of the year was the Morus Charlotte Russe, or mulberry, making its debut and leading the ongoing edible plant march.
The plant was displayed on last year's HTA Industry stand and also in Chris Evans' Radio 2 garden, designed by Jon Whearley. The mulberry beat traditional blooms such as hibiscus, clematis and salvia to win the coveted title. According to nursery owners, the most popular fruits among the public in recent months have been mulberries, quinces, medlars and loquats.
Last year's Chelsea Flower Show saw five new varieties of fruit introduced: the prize-winning Matsunaga mulberry, Malus Purpurea Crimson Cascade crab apples, the Fragaria Ananassa "Just Add Cream" strawberry variety, Dragon's Breath chilli peppers and Popti sweet peppers.
When you're growing your own fruit, it can be difficult to stop wild birds from ruining the crop before you can even pick it. Help is at hand, thanks to Henry Cowls' humane fruit cages and bird netting that will effectively keep the birds at bay.