Volunteering at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Around this time last month I was a volunteer at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I had never been to a garden show before, let alone an RHS Flower Show! I live in the Midlands, which you would think would be central to everything, but I’ve always felt the RHS gardens are just a little bit out of reach for a day visit. When I saw that the RHS were advertising for volunteers for the second year of the Chatsworth Flower Show, I instantly applied.

I appreciate that this blog post is quite a lengthy one and if you haven’t got time to read it all, there’s a short video at the bottom! I haven’t blogged for some time now because I’ve been so busy on the allotment, visiting shows and shooting more video rather than writing, but I really wanted to write down my experience because I enjoyed Chatsworth so much. So I apologise if I’m a little rusty, you can look forward to seeing more of what I have been doing for the last few months soon! Anyway, back to the show…

Chatsworth House is set in the rolling hills and rocky limestone landscape of the Peak District in Derbyshire. Not only is the Peak District a place that I love to explore whenever I get the opportunity, but it’s also just the next county across from me in Nottingham! After getting through the first clearance I found out in March that I was successful in my application secured place as a Garden Volunteer which meant that I would be greeting and interacting with visitors inside the RHS & BBC Gardeners’ Question Time Garden! I later also signed up for an extra shift in the Living Laboratory feature because who doesn’t love geeking out about science and plants?

Inside The Living Laboratory & RHS & BBC Gardeners’ Question Time Garden

The Living Laboratory was a funky Eden Project-esk dome with four different zones inside. Each zone explored ways in which gardening can benefit our physical & mental health, improve the air quality around us and help prevent flooding. There was environmentally friendly porous flooring, microscopes with examples of how leaves tap air pollution, a place to learn about to gardening safely (mind your back!) and an incredibly calming vertical walled garden, crammed full with dark green/blue foliage plants like ferns.

It was an absolute delight to be in the RHS & BBC Gardeners’ Question Time ‘Bloomin Healthy Garden’. As spectacular as the show gardens were, this garden was a traditional everyday garden with a greenhouse, raised beds, a pond, real vegetables growing and I was in my absolute element. I chatted to visitors non-stop about composting, garden pests, allotment gardening, growing for wildlife and I even inspired a handful of people to install a pond in their garden. It wasn’t just me in the garden! I was volunteering alongside RHS staff members Laura, Andy and Matthew of the science team who were there to give their expert advice to visitors about their specific pest & disease related problems.

The Long Borders

The long borders were a fantastic addition to the show, providing great planting inspirations for your own garden at home. Each border captured this year’s theme, ‘movement’. There were two that really stood out to me. The first of which was ‘Rising Up’ border, celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote. Students Russell Giblett and Alistair Mockett used a mix of purples, white and greens, the colours worn by members of the Suffragettes movement stood for loyalty, purity and hope. The flowers, strike upright perennials contrasted with the soft gypsophellia that symbolised the peaceful and violent protest of the activist women.

The other border that I really enjoyed called ‘Mind the Gap: Keep bees on the move’ by Louisa van den Berg. Early June is considered a bit of a hunger gap for the bees and this bed was a wash with grasses, shrubs, flowers and herbs. I loved the mix of herbs and flowers in this bed, the different heights, mix of colours and textures. I don’t use fennel in my cooking, but it looked so graceful alongside the flowers. The bees were buzzing all around the salvia and those lovely willow bee and hive sculptures!

Show Gardens

The Great Outdoors by Phil Hirst

Gold Medal
Best Show Garden

Inspired by the boggy moorlands and jagged landscape of the Peak District, each aspect of this garden was about enjoying the great outdoors. The black dyed pond suggested the rich and mysterious peat bogs of the moors and I just loved the use of materials, the dramatic angles and irregular shapes – especially in the fencing! Hirst’s planting was suggestive of the Peak District landscape with grasses and woodland trees but also non-native plants that added blocks of colour.



Hay Time in The Dales by Chris Myers

Silver Medal
People’s Choice – Best Show Garden

This quaint little cottage garden garden looked as though it had stood the test of time and had always been there! Behind the dry stone wall encapsulating his garden, Myers used British wildflower planting such as foxgloves and buttercups with hedgerows and trees that suggest our traditional Yorkshire dales. The tiny details really kept you looking for more, like the pair of socks drying out on the line and the mosses growing in between the stone roof of the barn.



Plant Haul

The floral marquees were a sensory overload! As soon as you walked in smell of lilies was intoxicating! Displays of dahlias, fuchsias and gladioli made a statement with their bold and in your face flowers. Whilst others took on a more playful approach, like the carrousel fuchsia display. Dotted in between were the wonderful woodland-like scenes showing how you can plant beautifully for shade with a mix of flowers and foliage plants. Away from the floral marquees was the plant village, a place to buy from smaller independent nurseries where I picked up some plants that inspired me from the gardens and borders.

On the last day of the show an old school bell rings down the tannoy, marking the start of the big plant sell off! I struck a few deals with the nurseries and even managed to bag some freebies at the end of the show. Fortunately I was working in the garden that day so I made full use of the display wheel barrow to get my plant haul to the car at the end! At the end of my shift in the Bloomin’ Healthy garden, Gerard Clover the Head of Plant Health at the RHS, very kindly allowed me to take home a plant from the garden, for my hard work. I chose the salvia carrdonna for it’s deep purple colour that matched my volunteer RHS shirt, and because I saw for myself just how much the bees loved it! It now sits pride of place in my newly transformed wildlife area.

The People

The biggest highlights of volunteering for me, wasn’t the free show entry, the incredible show gardens or the freebies at the end. It was the people. I met some truly wonderful visitors to the show, members of the RHS team including the entomologist experts and the RHS volunteer supervisors. I even chatted to some of garden designers and discussed all things horticulture with the nursery sellers. It was a fantastic opportunity to see all the different aspects of horticulture come together and the vast range of career possibilities available. It was a wonderful experience to be surrounded and supported by other volunteers too. The plant finders, buggy drivers, retail and membership volunteers, who all share the same love for gardening. I am so grateful for the RHS for this incredible experience and I urge anyone who is interested to do it! It has certainly given me the hunger to do more volunteering in areas that promote the benefits of gardening and growing your own food, especially for my local area.

What did I take home?

  • Bunny Tail grass
  • Fox tail grass
  • Quaking grass
  • Astrantia
  • Cosmos
  • Dahlia‘Rip City’
  • Pineapple mint
  • Welsh Onion
  • Salvia Carradonna
  • Dahlia
  • Hydrangea

It’s quite hard to fit all of the highlights into one post! I haven’t even mentioned the gorgeous river of 12,000 cosmos, or the jaw-dropping display of 5,000 british grown orchids by Jonathan Moseley. So that’s why I also made a short video of RHS Chatsworth Flower show. Enjoy and well done if you made it to the end!

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