Chelsea Fringe better for business than RHS Chelsea says Matthew Wilson

Chelsea Fringe offers a better showcase for some businesses than the RHS show according to garden designer and nursery owner Matthew Wilson.

Firefighter gets watering at the Edible Bus Stop community garden in Vauxhall
Firefighter gets watering at the Edible Bus Stop community garden in Vauxhall

He and his company Clifton Nurseries, based in Little Venice, London, are creating a French-inspired pop-up garden in St Pancras station, close to where travellers get the Eurotunnel to France and other destinations. They have been involved in the festival from the beginning three years ago.

"For us this works much better than a trade stand at Chelsea Flower Show, you’ve got to be selling things and all we’re selling is an idea. We can put a similar amount of money into the Chelsea Fringe and make more of an impact.

"The RHS membership is predominantly women of 55 plus but actually the people who came along to Gardeners Question Time at last year's Chelsea Fringe were young.

"Anything that raises the profile of horticulture, whether it is commercial or artistic is good. Fringe isn’t a competitor to the main Chelsea it’s complementary and it’s a broad appeal. "

Franchi Seeds, Petersfield Nurseries and Whitewater Nursery & Plant Centre are also taking part.

Chelsea Fringe founder Tim Richardson, who launched this year’s festival today, said that the event had solidified since last year.

"We have almost the same number of events but I’m pleased about their solidity. I want it to feel like Open House Weekend or London Open Squares Weekend, you know you won’t be disappointed. We want people to know that they’re going to something good."

The festival is run by individual groups putting on events with volunteer regional coordinators knitting them together.

Richardson : "It’s about local initiatives not top down ones. If it’s getting boring we step in, we need it to be quirky and fun and exciting but we want it to be a springboard for volunteer district teams."

Richardson said an example was garden in Calthope Street, Kings Cross which had been there for 25 years but some residents had never visited because they thought of it as a "place where people with problems go". He hopes the Bee Day held there as part of the festival would open it up to other residents.

Another roots-up organisation, the Edible Bus Stop, has taken over a dirty, disused patch of London Fire Brigade land and created a community garden there, even persuading local fire-fighters to pop round and water the plants from time to time. The garden is temporary but the hope is it will become adopted by the community and become permanent.

The Chelsea Fringe continues to expand. This year there are satellite events in Brighton, Norwich, Vienna, Austria, and about 60 in Ljubljana, Slovenia among others. Richardson said he was in talks with interested parties in Melbourne, Australia and Milan, Italy too for next year.  

Richardson said there was a huge groundswell of people who do not think about gardening in terms of horticulture, garden design or heritage and garden history but as more of "a mild form of environmental activism". 

"There’s a massive culture change. When I was growing up people were scared of nuclear armageddon. Now it’s environmental armageddon."

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