Chelsea offers extra boost for great season

Early growing season and young talent set to bring brighter colours and new ideas that should translate into retail market.

Brewin Dolphin: first-time show garden designer Matthew Childs points to a lot of fresh and zingy colour
Brewin Dolphin: first-time show garden designer Matthew Childs points to a lot of fresh and zingy colour

Next week's RHS Chelsea Flower Show (20-24 May) is set to give an extra boost to a great garden industry season as trade has "returned to normality" after two washout years. The growing season is six-to-eight weeks ahead of 2013, with sales 15 per cent up and back to 2011 levels.

Looking forward to the extra push, Coolings business development manager Neil Jackson said: "We're 150 per cent up on last year because we're a plant centre and we're more affected by good weather than most. Chelsea on the TV puts gardening into the public's mind and is a help in a good season."

Meanwhile, foreign investors in the housing market in the South East are driving business for garden designers and landscapers, with Chelsea acting as a showcase for the UK horticulture trade. Hopes are also high that the injection of new talent into the show will drive trade into a new market - younger, more urban and more influenced by social media.

Hortus Loci joint managing director Mark Straver, who is supplying four show gardens, said: "For the first time in years there's a reasonable amount of optimism in the trade. Every contractor says they are flat out. All of the same clients are saying we'll have this and this but we'll have this as well."

Cloudy Bay designer Andrew Wilson of Wilson McWilliam said the younger generation of designers is "particularly attractive to younger clients". He added: "You've got people who are first-time buyers or it's their first property with a garden. At Chelsea you've got this variety. It's a fantastic showcase, a one-stop shop."

At the other end of the market, Chelsea attracts foreign property buyers who want the Chelsea look. "A lot of the Russians like the idea of English gardens and designers but also the idea of Chelsea," said Wilson.

The show's reach has been boosted by regular Twitter updates from the site in the build-up with most crews taking part in the #RHS ChelseaSelfie trend. Wilson said: "Selfies have been a big trend - it gives a human factor to it all rather than just finished show gardens. It's nice to see the people behind the designers. More and more people are tweeting and we have also gone back to Facebook to show off what the studio is doing."

The early growing season and the injection of young talent is set to bring brighter colours along with new ideas that should translate well into the retail market.

"There's quite a lot of fresh and zingy colour going on," said Matthew Childs, designing his first Chelsea garden this year for Brewin Dolphin.

"From my point of view if it's our first time we've got less to lose. I'm just going for it."

Coblands Nurseries sales manager Lewis Normand, who is supplying Perennial and BrandAlley gardens, said there will be fewer "standard Chelsea plants like alliums" and more "garish colours and geums" helped by young designers having a "more vibrant" vision and trade has "gone crazy" after the ground dried following winter rains.

"Chelsea always helps," said Haskins chief executive Julian Winfield. "It motivates our staff and journalists write about it, and it's on TV so our customers get motivated by it as well."

Squire's managing director and RHS council member Dennis Espley added: "Chelsea always gives the trade a boost. There's phenomenal coverage on TV."

New Hopetoun Gardens director and RHS council member Dougal Philip said: "Chelsea sustains the garden market. It would be horrible if we didn't have Chelsea."

Television coverage

18-25 May

- Nicki Chapman and Andy Sturgeon, 3pm every weekday afternoon, BBC1.

- Monty Don and Joe Swift, 8pm every evening, BBC2.

- Sophie Raworth and Joe Swift, 7.30pm Monday and Friday, BBC2.

- Countdown to Chelsea, started at 3pm, 12-16 May, BBC1.

Eryngium 'Neptune's Gold' is favourite for Chelsea plant of the year 2014. Cleve West is bookies' favourite for best show garden.

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