Colin Barlow is a well known garden designer and media personality from Perth and one of Ross Tours’ expert tour leaders. British born, Colin’s first Chelsea experience was at 12 years when he visited with his Dad – and he’s rarely missed a year since. From the crowds, to the dazzling show gardens, to the floral perfection in the Great Pavilion and the iconic glass of Pimms, Chelsea is a garden show like no other and Colin loves it all! Ross Tours and Colin were scheduled to be visiting Chelsea this year and he’s very much missing his annual visit. We had a chat to Colin about Chelsea’s magic and what makes this show a world wide garden destination.
Why do you think Chelsea is such an iconic garden show? “Well there’s a few things … the level of horticulture you see at Chelsea is second to none. Until you get to Chelsea you really have no idea of how huge Chelsea is in England – every night, Chelsea’s on prime time TV on 2 channels. That’s what happens there – English grow up with this huge attention to gardening. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
What else is iconic? “The show gardens are amazing and it’s where you see the best of the best. If you want to find out what’s happening in gardening in the next 2-3 years – you’ll see it at Chelsea. All the newest and latest trends are showcased and they’ll play out in gardens in a few years time in Australia. If you’re a grower, no matter what you grow, Chelsea is where you want to show it.”
Above: Colin has taken many pictures at Chelsea over the years .. here’s a few of the show gardens and one of his Ross Tours group!
What’s your favourite part of the show? “Well the show Gardens are a favourite. I love them because they are like a dream – its what you can do with the ultimate budget and when you’re allowed to do what you like – they are completely different to any other garden. The level of horticulture – the planting, the layering and texturing of plants – it’s a different way of planting. The show gardens demand perfection and it might be perfect, but if your flowers didn’t fully open or there’s a bit of mulch doesn’t match, it’s scored against you – that’s the level of Chelsea. I love the show gardens, but in saying that, to me what is the most amazing part of Chelsea is the Great Pavilion. It is the most amazing plant exhibition you will ever see in your life … you will see the best of the best grown in the world – the best variety grown by the best grower – whether it’s a peony or dahlia you will see the best ever.“
Above: Silver medal winning Supershoes Laced With Hope Garden from 2018. Supershoes is a UK charity supporting children fighting cancer. To see a virtual tour and timelapse video of this lovely garden go here
Above: Some of Colin’s pictures of the stunning plant displays inside the Great Pavilion
Colin: “I’ve been going for so many years I know a lot of growers and every year I take my Ross Tours groups to Eagle Sweet Peas to buy sweet pea seeds. You can take them back to Australia as long as you declare them. Eagle Sweet Peas are sweet pea growers to the Queen and they have the best sweet peas. There are frilled ones and the colours are amazing but it’s the perfumed sweetpeas that for me are the best. I get new ones every year – I take them back home, I give them away – I love them as they grow true to type. They’re a genuine Chelsea momento to take back. If you get to go a few times, you bring back different seeds and you can build up your collection”.
Above: Colin took this photo of Eagle Sweet Peas owner Derek Heathcote holding his Gold Medal Award!
Above: We found a terrific video all about Eagle Sweet Peas with Monty Don – take a look!
Why do you take Ross Tours groups to Chelsea on Members Day? “Because it’s the best day to go! If you want to see famous people, go to Chelsea on Members Day! We do this with Ross Tours and its one of the things that makes our tours better than others – we go on Members Day and we go early – this gives us a full day there which is the best and you need this time to see everything. I’ve been going to Chelsea for so many years, I’ve got a really good strategy for seeing everything. We’re there early when the gates open at 8am and go straight to the Show Gardens. There are already crowds and I show everyone how to do the “Chelsea Shuffle” and get to the front for great pictures. Once we’ve seen the Show Gardens, it’s a little quieter and some people go for a champagne breakfast as this is a big thing on Members Day. Then we head into the Great Pavilion to see the floral displays.”
Colin’s tip … Chelsea is all about tradition and one thing you must do is sit down and have a Pimms!
Above: Colin, Graham Ross and Ross Tours group in the Fleming’s and Trailfinders Australian Garden
Any favourite Chelsea memories? “Memories – well when the Aussies won and overhearing a very posh English man saying how the Aussies should never have won Gold! An amazing thing to do is taking the group onto the Aussie garden – this is another part of Chelsea that’s so special for Ross Garden Tours. If an Australian is exhibiting, they usually let us into their garden. This is a really special. We go in, walk around, look at the plants and design, sit at the fire … we really get to see what’s happening in the garden and it’s brilliant.”
Get a discount on all tours, Access to Expert Advice, A Magazine Every Season, A Free Garden Class Or Workshop, 10% Discount At Nursery Partners, Access Our Online Database And Magazine Archive And Special Events For Members Only