Goodbye RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

What a week! We’ve had it all: sunshine, showers, cold winds, warm smiles, Royal visits, an RHS Silver-Gilt medal, RHS Plant of the Year award, celebrities stopping by, great coverage in the media and huge interest and praise from the public.

Our garden has welcomed competition winners, Coutts customers and SeeAbility supporters. We’ve raised national awareness of what our charity does and we’ve also raised valuable income through our gala evening, plant sell off and charitable donations.

We thank everyone who has supported us in this fantastic project. In particular our designer, Darren Hawkes, Coutts, who supported the garden, and SeeAbility staff and volunteers.

All the gardens and exhibits are now being dismantled and in a few days’ time the grounds will be clear and the Chelsea Pensioners can enjoy the peace and tranquillity for another 11 months.

Chelsea old boy on a bench

At SeeAbility, we look forward to the summer ahead and our regular programme of activities that provide funds for the specialist care we provide all year round.

Our next big event is our annual ‘Sunburst Ball’ – taking place at the Waldorf Hilton in London on Saturday 5 October. We look forward to seeing you there!

sunburst_logo on black


Time to ‘dig deep’

Saturday is the shortest day of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show week with the show closing at 5:30pm. However, we’re expecting it to be as busy as – if not busier than – all the other days so far this week.

Firstly, we’ve got special visitors on The SeeAbility Garden today: the lucky winners of the competition we ran with the Daily Express will be travelling from as far afield as Ross-Shire to see the show with a friend.

Secondly, the RHS People’s Choice Awards are announced. Will we make it to the short list? Voting closed yesterday afternoon and we know that we face tough competition but we’re keeping our green fingers crossed. 

Darren watering the garden very proffesionally

Darren taking the job of watering very seriously!

At 4pm, a bell will ring out across the showground to herald the start of the traditional plant sell off. Plants on the SeeAbility Garden are up for sale, with a recommended minimum donation of £10 per plant bag.

We ask everyone to dig deep into their pockets and help us raise as much money as possible. All proceeds of the plant sale will help enrich the lives of people living with sight loss and multiples disabilities.

What takes your fancy?  We’ve got everything from alchemillas, alliums and aquilegias through to salvias, tiarellas and verbascums. If you want a splash of SeeAbility yellow to brighten up a border, you’ll be spoilt for choice! And of course, there’s the award-winning Mahonia soft caress.


If you can’t be with us in person as the 100th RHS Chelsea Flower Show comes to an end, please consider making a donation in other ways – click here for ideas and details. Thank you.

RHS plant of the centenary

Have you voted yet in the RHS People’s Choice Awards or for your favourite RHS plant of the centenary? If not, you need to be quick as online voting for the People’s Choice closes at 4pm today and the plant poll closes at midday. 

To celebrate the centenary of its Chelsea Flower Show, the RHS asked its horticultural experts to select the top 10 plants launched at the show since 1913 – one for each decade. They then teamed up with 10 amateur gardeners born in the same year the plant was introduced who’ve shot little videos promoting their nominated plant.

From the 92-year old Chelsea Pensioner, Sgt Stan Pepper, to eight year old school gardening champion, Rosie Ghuman, their commentary is testament to the wonderful way gardening can inspire people of all ages, from all backgrounds and all abilities.

At SeeAbility we know how valuable plants and gardening can enrich the lives of people with profound disabilities. We’ve got a great team of staff and volunteers who make sure our gardens can be enjoyed by the people who use our services and their families and we encourage them to express themselves through gardening.

The RHS plant of the centenary poll includes Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’ – said to have started one of the major plant fashions of the last quarter century – and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with its well-known violet-blue flowers 

If you want to see other varieties of these plants, take a look at The SeeAbility Garden, where Darren has used Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ and Heuchera ‘Electric Lime’ as well as the pale pink Geranium ‘Dusky Rose’.

New Mahonia 3

You’ll also be able to admire Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ – the RHS Plant of the Year 2013 which made its Chelsea debut on our garden!

The Great British public


It’s Thursday, which means it’s the first day that Chelsea Flower Show is open to members of the public, not just members of the RHS. Everyone including Alan Titchmarsh dresses down today – it’s officially goodbye ties and hello smart casual.

Visitors flock from all areas of the UK and from across the globe – as far away as Australia and New Zealand. The displays seem to make the distances worthwhile. Or perhaps they just come to support their countrymen? The bottle trees on the Trailfinders’ Australian Garden have been causing quite a stir just up from the road from The SeeAbility Garden.


New Mahonia 1

Over the past couple of days, visitors have been particularly interested in the Mahonia ‘soft caress’ on our garden, this plant has been awarded The RHS Chelsea Flower Shows plant of the year award. It’s very different to a traditional, spiky Mahonia. With soft, spike-free leaves, it’s suitable for a patio where you might accidently brush up against it. It’s also quite compact and good in pots.

What will be today’s most talked about plant? If you’ve already been or are coming to the show, please take a photo of your favourite part of The SeeAbility Garden and post it on our Facebook page, along with a comment telling us why you chose that particular plant or garden feature.

If you’d like to support SeeAbility’s charitable work, please follow the links to our donations page. Your contribution will make a very positive contribution to the lives of people who live with sight loss and other disabilities use our services and specialist accommodation.

And please remember to keep voting for us in the RHS People’s Choice Award.

Thank you.

Guest blog

Today, we’ve invited RHS member and long-time Chelsea Flower Show fan, Debbie Griffiths, to give a visitor’s perspective of the SeeAbility Garden in a guest blog.

I’ve been going to the Chelsea Flower Show for 15 years and love going on the first members-only day when the flowers are still at their best. Once upon a time, members’ days seemed to be less busy, but I’m not so sure any more.

I introduced a friend to Chelsea a few years back and she couldn’t believe it when I route-marched us all to the entrance for 8am. But by 10am, when the crowds were packed six deep in Main Avenue, she understood why.

For me, the atmosphere on the route parallel to the Royal Hospital Chelsea – behind the floral pavilion – is much nicer. It’s less chaotic and you can always get good photos of the gardens. Fortunately, that’s where the SeeAbility Garden is located.

When I read something – whether it’s a novel or a blog about a garden – I always build a picture of a person or place in my mind’s eye. Sometimes it can lead to disappointment – e.g. when an actor gets cast in a film version of a book and he isn’t how you imagined the character. But 9 times out of 10, the gardens at Chelsea are always much better in real life than I pictured them from their brochure descriptions and sketches. The same can definitely be said for The SeeAbility Garden.


I think the way Darren Hawkes has created the iris of an eye from slate on its side is both subtle and stunning. In fact, the garden as a whole is simply beautiful, regardless of whether you know what it’s supposed to symbolise.

A couple of my relatives have got macular degeneration. I’d never heard of it until this year, let alone understood the effect it has on their vision. Using the clever little tool on SeeAbility’s website, I discovered it causes blind spots.

The designer’s been equally creative in using a curtain of steel spheres to represent the condition. Adding water to this is genius (a) because it looks fabulous and (b) because it represents another sight condition – diabetic retinopathy – something my diabetic mum gets checked over for each year with a special eye test.

Metal ball curtain water feature photo

I think it’s great that charities exhibit at garden shows as they can reach and inform an audience, like my relatives, who don’t go online. Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research is another good example and conveniently next door to SeeAbility’s.

Apparently it’s also National Epilepsy and Dementia Awareness Week – they should have been here, along with NSPCC and Prince Harry’s charity, Sentebale. They’ve all been getting a lot of attention.

So that’s it for me for another year. It’s a shame I’m not here on Saturday as SeeAbility are taking part in the plant sell off.

Overall, I’ve been really impressed with The SeeAbility Garden and I know who I’ll be voting for in the RHS People’s Choice Awards.

What an honour!

We’re absolutely over the moon! The SeeAbility Garden has been awarded a Silver Gilt Medal by the RHS. As Chelsea first timers and following problems with plants not ready on time, it’s an incredible achievement and we’re all on cloud nine right now.


We can’t thank Darren and The Garden Builders with Wheelbarrow enough for their professionalism and true dedication to their ‘art’. And of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the generous financial support of Coutts.

From the charity’s point of view, getting this medal is a fantastic opportunity because the media and visitors alike take a very keen interest in the gardens that achieve the top honours. For us, exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show has always been about raising awareness of SeeAbility’s work and this medal helps us do that in style.

The sight loss theme is serious, but Darren’s design and planting wonderfully convey our positive approach to seeing beyond disability. And having received the official recognition, we’re now even more optimistic about the RHS People’s Choice Awards.

Visitors and members of the public now get the chance to judge the show gardens for themselves. So, if you like the SeeAbility Garden, please click here and vote for it (and persuade your friends to do the same). 

Today, we’re going to be greeting RHS members who will visit the show in their thousands.  And tonight we’re hosting a special reception for SeeAbility supporters who have helped us raise thousands of pounds by generously bidding for tickets for the event – thank you.


The BIG DAY is here

Chelsea Pensioner on The SeeAbility Garden

This is it – the big day of the 100th RHS Chelsea Flower Show is here. It looks set to be the start of an incredibly hectic week as today’s schedule goes like this:


The gates open for the press. The extensive coverage from national newspapers and TV as well as local radio, specialist gardening titles and international media plays a big role in making Chelsea ‘the most famous flower show in the world’. We can’t wait to see what will catch the photographers’ eye on The SeeAbility Garden.


The RHS judges visit our garden and we have to vacate it while they inspect it to see whether Darren has kept to his brief and the plans he submitted last year. In addition to the overall composition, the judges will play particular attention to the planting. We’ll be keeping our green fingers tightly crossed that they like what they see!


Celebrities begin to arrive en masse. For some, it’s an annual pilgrimage. For others, it’s a great opportunity to be snapped somewhere different and reach out to a new audience.

This year, several celebrities, including Dame Maggie Smith and Julian Fellowes, have painted gnomes. For one year only, the RHS has lifted its ban on the little fellows and will auction them for charity after the show.

Check out our Facebook page to discover which famous faces popped by the SeeAbility Garden.

BBC Radio London 94.9 FM and BBC Arabic TV will be popping by to do radio interviews


HM The Queen leads the commemorative visit by members of the Royal Family.

Like us, Prince Harry’s Sentebale charity is exhibiting at Chelsea for the first time. While the cameras focus on him, Darren looks forward to giving our Royal Patron, HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, GVCO, a private tour of The SeeAbility Garden.


The gates open for the RHS 2013 Charity Gala Preview, and we will be welcoming more VIPs and chatting to guests invited by our supporter, Coutts.


The special preview of the Show Gardens is over. But the anticipation is not. However tired we may be, it’ll be hard to sleep while we wait for the medals to be awarded tomorrow…

SeeAbility specialise in supporting people who have a sight loss and multiple disabilities to enrich their lives. We provide a number of services from housing, to support in the form of care or information resources. If you would like to find out more about our services please click here. If you would like to read more about the eye condition we are representing on The SeeAbility Garden and how you can support someone to get the best eye care, please click here.