Page last updated at 07:08 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 08:08 UK

Cold winter challenge for Chelsea competitors

By Katie Dawson
BBC News

Chelsea Flower Show 2008
Chelsea Flower Show attracts thousands of visitors each year

Tickets for this year's Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show, which opens to the public on Tuesday, have sold out in record time.

But after England experienced its coldest winter for 30 years, will flowers have bloomed in time for visitors?

It is the world's most famous flower show, attracting the creme de la creme of designers and growers and thousands of visitors each year.

But this year Chelsea competitors have had to cope with the coldest UK winter for 30 years, followed by a late spring.

Late bloomers

Many growers have relied on poly-tunnels and greenhouses to encourage growth, while one supplier sent plants abroad to get some winter sun.

Bob Sweet, Chelsea Flower Show organiser, said: "There is no doubt at all that plants generally are behind their normal schedule.

"It varies tremendously. Herbaceous plants are generally three weeks behind schedule.

"Woody plants and fruit trees are slightly longer than that, about four weeks."

Tulips at Chelsea Flower Show 2009
Spring flowers like tulips are expected to be in peak condition this year

He said he expected the late spring to add extra colour to the show, with flowers such as tulips bursting into bloom at exactly the right time.

"We are going to see some of those flowers which are usually over by the time the show comes," Mr Sweet said.

"This year will be quite interesting."

He said there had been concern over the progress of roses, but the recent warm weather had given them a last-minute boost, meaning they should be out in full by the show, which takes place in London from Tuesday until Saturday.

Chelsea growers and designers are familiar with the challenges of the British climate.

They know how to use artificial methods to encourage growth during the cold weather and hold plants back when it is too warm.

Hairdryers and sun lamps have been used to keep plants in peak condition during previous Chelsea shows.

Our job and the skill of the designer is to anticipate every eventuality
Peter Clay, Crocus nursery

"Growers will use their skill to bring plants on in a way which would still provide a long period of flowering," Mr Sweet added.

Peter Clay, co-founder of Berkshire-based Crocus, which supplies plants for Chelsea designers, said the firm sent their eryngiums, better known as sea hollies, to Sicily for a "winter holiday" to ensure they were ready in time.

But he said overall the weather had not caused them any problems.

"Every year there are some plants you are not able to use and some that you have to bring in that you had not been expecting to use," Mr Clay said.

"Our job and the skill of the designer is to anticipate every eventuality.

"We have been doing this for so long we know there's always going to be some kind of weather-related issue so we just have to make plans in advance so we get around it."

Ulf Nordfjell’s Garden for The Daily Telegraph
The Ulf Nordfjell Daily Telegraph garden was last year's winner

Crocus has supplied plants to many award-winning Chelsea gardens over the years - including last year's best in show winner, the Ulf Nordfjell Daily Telegraph garden.

Garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair, who will be presenting some of the BBC's Chelsea Flower Show coverage, said competitors were used to adapting their designs to the changing weather.

He said: "Every year there is a kerfuffle about whether it's going to be too cold or too warm but there has never been a gap in Chelsea. The gardens are always finished.

"We have to adapt and we have to change the way we work."

He said new technology had also helped competitors and enhanced the range of species on display.

He said: "Twenty years ago, half of the plants we see at Chelsea nowadays were not there because we did not have the ability to make them flower, hold them back - to bend nature to our will.

"What Chelsea is, is a big theatrical production. I'm expecting it to be wonderful."

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