Category Archives: current events

Chelsea and its Flower Show

Mary Poppins arriving with open umbrella and Gladstone bag constructed of dark blue flower heads, with a bush of pale orange and cream flowers filling the bag and almost the same size.Chelsea in Bloom 2023

Mary Poppins, Royal Avenue, Chelsea

Last week was the Chelsea Flower Show. I aIways beam at the enthusiastic visitors who pour down the King’s Road on their way to the Show. (Love a good enthusiast!) But somehow this year the excitement has seemed a bit muted.

Normally the Flower Show People — you can tell them by the floral outfits, exciting hats and sensible shoes for hours of walking — are a pretty cheery bunch, even in the pouring rain. This time, the worst excess of the weather has been no more than overcast. But too many of the visitors have looked harassed.

It made me really grateful for the display at the end of Royal Avenue: a Mary Poppins of indigo flowers, Gladstone bag in hand, flying in to save the Mr Banks in all of us. Her author, P L Travers (her blue plaque currently obscured by builder’s fencing), lived two streets away in Smith Street,

Chelsea in Bloom

Carousel ponies among flowers in the Mary Poppins floral display, Chelsea 2023Mary Poppins, together with her accompanying carousel ponies, are entries in a floral street art competition, supported by the Cadogan Estate, in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society. Since 2006, it has become a traditional companion celebration to the Chelsea Flower Show itself.

This year’s theme is Flowers on Film. The organisers say it “promises stunning floral installations celebrating movie icons and all genres of film, creating a magical experience for visitors and locals alike.” Saving Mr Banks certainly inspires some hope for these uncertain times.

The Lion King, Chelsea in Bloom, 2023But though most of the displays are lovely and some are very good fun, I couldn’t find much magic as I walked along the King’s Road photographing them.

Admittedly there is a spectacular Little Mermaid arrangement, though our heroine to me looked more like a tough barmaid than the ethereal Ariel of the original Disney film. Maybe she’s closer to the version about to premiere, of which I have heard much.

And the substantial grouping of Lion King dramatis personae in Duke of York Square makes the incumbent statue of Sir Hans Sloane, looking away from the show-off animals, appear positively austere. “You are lesser things. I am not of your element.”

Gave me a good laugh, though. Which is as good as magic and sometimes more necessary.

A Bit of History of Chelsea…

the Queen, white haired and dressed in yellow jacket and yellow broad brimmed hat decorated with pink roses smiling in the sunshine

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

These days the Chelsea Flower Show is thought to be a key event in the London social and cultural season. There will be smart clothes, champagne and royal patronage.

It was not always so. (Hint to Writers of Regency romance: beware of anachronism here!)

As all readers of Georgette Heyer know, the Season evolved over the 18th century as the period during which the aristocracy and gentry left their country estates and came to Town to catch up with the gossip, engage in politics and cultural activities and, incidentally, introduce daughters of marriageable age to suitable young men.

Would any one of Heyer’s characters have gone to the first meeting of the Horticultural Society of London, forerunner of the RHS, in 1804? (Mr Beaumaris, possibly? Arabella’s father was impressed by his intellect, after all.)

The instigator was John, son of Josiah Wedgwood, and he wanted to do what the Lunar Men had done – exchange ideas, publish papers and discuss them.

There were seven men at that first meeting on 7th March at Hatchards, the Picadilly bookshop. The polymath Sir Joseph Banks, now President of the Royal Society, was in the chair.

Three of the others were working horticulturalists – the Superintendent of Kew Gardens, the Superintendent of the gardens of St James’s and Kensington Palaces and nurseryman James Dickson, a founder member of the Linnean Society and a protegé of Banks’s. None of them was a dilettante.

Sadly, I’m not sure whether any of the above, with the possible exception of Banks, I suppose, would have got vouchers for Almacks.

And it was that hard-working man of vision, Prince Albert, not the Queen, who gave them their royal patent in 1864, so they became the Royal Horticultural Society.

…and Geography

In 1821 the young Society acquired some land in Chiswick from the Duke of Devonshire’s estate and, briefly, employed the brilliant Joseph Paxton – at least they did until the Duke pinched him to be (at the age of 20) Head Gardener at Chatsworth. (Paxton’s arrival there is a cracking story and even romantic – well worth reading. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction.)

From 1828 the Society began to hold fêtes in their Chiswick Garden. They added shows with competitions for flowers and vegetables from 1833, a clear forerunner of what occurs at the Chelsea Flower Show today. At the same time, they continued to run experiments on their own account.

In 1861 the Society developed a new garden on land south of Hyde Park which they leased from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

The next year they held the Society’s first Great Spring Show. That continued until the Kensington site closed in 1882 when it moved to the gardens of the Inner Temple on the Victoria Embankment. Development and experiment continued at the Chiswick garden, however, and was maintained until 1904, when it moved out of London to Surrey, on the gift of Wisley from Sir Thomas Hanbury.

Remembrance Day, Chelsea Pensioner in uniformBut then the Inner Temple Show was cancelled in 1912.

Harry Veitch had for many years run the successful and innovative James Veitch & Sons nurseries in the King’s Road. He did a deal with the Royal Hospital for use of their extensive grounds to host the Great Spring Show as a one-off experiment. He was knighted that year, too..

It was so successful, that in 1913, the RHS returned and the present Chelsea Flower Show began to take shape, including the royal patronage. The widowed Queen Alexandra attended with two of her children.

When I Went to the Chelsea Show

I’ve only been to the Chelsea Flower Show twice, in spite of living so close. It’s very crowded.(What can I say?  I’m too short for crowds.)

Image by Alicja from Pixabay

The first time I was invited by a serious gardener who knew the ropes and guided me expertly. The following year, my mother said wistfully she’d really like to go, just once. My expert got me the tickets and gave me the best advice. Pick three things you really want to see. Pick your route. Go home before you’re too tired. “Oh,” he added, looking at my by now elderly mum, “watch out for the Duchesses. They come armed, especially on the last day when plants are given away. Umbrellas,  you know.”

Fortunately we weren’t there on the last day. But we did encounter an umbrella or two, raised to clear the path of beady-eyed persons (mostly with cut glass accents Celia Johnson would envy) on a mission to get to the front of the crowd round a show garden.

Helpless with laughter, we threw in the towel and left before, as my mother said, we lost a knee cap.

Affective Gardens

Chris Beardshaw, winning garden designer, Chelsea 2023

Photo with thanks to

The BBC does the Chelsea Flower Show proud, every year, both on television and, even more atmospherically, on radio.

This year Gardeners’ Question Time stopped me dead in my tracks, with a really moving piece about the garden created by Chris Beardshaw for Myeloma UK and funded by Project Giving Back.

The garden has been designed to offer tranquility and, in particular, to quiet the inner chatter. You can hear Beardshaw’s description at the link staring around 14.28 minutes. And it’s lovely.

STOP PRESS: After I’d written this, Libertà’s Joanna told me that this garden had won the BBC People’s Choice Award. See the Life Worth Living garden here

Chelsea Flower Show and Me

Apple orchard in sunlight

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

It moved me particularly because my mother, who loved her garden but was, at best, an erratic gardener, told me, after we’d been to the show, why it had been  so important to her.

In 1940 her brother, a dispatch rider with the British Expeditionary Force in France, went missing during the chaos of retreat. She didn’t tell anyone. But all that summer she would come home from work and go straight out into the garden and work until the moon came up.

Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay


“Eventually, the Salvation Army found him. He’d been overtaken by the German advance and was a prisoner of war. Not good, of course, but at least he was safe and we could write.

“The garden never looked so good. It was a riot of colour. I’d weeded and pruned and dead-headed and mowed as if his life depended on it. Gardening kept me sane.”

Solace 2023

I’ve gardened like that. And I think in 2023 a lot of us need get our hands in the hearth, or to step under a canopy of trees, and just let nature quieten that anxious inner monologue.

Pandemic, war, economic uncertainty, worldwide failure to address climate change… There’s a lot going on and none of it good. I sympathise with the Just Stop Oil protesters who threw orange paint over the RBC Brewin Dolphin Garden on Thursday. But how I wish they’d found a way to protest that didn’t just add to negative load.

I couldn’t help noticing how many closed businesses there are in the King’s Road. People need help, not threats.

Chelsea can be uplifting, though…

Lloyd's Bank Chelsea in Bloom displaySo I want to end with two things that I have found genuinely uplifting while I’ve been writing this blog. The first is another Chelsea in Bloom entry. Lloyds Bank in the Kings Road turned their famously rearing black horse logo into a dear little black pony, among simple garden and meadow flowers.

He is looking wistfully into their window. Ironic and gentle at the same time, this is a horse looking for company. I laughed but I also said, “Ah, bless.”

And the other is a 23-year-old British movie. It is similarly gentle, kind and ironic, but with a gritty edge that makes it all the sweeter. Also, it is inspired by a true story from the Chelsea Flower Show, when a group of prisoners entered their garden for a prize.

Helen Mirren is note perfect as the hyper-confident garden expert who is brilliant at what she wants but needs a quick kick up the arse in the relationship department. (She gets it and redeems herself. Very satisfying. Very, very funny.) Clive Owen is louche and lovely as a man who turns self-discovery into a mission to change the world and has a very decent crack at it. In fact the entire dramatis personae are total fruitcakes and every one a star performance.

And, of course, the flowers are beautiful.

You can watch it on Amazon now. Greenfingers. Enjoy!

Sophie Weston Author


How the Union Flag has evolved

When I wrote about coronations a few weeks ago, I didn’t mention flags. But for the 2023 coronation, they were everywhere, weren’t they? Strings of bunting featuring the Union Jack (or Union Flag, if you prefer). So I thought I might blog about the origins and evolution of the flag we all recognise and take for granted.

Many, perhaps most, national flags are fairly simple, perhaps just three coloured stripes, like the French and German ones. The Union Jack is much more complicated, as is the flag of the USA. That’s another flag that has evolved and may continue to do so, like the differences in our languages. Dame Isadora has blogged about that, more than once 😉

Amercian and English spoken

Two Nations divided by a common language  Rawf8

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to use the full title. And so the flag should represent the constituent parts. But does it? Where is Wales, for example? Continue reading

Year of RomCom?

Rosie M Banks, sexual frankness2023 is turning out to be the year of the RomCom movie. This has come as a surprise to me. But I heard it on BBC Radio4, Woman’s Hourand it certainly sounds about right. Their researchers know of 36 new RomComs scheduled for release this year. (The clip starts 27 minutes in, if you’re as interested as I am.)

It started me thinking about romantic stories in general. And wondering — could the same be true of books? Continue reading

Heroines, Heroes, Failure and Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand map with pinThis blog doesn’t normally touch politics but today (Friday) I learned that Jacinda Ardern is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has decided to leave the job after more than five years because, she said, she “no longer has enough in the tank to do it justice.” It’s a frank and honest statement. Possibly even heroic? But is it failure?

Can heroes admit to failure?

handsome dark-haired young man with beard and faraway gazeAnd then I started thinking about the heroes we write and wondering whether any of them would get away with making a statement like Ardern’s. Does an alpha hero (say) ever admit that he’s no longer up to whatever it is he does? That he’s a failure? Or that he would be if he continued?

Can’t say I’ve met many in the fiction I read, especially not in contemporary romances. Romantic heroes may occasionally fail at some task, sure. But don’t they usually learn from their failure and go on to bigger and better things?

And, even when they do fail, do they confess it to the world at large? Or do they keep that chiselled jaw suitably clamped and say nothing?

The key question, I suppose, is this:
is a hero a failure—unheroic—if he admits he is no longer up to the job? Continue reading

Escape With Rupert Bear

The Chinese curse of May You Live in Interesting Times well and truly struck this week, didn’t it? I have tried to keep away from news media, I really have. But the appalling tragicomedy that is our current government just wouldn’t leave me alone. And then I re-encountered Rupert Bear.

I was really grateful to my friend and fellow writer Lesley Cookman for spending a happy few hours in the Rupert Bear Centenary Exhibition at the Beaney (House of Art and Knowledge) in Canterbury. She came back and told our Zoom Circle all about it. Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth: with gasps and laughter

mourners for Queen Elizabeth II outside Buckingham PalaceTomorrow is the Queen’s funeral. There will be a great deal of black and much sombre music. And probably quite a few tears. Not a day for laughter.

But the Queen was a woman who had a mischievous sense of humour, a woman who, in private and sometimes in public, loved a joke.

Remembering the Queen’s sense of fun

So today, in advance of all that sombre black, I suggest we remember her funny side. Mostly, as Sophie said last week, she kept a straight face in case someone was offended. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had a chance to let her puckish sense of fun have full rein.

Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth II RIP

the Queen, white haired and dressed in yellow jacket and yellow broad brimmed hat decorated with pink roses smiling in the sunshine

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Hail and Farewell

Last week the Libertà Hive and several fellow authors were on a writing retreat in the north. It was a great shock, when I came down to raid the fridge for lunch on Thursday, to find four of them, very serious, sitting round the table looking at the  news feed on various laptops. “It’s over,” said one. “The Queen is going.” They had heard the announcement made by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Grand white staircase at Hotel Royal EvianAt first, I didn’t believe it. I may even have said, “Going where?” But then someone else said, “Of course it’s been coming for a long time.” And I realised what they meant.

It was like that moment on a staircase, when you trip and think you’ve righted yourself, only then to find you’re still falling. All the way to the bottom. (I’ve done it twice.)

The shock was profound. This couldn’t be happening. But it was. Continue reading

Platinum Jubilee, Royalty and Romance

Confluence of strings of union Jack bunting against a bright blue skyFor me, this week has mostly been about the impact on my diary of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I don’t mean just the parties, though I admit I prepared food for two, and attended three (so far).

But there were also the logistics. The “holiday” encompassed the spring Bank Holiday, now transferred to Thursday 2nd June, through Friday to Monday or even Tuesday. Parking charges were waived on Friday and Monday but not Saturday by my local authority.

Some shops  closed but, in my area of Central London, most didn’t, though some of them adjusted their hours. There were queues round the block for my local Italian ice cream purveyor every time the sun came out.A Mini painted like the Union Jack parked on the pavement between the end of Royal Avenue and the King's Road.

And then there was the chat. Everyone I met had something to say about the celebrations, the Queen, the royal Family, the decorations and, of course, the weather.

There was a positive rash of Union Jacks in shop windows, They were on cars and even bicycles. Strings of them cross the King’s Road. And, at the end of Royal Avenue, there was a Mini dressed as a Union Jack. My photograph shows the display in the course of construction. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter rants on “It Cannot Continue”

lightning in stormy weatherThe front pages thunder:

This [insert rant-worthy issue of choice] is an utter disgrace. It cannot continue.

How many times have you read an opinion like that, whether on front pages or editorial columns?
And what is wrong with it?

Well, the obvious answer to the second sentence—It cannot continue—is a pantomime-style one.
Oh yes it can!
What’s more, it usually does. Even in the worst cases, like war crimes and invasions.

The meaning of “can”

Female climber clinging to the edge. She can.The most common meaning of the modal verb “can” is “to be able to”. Hence it is obvious that “cannot” means “be unable to”.

And saying a disgrace “cannot continue” implies that it is impossible for it to continue, that it will be somehow stopped.
(Possibly by magic?) Continue reading

Back ranting: Pedantique-Ryter leads the cavalry charge

recreation of cavalrymen 19th century

Cavalry re-enactors: Image by Nacho Frontela from Pixabay

Punk Woman pointing finger Or Else!

The Pedant Dame? Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

If you thought I was missing in action lately, you were partly right. It is nearly 18 months since I last posted here. Indeed, it is nearly 2 years since I was last in the UK. Duty calls, you understand, and sometimes overseas. But I am back now, you’ll be relieved to know.

And I can see that things have been going rapidly downhill while I’ve been trapped in southern climes. Britain is much in need of strong and clear leadership and communication.

I am raring to go.
It is right up my proverbial street, after all.

And now that I am back, I intend to See That Things Improve.

So what will change now I’m back?

Continue reading