Documents: Special Interest: Gardening In England:

Press Day at Chelsea 2012 and Afternoon Tea at the Langham Hotel
by Donna Dawson
by Donna Dawson


Co-Owner of along with her husband Tom.

Owner of which specializes in unique garden tours. Co-author of three garden books and a master gardener.

She is a weekly contributor to and part of the expert panel at with her specialty in gardens.

Donna has appeared on Canada AM, HGTV's Indoor Gardener and Calling All Gardeners. She and her husband were one of the few chosen to do a tv special called "the Garden Tourist" on Recreating Eden and while in China on tour, she was a special guest on China TV. She has also been a featured guest speaker at numerous Canadian gardening events including Canada Blooms and Victoria's Art in Bloom.

May 22, 2012

There is something so civilized about attending Press Day at Chelsea. The flavor is so different and the walkways are so open. Mind the cameras and all the guys hauling photography equipment around…mind the television stations who are doing live broadcasts…mind the last minute details and you are in for an extraordinary day. A day that brings celebrities, music and photo calls to introduce new plants. There were stars here I heard but I was too busy looking at the gardens, displays and accessories that are on offer this year. This is THE show you want to be at to see the very latest in the horticultural world. This is the 99th year it had been held here too.

We (another writer and myself) had just started our walk and as we approached Diarmuid Gavin’s huge 80 high pyramid called the Westland Magical Tower Garden, who is there sweeping up the last minute bits of dirt and leaves but Diarmuid himself. He was multitasking – on the phone – as well as sweeping and smiled at us. Thrilled that I was one of the few that cold pronounce his name correctly he then invited us to go inside this overwhelming show garden. Diarmuid likes to have fun at Chelsea and with his pod last year, we wondered what he would do this year. It was amazing inside…all kinds of small sitting areas to relax in, and even a kitchen were you could make a cup of tea or enjoy a glass of champagne in privacy, surrounded by greenery….a huge tree house. The lift was closed as they did last minute plant changes, so we only got to the second floor, but it was really enchanting to me to be inside where the view of this structure is much more visible and appreciated.

Later on in the day as we were heading to the press tent for a much needed cup of coffee we see his pyramid edged all the way up with Chelsea Pensioners…smiling and waving to the people. They had as much fun as we did.

It’s a great time to meet all the designers of the gardens too. Jo Thompson, in her flowery dress, was chatting away in her garden designed about caravanning. They call trailers caravans here. We caught Carol Klein just about ready to do a live bit and she smiled back at us for a picture…

Laura Wright, a classical singer sang her heart out in one of the gardens…always pure magic to listen to classical music in a garden.

Press day is a day of rest – kind of – as they have set up their gardens and wait…wait for the judging to begin. The air is filled with excitement as you see little huddles of judges moving from garden to garden and then hands raise and off they go to the next. 18 show gardens are vying for Gold this year, each unique and full of ideas. Then there are the Fresh Gardens and Artisan Gardens.

Inside the Grand Pavillion or tent are all the cut flower displays, fruits, vegetables and more gardens as displayed by other countries like Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Thailand, Korea, and Grenada. My friend Suzanne, who is the lead designer for the Grenada display has another hopefully Gold Medal coming. She deserves it…it is gorgeous. A tropical wonderful helliconia and orchids that makes me pine to be back in Grenada again. A country truly worth visiting with some wonderful gardens and gardeners!

This being the Jubilee Year, there were lots of things around the show to remind us of that. They put together a small garden at the entrance to the Bull Ring with a beautiful picture of the Queen that rotates. New plant introductions this year included the name ‘Jubilee’ in them and of course many items to buy in the shops.

Chelsea 2012 is all sold out, it usually is. Only 157,000 people get tickets for this event which runs five days now with a mad sell off of plants on the Saturday.

When we were done the show we took our goodies back to the hotel to get ready for Afternoon Tea…yes, the quintessential reason for being in London is to enjoy Afternoon Tea too! This tea would be taken at the Langham Hotel, a gorgeous 5 star hotel where tea is a tradition and the hotel is an icon in London.

Do you know the history of Afternoon Tea? From the Langham website “Dating back to 1865, English Afternoon Tea is credited to the Duchess of Bedford. The legend says that the first lady to enjoy ‘afternoon tea’ was Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who lived at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and was lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

The Duchess of Bedford is said to have experienced a ‘sinking feeling’ in the middle of the afternoon one day and asked her footman to deliver all the tea making equipment with some bread and butter to her private room. She found this new meal so satisfying and
enjoyable that she soon started inviting her special friends to join her for ‘afternoon tea’. Even when she went to stay with her aristocratic friends in their manor houses, she took her own kettle and tea making items with her so that she could continue her afternoon parties when she was away from home. The simple platefuls of bread and butter that first accompanied afternoon tea developed into much more elaborate selections of sandwiches, scones, muffins, cakes, biscuits, gâteaux and fruit desserts. The centre piece of The Langham, London - the dazzling is famed as the place where the tradition of afternoon tea was born over 140 years ago. An indulgence that lives on today and the heart of enchanting hospitality.’

Asprey Jubilee Tea at Langham Hotel is a tasty and memorable experience. A tea sommelier will help you choose the perfect tea to enjoy then he disappears to get it ready. In the meantime a plate of too pretty to eat deserts are placed on the tiered rack to tempt you while you wait for your sandwiches to arrive…

  • Parmesan with celery and cream cheese,
  • Smoked duck with foie gras and blackcurrant,
  • Asparagus with Wiltshire ham, Gruyère and chives,
  • Cornish crab with cucumber and shiso and
  • Smoked Scottish salmon mousse with caviar.

    Each is a delight.

    Then your scones arrive in a silver basket – plain (always my choice), raisin, chocolate and marinated orange. Slather half of a heated scone with Devonshire clotted cream (yes, 60 percent fat, but what the heck this is an experience where calories don’t count) then a dollop of home made strawberry preserves and savour this true British tradition. Before desert they come by again to see if you would like some more sandwiches but you are already past the point of no return and need to make room for the last course….the deserts. All inspired by Aspreys most recent jewellery collection….
  • Praline truffle,
  • Pina colada macaroon with Malibu,
  • Blueberry and bilberry battenburg,
  • Purple jasmine with apricot and
  • Blackcurrant and white chocolate mousse.

    You are now totally full and never want to eat again. You sit back with the last bit of tea and think that life never gets better than this…

We tried three different teas while here as well. Jing Assam Gold, pungent and with a hint of raisin and malt. Afternoon Tea from Tregothnan here in England, and finally Palm Court Exotic Blend, a Chinese white tea with hints of hibiscus, rosehip and pink rose petals.

Donna, owner of  will have a tour going to Paris/Chelsea 2013 – where you can come along and see this incredible show for yourself! In the meantime to tempt you further, check out all the photos of her past tours.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row