Chelsea Fringe 2014

Posted: June 4th, 2014

What brings together Ljubljana, Bristol, Turin, Norwich, Kent and Brighton, not forgetting London and Vienna? Answer: Chelsea Fringe, the open-access festival celebrating everything to do with gardens, plants, landscape and the environment.

‘I knew my life would massively change from the moment I dreamt up the Chelsea Fringe’ said Tim Richardson, the Founder-Director behind this thrilling new garden festival now in its third year. One of the great and good of the international garden fraternity, Tim is the author of many highly acclaimed garden books including the ‘The New English Garden’ and ‘Great Gardens of America’ , both published by Frances Lincoln ( and is a trustee of the Garden History Society ( and sits on the National Trust’s gardens advisory panel. An early claim to fame was as author of ’Sweets, The History of Temptation’, a highly individual history of sweets.

Inspiration for the festival came to Tim, a genial witty character, as he was lying in bed one morning during the RHS Chelsea Flower Show week four years ago. ‘I wanted to create a sort of Salon de Refuses by pushing the boundaries. The Fringe is not about medals or display gardens. It is a platform and way of celebrating gardening including guerrilla and community events in which gardeners, artists, cooks, children, poets and historians, could participate.  I wanted to harness the energy of a new generation of gardeners who don’t necessarily approach gardening from the traditional background such as mine but look upon it as a mild form of environmental activism. Many of those involved share the major cultural fear of our age, that of an environmental Armagaddeon.

Fun and enthusiasm are the two star qualities that shine through all the myriad happenings linked with the Fringe from pop up gardens such as the Travel Garden at 130 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1, designed by @dodheadgardener to a floral peepshow at Petersham Nurseries ( to a river of herbs running down Surbiton High Street. ‘An ‘anarchic festival of art installations, community gardening, workshops and ‘pop-up’ gardens is how ‘The Garden’ described the Fringe.

Travel Garden at Oldfield Ptnrs 130 Buckingham Palace Road SW1

Travel Garden at Oldfield Ptnrs 130 Buckingham Palace Road SW1

‘It’s fabulous because we neither commission nor curate, we just take what comes our way as long as it’s on topic and interesting. The quality of events is getting steadily better each year’. Given that everyone involved in the organising of the Fringe is voluntary (the organising committee numbers some sixty odd people) it is a remarkable achievement on Tim’s part to have established the Fringe.

Leeds Castle Kent, Chelsea Fringe with an English "Country Garden" punt.

Leeds Castle Kent, Chelsea Fringe with an English “Country Garden” punt.

The Fringe is an umbrella organisation which is rapidly spreading across England as well as overseas. ‘This year about half the events are outside London.’ Bristol has a particularly active Fringe satellite highlights still to come include ‘Medieval Mayhem’ at the Star and Dove in Totterdown, a quirky take on a Medieval Mead using period planting in Wyrde Ways, and a Plants Party in the Victoria Park in Bath on June 7th 10am – 4pm which includes kids planting workshops and seed swaps.

Leeds Castle Kent, Chelsea Fringe with an English "Country Garden" punt.

Leeds Castle Kent, Chelsea Fringe with an English “Country Garden” punt.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Fringe is the way it brings people together. Many of the events take place in community gardens which local residents have walked past for years thinking they are the sole preserve of people with mental health issues. ‘The Fringe provides an opportunity for people to interact across all social and ethnic groups.’

A brilliant PR coup was to get Thompson and Morgan to donate thousands of packs of seeds to distribute as a form of advertising the festival. ‘It got everyone talking and was like a Fringe event in itself’.

Check out the website Open to all either as a volunteer, or masterminding a project or simply becoming a Friend. For £10 you’ll receive newsletters, advance information on projects and an invitation to a special member event prior to the opening. The income from the Friends paid for the website and for the distinctive Chelsea Fringe boards to be mailed to Ljubljana.

Giant tea bowls planted with tea plants.Geffrye Museum

Giant tea bowls planted with tea plants. Geffrye Museum, London

As the word spreads I suspect that the Fringe will get bigger and bigger. I, for one, am already looking forward to Chelsea Fringe 2015.

Chelsea Fringe 2015 runs from 16th May – 7th June.  If you would like to put on a project or sponsor The Fringe please get in touch at  If you would like to join the friendly team of volunteer co-ordinators, please contact