Gardens Illustrated
Helena Pettit, RHS Director of gardens and shows
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My Chelsea experience: Helena Pettit

Published: May 15, 2022 at 1:57 pm

Jodie Jones goes behind the scenes of the Chelsea Flower Show to meet Helena Pettit, who took up the reins as RHS director of gardens and shows in 2018

Everyone’s experience of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is slightly different. For most of us it’s a great day out – the opportunity to find inspiration in the show gardens, discover new plants from the country’s leading nurseries and partake in some serious retail therapy. But what does it mean for those who are involved in the show?

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RHS / Luke MacGregor

Having worked in events management for many years, Helena Pettit had rarely visited Chelsea as a member of the public before she took over as the RHS director of gardens and shows in 2018. “I was usually too busy running other events, but the time I did go still sticks in my mind for the colour and vibrancy, the uplifting sense of excellence and inspiration, and the fact that there was just so much to see and do.

Visitors at the Chelsea Flower Show
Visitors on the Triangle at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

“Running Chelsea, unsurprisingly, is really challenging. We work with an awful lot of stakeholders and put a huge amount of effort into engaging with our visitors to give them an amazing experience while making them aware of the important messages around health, environment, and so on. And not many people realise that this show is our single largest fundraiser for the charity throughout the year, so it is really important that we get it right.

“Planning for each new Chelsea starts nearly 24 months ahead and builds slowly, so by the time we open the gates to visitors I am on call constantly. And it has been even crazier this time, since the last show was only in September. In addition to the 39 show gardens, there is so much going on this year, including floral tributes to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, an exploration of the history of gardening with our new sponsors The Newt, and a return of the indoor houseplant studios, which were such a success last year.

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“I generally sneak in early in the morning to enjoy a bit of the atmosphere for myself before the madness starts, and I always find time to treat myself to something from the trade stands and buy some plants. My garden is a little rammed as a result, but I just can’t help myself when I am surrounded by all that temptation.”

RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place 24-28 May 2022

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