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Chelsea Flower Show mentors Rosie and Rob Hardy
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My Chelsea experience: Rosie and Rob Hardy

Published: April 28, 2022 at 11:10 am

Jodie Jones goes behind the scenes of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to meet nursery owners and mentors Rosy and Rob Hardy, who reflect on their 30-year relationship with this landmark event

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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Rosy and Rob Hardy, of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, retired from exhibiting at Chelsea in 2019 after winning an astonishing 24 consecutive Gold medals, but they are back this year mentoring two new nurseries through their Chelsea debuts.

RHS / Luke MacGregor

“We’ve been supporting Neil and Niamh Jones from the Kitchen Garden Plant Centre and Graham Austin, a delphinium specialist from Home Farm Plants. Both are fabulous nurseries and they all really know their plants, but we can help them with the practicalities of staging an exhibit,” says Rosy.

“I vividly remember how intimidated I felt during our first Chelsea, way back in 1992. In those days the nurseries still exhibited in a big old canvas marquee and when the wind blew it sounded like you were on a ship. We were a tiny back-garden nursery from Hampshire with the audacity to put ourselves up against Notcutts, Hillier and the other big boys. There was real camaraderie between exhibitors, but you were pretty much left to your own devices.”

Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants
A display at Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants

It was Rosy’s husband Rob who worked out the logistics of transporting plants, people and everything else they might need. “You can’t just pop back home if you’ve forgotten something,” he says. “We learned the hard way about where to park your van, how many labels you’re likely to need, and why you should always be polite to the grounds staff.”

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Rob and Rosy’s final display was due to appear in 2020 and was all planned out when the show got cancelled, so they staged it in their own nursery instead. “We kept it in place for three weeks so that people could see it develop, and raised £8,000 for our local hospice, which was just as good as a Chelsea Gold,” says Rosy. “This year, instead of the usual stress we can just enjoy visiting the show and seeing how Graham, Neil and Niamh’s stands turn out. I can’t wait.”

RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place 24-28 May 2022

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