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22 August 2014

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Fertile Ground

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of the summer season’s most enjoyable hospitality options, whether you have green fingers or not


WHEN
24-28 May
WHERE
Royal Hospital, Chelsea 
WHY
Supremely relaxed; day or evening hospitality in London


Chelsea flower - Sodexo_1006_CFS1a.jpgIf the RHS Chelsea Flower Show makes you think of hordes of Women’s Institute members milling among the rose bushes, munching on fish-paste sandwiches, then you need to update your perceptions. Now in its 89th year, Chelsea’s beloved octogenarian is one of the summer season’s hottest tickets. The showcase gardens act as a catwalk for trends beyond the flowerbed, influencing fashion designers and attracting researchers from top brands. It’s also a celebrity magnet: as well as pulling in the royals and the odd Titchmarsh, the show is a stomping ground for normally nocturnal stars – Sienna Miller
and Rod Stewart are among its famous fans.
Make no mistake, Chelsea is the first ‘landmark’ event of the season. Visitor passes (all 150,000 of them) sell out quickly, so hospitality is always in demand – there was a 20% increase in hospitality bookings last year compared with 2009. Pushing up the numbers in 2010 were the Square Meal Venues & Events team. We enjoyeda day with some key figures from the events industry, who were curious to discover whether the show would live up to its reputation.
A previous visit had taught us a few key lessons to get the best of the day – most importantly, to turn up early. The bulk of the crowds arrive at about 10am, so being on site early allowed us to stroll around in groups and enjoy the spectacular show gardens in relative peace. Stand-outs included the small urban garden created by the Thrive charity with designer Jo Thompson, the unashamedly traditional M&G garden (which went on to win a ‘People’s Choice’ award) and the Leeds Tourism area, where they created a working canal lock. Having gauged the lie of the land, we then retreated to the hospitality village to stake a claim to our private chalet. 
Chelsea flower 3 - Sodexo_1006_CFS4a.jpgHidden away in a private corner of the Royal Hospital’s 11 acres of gardens, the village is a welcome haven of tranquillity in the midst of the action. Think wooden decking, a private garden, quiet tables in the sunshine, an outside bar and live music from jazz bands and string quartets, not to mention gardening experts such as The Telegraph’s Val Bourne circulating (she can also be pre-booked for guided tours). The 16 chalets can be set up for a pre-lunch meeting and branded with corporate décor if hired exclusively. Tables of 10 can also be booked in a shared chalet, while smaller groups can share a table with others. There’s also plenty of outside space, where you can make the garden tables your own for the day.
One of the big advantages of show hospitality is the freedom it gives your guests. Instead of being trapped in, say, a glass box at a football stadium, they can use the chalet as a base and wander off to explore the show at will, returning at pre-agreed times. It’s all low key and relaxed. Venues & Events’ guests certainly enjoyed this aspect, disappearing off into the crowds before returning (often laden down with new gardening tomes) for some much-needed Pimm’s.
Chelsea flower 2 - Sodexo_1006_CFSDSC_5092.jpgAll our guests, needless to say, returned at lunchtime. Dishes included delicious seared salmon fillets and full-to-overflowing shared seafood plates, served by Sodexo Prestige’s typically accommodating staff.
Appetites sated, the more intrepid guests threw themselves back into the hustle of the show, although most preferred to just relax in the hospitality village and enjoy the beautifully sunny weather and all-too-drinkable wine, while chatting to other guests. 
Of course, taking a whole day out of the office won’t suit everyone. An increasingly popular option is to book an evening hospitality package, with a 3.30pm arrival and a Champagne and canapé reception, followed by a four-course dinner, with the evening ending at 10pm. This gives guests plenty of time to wander around the displays, before enjoying some first-rate food.
Compared with the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show in July, Chelsea is more about seeing and being seen. But whether your clients are gardening fanatics or just keen to soak up some sun with their fizz, you can be sure that they will enjoy a great day in the garden.

BIG DECISIONS…

There are a variety of hospitality packages available – these are three of our favourites.
Visit squaremeal.co.uk/rhs-chelsea for more information

VIP Chairman’s Hospitality, from £279pp  valid from 8am-8pm
* Show ticket and catalogue
* Coffee and patisserie from 9am
* Grande Marque Champagne and canapé reception
* Four-course lunch with fine wines, coffee, port and brandy
* Complimentary bar from 11am-6pm
* Afternoon tea from 4pm-5.30pm
* Horticultural expert in attendance
* Dedicated hostess

VIP Garden Lounge Package, £190pp valid from 8am-8pm
* Show ticket and catalogue
* Access to hospitality village from 9.30am-5pm
* A la carte Garden Lounge menu including breakfast, brunch and tapas-style lunch
* Fine wines throughout the day
* Afternoon tea
* Available Wednesday 25and Friday 27 May

VIP Chairman’s Evening Hospitality, from £249pp valid from 3.30pm-10pm
* Show ticket and catalogue
* Access to hospitality village
* Traditional afternoon tea from 4pm-5pm
* Grande Marque Champagne and canapé reception from 7pm
* Four-course dinner at 8pm
* Dedicated hostess


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011


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