Meet Three of the Hillier Plant Experts

It takes a huge team of people at Hillier to plan and create the Chelsea garden each year. The stars of the show, without a doubt, are the stunning plants displayed beautifully for all to admire.


Among the Chelsea team are three key people working hard behind the scenes to ensure every single plant is worthy of a medal.

Jo Fell is the head grower at the company’s Brentry nursery in Hampshire and is responsible for leading the production team, her sister Emma is the product manager and Peter Gill is a grower, also at Brentry.

Making sure that all of the plants and trees are ready and in prime condition for Chelsea is just one of their many tasks, and all three confirm that it is the most exciting and challenging role.  Work begins on planning the following Chelsea garden as soon as the current one ends.

Product manager Emma’s key role is delivering the company’s product strategy and sourcing new plants, some of which are launched at Chelsea, including three major new varieties for 2019: Weigela ‘Picobella Rosa’, Isoplexis isabelliana ‘Bella’ and Cordyline ‘Pink Star’. (see separate press release in the press pack).

Jo Fell has the incredible responsibility of ensuring each and every plant is ready for Chelsea and at its peak. “Plant management is a continuous programme of growing and development and Chelsea is just one of my responsibilities.   Hillier Nurseries turns over around 1.2million plants of all shapes and sizes each year.  We grow many of the plants sold at our Hillier Garden Centres, but also supply other garden centres nationwide,” explains Jo.

Peter is involved with the preparation of all the plants and trees for Chelsea.  This involves a number of different tasks, including making sure the crops are put in and taken out of cold storage or the hothouse to ensure they are perfect in time for show week.

Growing Plants in Peak Condition

Emma has worked at Hillier for 12 years.  She says: “Chelsea is an important opportunity to showcase our products in their finest condition, so it is vital to ensure we have a good mixture on display.”

Both Emma and Jo work closely with the garden designer. This year, it is Lilly Gomm, making her Chelsea debut.  Prior to this, Sarah Eberle designed the Hillier Chelsea garden for the last three years and continues her involvement this year in a mentoring role for Lilly.

“It is my job,” says Jo, “to ensure that all plants, whether a 20-year old acer in a 200litre container, or a digitalis in a 2litre pot, are at their peak in time for Chelsea.  Making the right decisions at the right time is essential to ensure that we bring Lilly’s design vision to life.”

Peter adds: “l love the final stage of loading the Chelsea plants and trees on to the 14 different lorries and working with the team on the nursery to achieve this.  Fitting a 16ft ornamental tree onto a 10ft lorry is all part of the challenge and experience.”

A Team Effort

All three agree that it is all the people throughout Hillier who work together on the Chelsea garden that make it so exciting.

“It is such a great opportunity to work alongside everyone” Jo explains. “The one thing that gets the emotions going is hearing so many positive comments, not only from the Hillier team, but also from the visitors to the show.  This makes all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears – of joy – worthwhile.”

Emma agrees, adding: “I am always amazed at what we can achieve in a relatively short time.  Months of planning and growing is all focussed into about ten days to create a masterpiece.  It is very physically demanding but we work well as a team and always have fun together.”

‘The Stihl Hillier Garden’ blends together contemporary and traditional themes in this year’s design. The central element of the garden, alongside the thousands of beautiful quality plants, will be a striking water feature that will bring a feeling of calm and elegance to the garden.

The garden will be sponsored by the world-famous power tool manufacturer, STIHL. This is the second year Hillier and STIHL have partnered together for RHS Chelsea Flower Show, following the gold-medal winning ‘Stihl Inspiration’ by Hillier in 2018.