Hillier Trees at Chelsea Flower Show

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a special time for Hillier Nurseries.  It is the one time each year the whole company comes together to show what we can do!  This year, we had hoped to extend our World Record run of 74 consecutive Gold Medals to reach the landmark 75th.  Sadly, nobody has been able to go to Chelsea in 2020, for obvious reasons, so Jim Hillier thought it would be an opportunity to give a behind-the-scenes insight into the stars of the show - the trees!


Every tree has to be in perfect condition for judging day.  Last year our Prunus yedoensis multi-stems stole the show!  They were in full blossom, with every branch covered in pristine flowers - a full month later than nature intended.  A trick on nature that Hillier are famous for.

Our skilled nursery staff managed to hold back the display of cherry blossom by placing the trees in a vast refrigerated storage facility, at just the right time, before bringing them into the heat of the Chelsea spotlight to burst forth with brilliant spring radiance!  Those cherry enthusiasts among you will note the unusually blanched flowers, for P. yedoensis – this is brought about by the less intensive light levels penetrating the Chelsea Floral Marquee.

  Prunus yedoensis at Chelsea Flower Show in 2019

This attention to detail to make every tree “perfect” begins at the very genesis of the tree’s life.  Every cultivar is propagated by hand - 30,000 buds sliced from their mother plant and spliced to their root-stocks through July and August.  Each one tied with a biodegradable rubber band.  In addition to these, thousands of seedling whips are planted each year.

Years and years of expert husbandry and horticultural experience are invested in each of our trees as the buds develop into "maidens", then lifted and root-pruned continually as they mature into 6 year old "standards", 12 year old "semi-mature" trees and eventually into five and six times transplanted specimens up to 25 or 30 years old.

This continual transplanting activity on the nursery allows the trees to thrive once they are planted out into the landscape – even when they are 12 metres tall – assuming correct maintenance.  Every tree, whether destined for Chelsea or not, receives the same level of detailed attention, so we can offer Chelsea quality trees 12 months of the year.

Tree Production on the Hillier Nursery in Hampshire

Another challenge that Chelsea Flower Show presents is one of logistics.  To deliver large trees to central London is no mean feat, but to hit precise delivery slots, offload several tonnes of trees while working around hundreds of other people and vehicles performing similar tasks takes cool heads and an experienced team.  To our dispatch managers, every delivery is a Chelsea delivery.

Another reason we love Chelsea is because we can highlight our new trees and promote particular stock to a wider audience.  Last year we were fortunate enough to be joined by the wonderful Dame Judi Dench who did wonders to raise people’s awareness of our range of Disease Resistant elms.  In previous years we have promoted our exclusive range of Betula cultivars – Alaskan, American, Chinese and Himalayan.

It is also a chance for hard-working trees like hornbeam to court attention.  Many gardens throughout the show will be using hornbeam because it has a singularly important quality – guaranteed to be in leaf from mid-April!  For this reason, and because it is so versatile, it is used as a backdrop to colourful planting combinations; as a screen to hide the neighbouring exhibitor or harsh white wall of the marquee; as structural column, pleach or cube; or even centre stage as a topiary feature!

This is a very different May, but we are thankful we have been able to keep in touch with our customers and work with them as sites and projects begin to open up again.  We are also pleased to be able to have the time to share our Chelsea thoughts with you and highlight that, from now, we can deliver “Chelsea quality” trees all year round again.  So please feel free to contact us to discuss projects you have going on now or in the future.

We have all missed Chelsea, greatly, this year and we look forward to welcoming you all again on next year’s Hillier exhibit as we aim for Gold – horticulture’s highest quality kite mark!