Chelsea Fringe

The Chelsea Fringe is what. Here's our guide to the City's new alternative garden festival

Words: Tim Richardson

The second year of the Chelsea Fringe (May 18 to June 9) is upon us: three weeks of alternative gardening activity across London and beyond, all conceived as a “fringe” to the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show.

Among the highlights this year are various installations and events at Battersea Power Station.  Installations such as Coal Frame and Garden Optics, are all about the concept of “looking” in this eminently viewable space.  Then there are slightly crazy things such as the Planted People project created by the Pop-Up foundation for the first afternoon of the Fringe (May 18), which will be doing just that, planting human beings in the earth.

We are particularly excited about Battersea, because the Fringe represents the very first time this iconic site (hey, what a cliche – but surely justified in this case?) has been open, free of charge, for people to walk around during the day and evening.  Apart from anything else, it allows locals – who may have worked at the power station, or had relatives who did – to reacquaint themselves with this incredible looming presence, which is four times the size of Tate Modern.  It’s also good fun that the semi-derelict power station, replete with free Fringey activities, is just across the river and an easy walk away from the heaving, commercially focused Chelsea Flower Show site.  Cross the river and enter another world!

Last year’s Fringe comprised just over 100 events.  This year, to the delight of the team of 60 volunteers who have made this all happen, we have already doubled that.  The Edible High Road in Chiswick – a big success last year, with more than 60 shops displaying fruit trees – is being repeated this year with the Herbal High Road, as well as extra events and activities on the opening day of the Fringe.  Several other “edible high roads” will be springing up across London for the duration of the Fringe as well as a tree trail on King’s Road.

A great deal will be happening around South Kensington tube (courtesy of the Brompton Design District) and Kensington and Chelsea Council are laying on special trails across community and other gardens in the borough, for the three weekends of the Fringe.  Over at the Oxo Tower there will be another hub centred on the Urban Floral event organized by various local workshops and ateliers.

Museums are heavily involved.  Look out for events at the Horniman in South London (including a big family day on May 19), the Geffrye Museum is laying on tours and installations, while the Garden Museum is hosting an artist-in-residence during the Fringe. Art galleries such as Rebecca Hossack in Charlotte Street, Great Western Studios in Paddington and the Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green are taking part, as well as the Testbed space in Battersea.  And the Fringe’s new backer, The National Trust, is putting on a variety of events for the Fringe including a wildlife day at Osterley (June 9) and that morning a ‘Dawn Chorus’ project involving artists and poets tweeting their impressions of the dawn at various Trust properties in and near London.

Drinks are quite a theme.  There are garden-inspired cocktails to go with the amazing living wall at the Athenaeum Hotel opposite Green Park (with a talks evening as well), while the pop-up Gin Garden is setting up its stall at Chelsea Physic Garden, Hoxton Hotel and elsewhere.  And the Cocktail Gardener is mixing it up over at the Brunel Museum on weekend afternoons and evenings.

Among the exciting installations to look out for are one for Crabtree & Evelyn in the middle of Covent Garden, and the ‘Millefleurs’ planting installation in Broadgate, behind Liverpool Street.  There will also be special events at various community gardens.   The Garden Of Abandon in Highbury is holding a poetry event on May 26 (there are several poetry events this year).  The fabulous Rosendale Allotments in south London are curating an ambitious range of talks and events across the Fringe period.

Foodies might be drawn to events like the Dinner to Dye For (making dyes and then eating the plants used as sources) over at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, next to Weavers Fields, where the theme of weaving and dyeing informs a whole range of artistic activities and exhibitions.  And don’t miss the Garden/Dog Show at the Inner Temple on the last day of the Fringe, June 9.

For those who can’t make it in person, there’s even a Chelsea Fringe special broadcast of Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time which will be aired on May 24 and 26.  Oh, and all you tech lovers – we also have a Fringe app (kindly donated by our friends at intoGardens) which is of course downloadable (free!) from the App Store and allows you to navigate Fringe events with ease.

Tim Richardson is the world’s first confectionary historian – in other words he has travelled the globe in search of the stories behind rhubarb and custards, Black Jacks and all manner of sugary delights.  Oh, and in between sucking the fizz out of lemon sherbets he writes about garden design and not just had the idea but went ahead and launched the Chelsea Flower Show’s naughty younger sibling, the Chelsea Fringe