Chelsea Flower Show too white and middle class, admits Monty Don

BBC gardening TV presenter Monty Don says it is not all Chelsea Flower Show's fault that it is too white and middle aged - Richard Hanmer/BBC
BBC gardening TV presenter Monty Don says it is not all Chelsea Flower Show's fault that it is too white and middle aged - Richard Hanmer/BBC

The Chelsea Flower Show is too white, too middle aged and too middle class, Monty Don has admitted.

The TV gardener said there is an “element of truth” to claims that the Royal Horticultural Society's flagship annual event is a “festival for the Home Counties”.

However, he believes the criticism is a “lazy jibe” as the RHS has no control over who buys tickets.

Don, 67, said white, middle-aged people “can and do make lovely gardens” but he believes there is a “great change unfolding”, adding that young people from all backgrounds and races must have a say in British gardening culture for the sake of its future.

Writing in BBC Gardeners' World magazine, he said: "The accusations against Chelsea are that it is a festival for the white, middle-aged, middle-class Home Counties.

"While there is an element of truth in that, it is a lazy jibe. The RHS cannot control who buys tickets.

"If that is a fault - and as a white, middle-aged, middle-class man raised in the Home Counties I feel a tad sensitive about this - then it is one that the whole of British horticulture has to attend rather than focusing on Chelsea.

"In fact, I think that it is missing the point. I do not think that gardening is the preserve of white, middle-aged, middle-class Home Counties people, although they can and do make lovely gardens and gardeners. The great change that is unfolding is that much younger gardeners are now welcomed enthusiastically.

"People from every background, race, colour and creed are central to how we garden, what we grow and critically how this relates to our nurture of the natural world. Climate change means that my children's and grandchildren's generations have a vital stake in how we act."

Younger issues

The gardener said that young people must have a say in issues such as climate change and current issues like the peat debate. "Young people get this and it will be young people who solve it," he continued. "It is we - the 'old farts' - who are blocking the way ahead."

He added: "To the great credit of Chelsea, the show now actively addresses all of this and is trying to encourage and aid younger designers and growers, although I am sure it would be the first to admit there is much more it can and hopefully will do."

His comments come as the RHS ambassador for diversity and inclusion said that classic English gardens made by “double-barrel named” designers are putting non-white communities off the Chelsea Flower Show.

Maroj Malde said that “on the whole, it’s always been white garden designers who’ve actually been featured here.”

Malde, who was born in Kenya to Indian parents, said that RHS gardens are “beautiful English pretty country cottage gardens, or rose gardens, designed by double-barrel named designers”.

“How does that connect to somebody from my background? Or from an African background, or Mediterranean background? It doesn’t.”