LONDON — From the world’s hottest chilli to a garden inspired by music, Britons celebrate their love for gardening this week at the Chelsea Flower Show, one of the world’s biggest horticultural festivals.

Gardening as art goes on show at famous UK festival
A Chelsea Pensioner is pushed through the Gateway to the Garden Safari designed by Simon Lycett

With the champagne already flowing at the week-long show where more than 165,000 visitors are expected, Queen Elizabeth II herself toured some of the hundreds of exhibitors late on Monday.

And the Royal Horticultural Society denied rumors that Brexit was throwing a spanner in the works by putting off some of the festival’s sponsors.

“There are only three show gardens less than last year but we have novelties like the two Feel Good gardens, which celebrate the five senses,” RHS spokeswoman Alice McDermott told AFP.

Visitors have to pay between £63 and £80 ($82 and $104) to enter the show, set in the exclusive surroundings of the grounds of the 17th century Royal Hospital Chelsea.

For anyone who believes that plants are just plants and gardens are purely decorative, the Chelsea Flower Show offers a magnificent rebuttal.

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The far from ordinary gardens include some to fight against environmental threats, or improve physical and mental health, or inspire poets and musicians.

Garden designer Chris Beardshaw said his exhibit was inspired by Bach and Mozart.

“I’m immersing myself in the music… Trying to picture how these music elements fit,” he told AFP.

“It’s always a challenge to be in the show, you have to be ready for a precise day,” he said.

On the eve of the opening, he had an unexpected surprise that will be familiar to many gardeners.

“We discovered that a fox was making a nest in the center of a herbaceous border… Quite a damage!”

At a garden nearby, cabbages and salads are arranged in neat rows to “recreate the feeling when you stand too close to a speaker stack at a concert — the sensation of music reverberating through your whole body,” said its designer James Alexander Sinclair.

There is no sign of garden gnomes or other decorations considered an affront to good taste by the garden connoisseurs. Instead, a sculptor can be found “balancing stones” for a feature.

The only concessions to common garden decorations are giant animals made out of artificial grass or the graffiti in a space entitled “Greening grey Britain.”

“Gardens and plants are no longer an optional and decorative nice-to-have. They’re essential,” said the urban garden’s designer Nigel Dunnett.

“With pollution levels dangerously high in cities and flash-flooding devastating areas of the country, we need to all embrace the fact that plants help mitigate against some of the biggest environmental threats facing us today,” he said.

The plants in the garden absorb pollution and are resistant to a scarcity of water — a low risk in Britain — and only require intermittent care.

The show, which is open until Saturday, reserved a few surprises even for its participants.

While growing a chilli pepper for the show, horticulturalist Bob Price said he had accidentally created the strongest specimen in the world.

The “Dragon’s Breath” scores 2.4 million on the Scoville scale — a measure of the fieriness of chilli peppers — in what Price hopes will become a new Guinness world record. — AFP