The Chelsea Fringe Festival began one morning in the week of Chelsea Flower Show, when garden writer Tim Richardson thought it up while lying in bed. Originally this alternative gardens festival was to run concurrently with the flower show, and for two weeks afterwards. Now it runs for an intense 9 days, over Chelsea Flower Show week.
The Fringe is based not just in Chelsea, but all over London, and in other cities nationwide and internationally. The Fringe celebrates community and guerrilla gardening, and encourages links between gardens and art, literature, music, cookery, history, crafts, and ecology. The Chelsea Fringe is a true fringe festival – based on the Edinburgh model – in that nothing is commissioned or curated: if it’s on topic, legal and interesting, it can go in the Fringe, no matter how outlandish or odd it may seem. Our mantra is: It’s all about the gardeners, not the gardens
In 2012, the first year of the Fringe, there were 100 events. In the second and third years, this grew to around 250 events annually in London and abroad – including more than 70 events in Vienna in 2014. Chelsea Fringe 2015 and 2016 featured new satellite cities including Nagoya and Fukuoka in Japan; in Italy there were Brescia, Bergamo, Florence, Milan and Etna in Sicily; Ljubljana in Slovenia; Melbourne, Australia; and half a dozen British locations, including Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge and Aberdeenshire. It is now very much a part of the gardening calendar, but remains fiercely independent of large horticultural organisations, and corporate or civic patronage.
The Fringe continued in 2020 and 2021 in an online-only format, but was back with live events in May 2022 – more than eighty events flew the Chelsea Fringe flag around the world, including London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Milan and Seattle. In 2023 we hope the world has recovered from the ravages of lockdown and that we will see more events than ever before.
The Chelsea Fringe is unsponsored, unfunded, unbranded and wholly independent, with no medals or judging committees. It relies entirely on volunteer efforts and survives on its registration fees.