As the major garden show season commences, top designer Paul Hervey-Brookes tells gardeners how get the best out of the day.

A wonderful line-up of garden shows awaits us this year - from the horticultural jewel in the crown of Chelsea, to Hampton Court, Tatton Park, Chatsworth, Gardening Scotland and more.

But if you don't plan your visit carefully you can get lost in the hubbub, unable to take in the glories of the show gardens and finding it difficult to navigate your way through the floral marquees, ending up missing more than you see.

With this in mind, award-winning garden designer and plantsman Paul Hervey-Brookes, who is designing 'The Art Of Viking' garden at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, offers visitors these tips on how to get the best out of the top horticultural shows across the country.

Dress for comfort

"You're going to be on your feet for a lot of the day, so wear trainers or something comfortable. Think about taking a fold-up stool that you can carry easily, because there are never enough seats," Hervey-Brookes advises.

If it's going to be a scorcher, bring a hat, parasol and suntan lotion.

Make a list of priorities

Make a list of the things you really don't want to miss, so you don't get waylaid by other eye-catching distractions at the start of your day. If you're looking for alliums, find where the allium stand is in the marquee and head for it.

Buy a programme with a show map to pinpoint where the plants or show gardens are that you want to view and do these first.

"There's so much at the shows, sometimes you can go with a plan in mind and it gets completely curveballed," says Hervey-Brookes.

"If you're going for garden inspiration, head for the show gardens. If you're going to look for particular plants, then the gardening society tent or floral marquee are the places to go.

"Spend half the day doing the things on your list and the rest of the day allowing yourself time to discover something you weren't expecting.

"Show gardens demonstrate plants you may not be aware of in combinations you may not have thought of. That's where the inspiration for everyday planning comes in."

Take notes and pictures

"I always take a picture of the plant I like on my phone and a picture of the label immediately after," he says. Alternatively, make a note of plants and how they might be used.

Take inspiration from creative small spaces

"The reality of life is that gardens are going to get smaller - new houses are being built which have small gardens - and first-time gardeners should maybe head for the smaller gardens at the shows, which really are creative spaces," Hervey-Brookes suggests.

"They give you really good inspirational ideas in the ways the spaces are used and the combination of materials and architectural details."

Ask designers for information

Don't be shy. Many designers will be at their show garden. Feel free to approach them and get valuable information for free.

Beat the crowds

If you're going all day, the main show gardens of major shows like Chelsea tend to be less busy late afternoon, so bide your time looking at the smaller Artisan Gardens in the wooded area of the grounds or the Space to Grow gardens which promote health and wellbeing.

Bag a bargain

"If I had one golden rule it would be to hold off going to a big multi-national garden centre and go to a show instead because you get a great day out, lots of ideas and you'd be buying plants grown in the UK, sometimes from seed, or cuttings, that are really good value and are supporting a small business.

"You'll get better, cheaper plants than you'll get at your garden centre, as well as knowledge from the grower."

Go on the last day and you can pick up bargains from the people who are dismantling the show gardens and plant exhibitors, and trade stand plants which have been used as decoration.

"Go armed with bags to carry away what you've got, and you can really get some serious bargains. Four-wheel carts are very useful!"

And don't be afraid to haggle if you want to buy a job lot.

For more information on RHS flower shows visit