Gardeners (and garden lovers) join creative forces for Seattle’s first-ever Chelsea Fringe Festival

WHAT HAS AN internationally acclaimed horticultural show “across the pond” to do with one woman’s shining championship for the Pacific Northwest growing paradise we call home? You’re about to find out.

Sue Nevler is a passionate gardener and a relentless advocate of public gardens and green spaces where plants bring people together. Nevler is also the creative force behind this year’s Chelsea Fringe Seattle Satellite.

London’s Chelsea Flower Show, the grande dame of all horticultural extravagance, has been around for more than 100 years. With lush gardens, marquees full of perfect plants and the occasional royal sighting, Chelsea is posh.

In contrast, Chelsea Fringe is all about gardeners, not gardens. Started in 2011 by garden author Tim Richardson, The Fringe is a non-profit collective of volunteers celebrating the many ways in which garden design intersects with art, literature, music, food and crafts – you know, everything. From tree plantings and tea and cakes in the garden to flower wreaths for dogs and outdoor musical interludes, Chelsea Fringe events are as varied, eccentric and inclusive as the gardeners behind them.

Now in its 11th year and back in real life after last year’s suitably virtual events, Chelsea Fringe has grown into an encouraging community stretching across London and the UK with ever-growing international participation. According to the Chelsea Fringe website (chelseafringe.com), anyone can attend the open access festival provided the event is “thematic, legal and interesting”.

Enter Seattle. When Nevler found out there had never been a Chelsea Fringe event in all of North America, she got busy. “The horticultural scene in the Pacific Northwest is top notch,” she enthuses. “Plant people from our region have worldwide connections. It’s about time Seattle made a splash.”

The Seattle Satellite to this year’s Chelsea Fringe, taking place May 21-29, features events, both in-person and online, that celebrate the art and craft of gardening. Discover 25 disarming portraits of gardening heroes portrayed by photography chameleon Miles Nevler and mounted on public telephone poles in Seattle’s Chinatown International District as members of the Seattle Garden Club present an online photo exhibit of ornate tree trunks that bring color and color to the gray sky supposed to thwart beauty.

Botanical beauty, crafted by Seattle ceramic artist Laura Brodax, fills the gallery wall of Modern Glaze (modernglaze.com), open May 21-22 and May 26-29 from noon to 6 p.m. Outside the studio, local gardener Sandra Banducci has created a lush roadside container display of beautiful Pacific Northwest flowers and plants. On Sunday, May 29th, Modern Glaze presents butoh dancer Joan Laage performing “Dance Among the Porcelain” with strands of handcrafted flower garlands created by artist Lana Sundberg.

Shift Gallery (Shiftgallery.org) is hosting a pop-up show of whimsical gardening follies May 27-28, with ceramic sculptures by David Traylor and cheerful, garden-inspired paintings by Anna Macrae. And at some point, acclaimed Seattle crime writer and gardener Marty Wingate will be reading from her crime novel, The Bluebonnet Betrayal.

At PowellsWood, a pleasure garden on Northwest Federal Way, exuberant head gardener Justin Henderson is celebrating “joie de vivre in the garden” with a series of videos including a live online tour of the lush spring garden, a “completely ridiculous dance performance” and a montage of daily discoveries and garden moments. Richie Steffen, managing director of Elisabeth Miller’s Botanical Gardens and fern fanatic, will also be presenting in a public garden and will release an instructional video showing how to make a fern table, a woodland setting Steffen has mastered.

To me? I’m hosting a takeover of the Chelsea Fringe Color Collective on my #seeingcolorinthegarden feed, complete with free downloadable materials inviting anyone and everyone to start capturing and charting the colors in their garden. Visit Chelseafringe.com for more details and to explore the delightful list of in-person and online events – both near and far.

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