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

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WHAT DOES AN internationally acclaimed “across the pond” garden show have to do with a woman’s starry-eyed championship for the growing Pacific Northwest paradise we call home? You are about to find out.

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

London Chelsea Flower Show, the grand dame of all horticultural extravaganzas, has been around for over 100 years. With opulent gardens, marquees overflowing with picture-perfect plants and the occasional royal sighting, Chelsea is chic.

By contrast, Chelsea Fringe is about gardeners, not gardens. Dreamed up by garden writer Tim Richardson in 2011, the Fringe is a collective of non-profit volunteers celebrating the many ways in which creating gardens intersects with art, literature, music, food, craft – you know, everything. From tree planting and tea and cake in the garden, to canine floral crowns and outdoor musical interludes, Chelsea Fringe events are as diverse, quirky and inclusive as the gardeners behind them.

Now in its 11th year and back in real life after last year’s proper virtual events, Chelsea Fringe has grown into a supportive community spread across London and the UK with ever-growing international involvement. According to the Chelsea Fringe website (chelseafringe.com), anyone can participate in the festival in free access, as long as the event is “on the subject, 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 Pacific Northwest’s horticultural scene is top-notch,” she enthuses. “The Plantspeople in our region have connections that spread across the world. It’s time for Seattle to make a splash.

This year’s Chelsea Fringe Seattle Satellite, which runs May 21-29, features events, in-person and online, celebrating the art and craft of garden design. Discover 25 disarming portraits of horticultural heroes portrayed by photo-chameleon Miles Nevler and displayed on public telephone poles in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, while members of the Seattle Garden Club present an online photo exhibit of embellished bumbershoots designed to counteract gray skies with color and beauty.

Botanical beauty designed by Seattle ceramic artist Laura Brodax fills the gallery wall of Modern Glaze (modernglaze.com), open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on May 21-22 and 26-29. Outside the studio, local gardener Sandra Banducci created a lush display of containers of beautiful Pacific Northwest flowers and plants. On Sunday, May 29, Modern Glaze welcomes butoh dancer Joan Laage performing “Dance Among the Porcelain” with strands of handcrafted flower garlands created by artist Lana Sundberg.

Gallery Shift (shiftgallery.org) presents a pop-up exhibition of quirky garden follies on May 27 and 28 featuring ceramic sculptures by David Traylor and cheerful garden-inspired paintings by Anna Macrae. And at some point, famed Seattle mystery writer and gardener Marty Wingate will read an excerpt from his Chelsea Flower Show murder mystery, “The Bluebonnet Betrayal.”

To PowellsWood, a Northwest Federal Way pleasure garden, 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 everyday discoveries and moments in the garden. Also presenting in a public garden, Richie Steffen, Executive Director of the Elisabeth Miller Botanical Garden and fern fanatic, will post an instructional video demonstrating how to create a fern table, a wooden tabletop display that Steffen has mastered.

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

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