WITH the British countryside in full bloom and the world’s most famous horticultural event inviting us to step into summer, there couldn’t be a better time to plant yourself outside and uncork some fragrant flavours to toast the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (May 24-28).
A bonanza for green fingers, it’s also the ideal showcase for London’s hotels and bars to create floral-inspired champagne teas, along with cocktails themed to the show’s imaginative flower power.
Fashionable watering hole The Botanist, on Sloane Square, will be dressed to impress in an explosion of colour, and its Dusty Rose cocktail (£8.80) with its vodka, grapefruit, lime juice and rose syrup ingredients is the prettiest drink possible before heading to the nearby Royal Hospital Grounds.
Ticket-holders for Chelsea should make a beeline to the show gardens. Fever-Tree’s Tree House House Garden has a fantastical tree house made partly from reclaimed wood from Cinchona Ledgeriana (aka fever trees) – the bitter dark bark produces the premium quinine used in its tonics.
Try Fever-Tree Tonic Water (£1.65, 500ml, Waitrose) for the topmost mixer in a gin and tonic with a slice of fresh lemon.
Indeed, it’s so good, Bombay Sapphire (£17.49, 70cl, major wine merchants) will be serving it in its Ultimate G&T in the hospitality area at the show.
The official champagne sponsor, Laurent-Perrier, is presenting at the show for the 13th year in a row.
Elegant and refined, like its Cuvee Rose Brut NV (£45, www.goedhuis. com), the garden is a zen-like vision with a sensory bamboo pavilion, stone sculptures and floral frame.
For ladies who don’t have an invite for the Gala preview night when the corks will be popping, you can always put on a posh frock and head to The Connaught.
The famous Mayfair hotel is going for gold and serving a Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Floral Afternoon Tea (£49 per person, May 25-29).
Alternatively, if you prefer the fruits of a small Champagne grower, try Drappier Grande Sendree Rose 2005 (£54.99, Oddbins). Seductive and rich with the scent of red berry fruits, good acidity and lovely length, these fine beads of bubbles have a natural affinity with seafood appetisers, especially smoked salmon.
New to Chelsea this year, the Principality of Monaco will be exhibiting its Monaco Garden. To wish it well, try this brilliant Provencal rose for a taste of the Mediterranean – Chateau St Baillon Rose Cotes de Provence 2010 (£9.60, www.goedhuis.com). Don’t be deceived by the pale pink hue, this charming rose is ripe with cherries and raspberry fruit flavours, with a refreshingly clean finish. Fabulous on a sunny patio with a bowl of moules mariniere.
Guaranteed a ’Best in Show’ in the vermentino vino stakes, try Clos Poggiale Blanc 2009 (£17.25, www.jeroboams.co.uk). Fragrant and intense, this complex vermentino from Corsica is no wall flower. Citrusy and layered with exotic fruits and a hint of pineapple on the finish, this is a perfect white with grilled fish or pasta with a seafood sauce.
For something noble to complement Bunny Guinness’s design for the M&G (Investments) Show Garden, where herbal plants and a lime-green/ruby wine colour scheme rules the day, try Abesse De Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£7.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) - a tribute white to the nobility of Old France, and the nearby Abbaye de Fontevraud. Grassy and nettly with ribbons of zingy peach and passion fruit, it’s a wonderfully fresh and delicious sauvignon blanc to grace the table.
Chelsea wouldn’t be Chelsea without a sweet ending. Try bringing a bottle of Anakena Late Harvest 2008 (£6.50, 50cl, www.winedirect.co.uk) to your next wine party. A delectable floral dessert wine from Chile, serve this apricot gem with summer pudding or a rich pate such as foie gras. At 13%, it won’t knock you sideways when reaching for your prettiest little wine glass.
With 600 exhibitors at the show, 32 gardens and more than 100 growers, there’s plenty of inspiration to feast the imagination and whet the appetite if your outdoor space is trailing behind, and the cellar door needs a splash of colour.
Marks & Spencer is offering a snapshot of Italy with 20% off all Italian still and sparkling wines (until May 31). Favourites include Loris Bonotto Prosecco NV (£7.49 from £9.49) and Rossetti Chianti Via Ulivi 2008 (£4.99 from £6.99)