A guide to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Written by
Isabella Williams

If you’re lucky enough to have got tickets to Chelsea Flower Show, you’re in for a really special treat! Starting tomorrow, the show will continue until the 25th May – five whole days of immersing yourself in the country’s best flowers, plants and gardens.

We’ve put together a guide to the Chelsea Flower Show to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. You’re sure to have an unforgettable experience, and we hope you enjoy your time there.

A brief history…

The world-renowned Chelsea Flower Show had humble beginnings. The first show, in 1913 was situated in a single tent and was previously known as the Great Spring Show.

Queen Mary at the first Chelsea Flower Show in 1913

A few months after the second Chelsea Show, war was declared in Europe. There was another show in 1915 but, when conscription began in January 1916, many RHS staff were called to war. There was also the feeling that ornamental gardens were an inappropriate indulgence. Thus, the show was cancelled for the duration of the war.

In 1919, the government demanded the RHS pay an Entertainment Tax that threatened the already strained show. The organisers managed to convince the government that the show had educational value and erected a scientific exhibit in an additional tent, therefore the tax was waived.

After the war ended, the number of tents increased in the 1920s. There were tents for roses, pictures, science, garden design and tea parties.

Royal Horticultural Society Dig for Victory Campaign Royal Horticultural Society Simple Vegetable Cooking Between the wars, the rock gardens were the most popular feature. However, the show discontinued in 1939 because of the Second World War. Instead, the RHS focused on its ‘Dig for Victory Campaign’.

The show came back in 1947 after the war and although there were fewer exhibitors the show represented a determination for British horticulture to continue.

In 1951, the Chelsea Flower Show hosted the biggest marquee in the world, which featured in the Guinness Book of Records. Queen Elizabeth II was made a royal patron of the RHS following her rise to the throne. She made her first visit in 1955.

The Great Pavilion 1951 at Chelsea Flower Show

The 1960s brought to the show the largest display of orchids ever staged, covering five-thousand square feet. The popularity of the rock garden was replaced by tree and shrub gardens. The Bonsai tree also made its first appearance at Chelsea in the display by the Japan Society of London.

The 70s saw a change in gardening culture. People changed from growing from seed to buying container-grown plants. This decade also saw the rise of celebrity garden designers. In 1979 the crowd was so large that admissions were prevented for the first time ever.

Between 1980–1985 the number of show gardens had doubled. The crowds also got so big in 1987 that tickets were limited to 40,000 a day. The courtyard-garden was introduced, and after getting mixed reviews it did not return until 2001.

The 90s made the Mediterranean gardens popular as well as conceptual (theme) gardens. Although more flower shows opened, the Chelsea Flower Show remained at the top of the hierarchy.

James May's Plasticine garden

In 2000, the old marquee was removed and recycled into 7000 handbags, jackets and aprons. It was replaced by a pavilion. The 21st century brought more daring designs, including James May’s plasticine garden. It did not win any awards, but he was presented with an 'RHS Gold Medal’ made of plasticine.

Gardens in the 2010s became increasingly more innovative. For example, the edible garden by Patrick Collins and other gardens for charities. To add to this, the catering options widened in Raymond Blanc's Jardin Blanc.

In 2013, Chelsea became one-hundred! The gnome ban was temporarily lifted with celebrity faced gnomes being sold for charity. A non-British firm received the best-in-show for the first time, and the Geranium ‘Rozanne’ became the Chelsea plant of the century.

This year the show is sponsored by M&G and continues to be the most famous flower show in the world at the cutting edge of garden design.

The Wedgwood Garden at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show

Top 7 things to do at Chelsea…

  • Experience world-class design. At the heart of the Chelsea Flower Show, you can immerse yourself in the flawless artisanal gardens created by top designers with the most innovative ideas. The interactive outdoors has a huge range of gardens and styles to be inspired by. Here you can enjoy nature and take home the ideas.
  • Health and Wellbeing. Chelsea's gardens are celebrating how gardens can benefit your health. Designers explore the positive power of plants and will tackle issues including climate change, pollution and mental and physical health.
  • The Chelsea Pavilion. Chelsea’s famous pavilion is home to plants from all over the world. Discover new plants and ask experts your gardening questions.
  • Discover the science behind horticulture. Head to the Discovery Zone to find the latest research into the world of horticulture.
  • Shop for your garden. Indulge in retail therapy with all the new gardening tools and ornaments. Get something as a present or for your own garden.
  • Delicious dining. Experience the revolutionary Raymond Blanc’s Jardin Blanc, and indulge in scones with jam and clotted cream or fresh seafood with pink bubbly.
  • Visit the Artisan studios. Whiteness five expert craftspeople demonstrating unique, contemporary and traditional pieces of artisanal craft in the beautifully-dressed garden buildings.

Whatever you do at Chelsea Flower Show you're sure to have the best time. Find out more information here.

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