Who doesn’t love a show? And when it’s the Chelsea Flower Show, it’s irresistible. Not only is this uniquely magical event a firm fixture in the London social scene, it has justifiably taken its place amongst the world’s great garden and horticultural shows.
A touch of glamour, grounded in commercial reality
Traditionally held every year in May in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the show is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. It is attended, naturally enough, by members of the British royal family. The Chelsea Flower Show represents the very best in horticulture, floral displays, and gardens designs.
Prizes in five categories and numerous specialist awards are highly sort after – not just for the honour of winning, but for the status they provide and the resultant commercial potential. Competition is fierce and produces stunning results!
If there’s any doubt about the importance of the Chelsea Flower Show, consider this: it’s probably the most visible such event in the world and certainly within the UK and Europe. Pre-pandemic, the horticultural industry in Britain was worth in excess of £24 billion annually. It employed nearly 600,000 people; probably a lot more once the informal sector is taken into account. So to have the Chelsea show as a flagship is crucial in supporting and maintaining a healthy industry.
Seeds of success
The show has a long history and was in fact first held, under the name of the Great Spring Show, in RHS gardens in Chertsey. It moved in 1862 to Kensington and again in 1888 to Temple Gardens, on the banks of the Thames near the law courts. Already it was established as something of a ‘must visit’ event in fashionable society – not forgetting enthusiastic amateur gardeners along with the backbone of the show, commercial sellers of plants and seeds.
As the show grew in popularity the Temple Gardens proved too small. Consequently, the early 20th century saw experimentation with several sites, including the gardens of the Royal Hospital where, by the early 1920s, the May show had become an annual fixture.
In 2020 the show was, inevitably, cancelled – the first time since the second world war – and for 2021 it has been moved to September in the expectation that Covid-19 restrictions will have been relaxed by that time.
Tradition, armed with the cutting edge of science.
The show today has a real sense of both glamour and tradition. There are dazzling floral displays and many of the marquees are rich with the intoxicating perfume of countless blooms revealing their full glory at just the right time. The show is a feast for the senses and food for the soul.
Visiting is an exciting event with few rivals, and for an industry insider to visit or, even better, to exhibit, is a tremendous opportunity to network and learn lots – and to marvel at the sheer magnificence of so many wonderful plants and gardens
There’s a curious thing about horticulture and garden design. It all seems so … natural. And so it should, but make no mistake. The whole industry relies on an intimate and interwoven relationship between the natural world and science. Even the ‘old fashioned’ trial and error approach to grafting and crossing different fruit trees relies on the scientific method of repeated experimentation. Add in soil types, and resistance to drought and disease, and one is quickly into some high-tech thinking – none of which would be supported so well without the publicity provided by high profile events such as the Chelsea Flower Show.
Don’t forget Design
Even the most stunning plants and flowers need the right context to show off their best. So whether it’s rearranging the pots on a patio or organising an entire garden around a theme and key plants, careful design is essential.
This is why, despite the new plants and floral masterpieces, the garden designs at Chelsea are so important. These compact creations take months to plan and prepare, masterminded quite literally to the last inch. Space is at a premium, so there is no room for error. Additionally, garden themes can be as important as their looks – in the future look out for designs incorporating only natural materials, recycled and re-purposed materials and plants which are capable of withstanding extremes of weather and climate.
Most of all, look out for the gardens that strike a real chord within you. Much will depend on your own mood and preferences, but some will stand out as universally beautiful. Look out for the handful of gardens which are, like blossom in springtime, quite simply perfect.
E. Williams Landscapes is a Hampshire based specialist garden design company, expert in creating perfect outdoor spaces. They are 5-Star RHS Chelsea Flower Show Award winners, with many accreditations and a reputation for imaginative designs that complement any context. They have considerable experience in projects of all sizes, in both commercial and residential settings. They’re known for the care they take to achieve outstanding results with gardens both beautiful and practical.