This history goes back to 1862, the year the first Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show was organised in Kensington by the Royal Horticultural Society. The RHS is an organization centred on agriculture, and more precisely on its artistic, scientific and technological aspects.
One could say the Chelsea Flower Show began its history even earlier, in 1833, when different gardening shows were already being held in the gardens of the RHS. The location of the festival would change three times, going from Chiswick to Kensington, to the Temple Gardens (in the heart of London), before finally ending up on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where it has stayed ever since. The annual tradition of the show was interrupted a few times, during the two World Wars, but thanks to a persistent RHS president, the shows rapidly picked up again after the wars and only increased in popularity.
Today, the Chelsea Flower Show is a very renowned festival, attracting about 157,000 visitors each year, and taking place for five days in May on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
On these grounds, numerous gardens are presented, each with their own artistic values. The gardens are divided in three categories: the ‘Artisan Gardens’, providing a more traditional design and use of materials; the ‘Fresh Gardens’, showing a more innovative and bold approach; and finally the ‘Show Gardens’, the most famous gardens of the festival, announcing new design ideas and materials and made to inspire with their, often very extravagant, look.
Beyond this, the green-fingered guests can treat themselves to a wide array of plants, flowers and accessories, found in the many trade stands. And for the voracious visitors the food options range from little bright-coloured snacks to a complete three-course meal.
A number of awards are handed out each year, in categories such as awards for the best floral, tree or vegetable exhibit, and the exhibit carrying the most educational or scientific value.
Britons take great pride in the festival. It is even officially supported by the Royal Family, who send some members each year to watch a preview of the show.
In 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, a garden titled ‘No Man’s Land’ was displayed, in memory of the many lives it took and the traces it left in the British landscape to this day. Garden designer Charlotte Rowe inserted a lot of war-references into the piece, which went on to win a Gold Medal at the Awards for that year. At the opening of the garden, some celebrities (including Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson) read war poetry.
All in all, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a must-see, for lovers of the British culture, and of course for those who love gardening and the great, slightly trimmed and designed outdoors.
- Report by Forces TV "Stephen Fry Supports ABF At Chelsea Garden Show 19.05.14"; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-VBUp9pR7E