A potted history – The RHS Chelsea Flower Show and preview 2017

Over the decades the Chelsea Flower Show has enjoyed a history almost as colourful as its famous displays. Our timeline shows the event’s peaks and troughs.




The UK’s first major national garden event, entitled the Great Spring show, takes place in Kensington, London.

After 26 years of building up a loyal and passionate fan base, the show relocates to Temple Gardens, situated between the Embankment and Fleet Street.

The Great Spring show is ditched in favour of the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition and is forced to find a new home. A year later it sets up shop in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where it remains to this day. During the first outing under the new name – the Chelsea Flower Show – visitors are introduced to exotic delights such as Japanese dwarf bonsai trees.

For the first time since its conception, the famous flower show is almost a no-show, as organisers decide to postpone due to the general strike. It is eventually held a week later than scheduled.

The celebratory mood of Britain in the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation is captured at a special commemorative Chelsea Flower Show. Several royals attend, but the Queen herself fails to make an appearance.

Influential designer John Brookes shows how to make a little go a long way with his minimalist space-saving designs, and kickstarts a national trend for socialising in the garden.

The show’s blossoming popularity becomes evident when organisers are forced to take the unusual step of restricting tickets due to huge public demand.

Paul Cooper causes a storm in a flowerpot with his ‘Cool and Sexy’ garden, complete with jets that blow air up the skirts of unsuspecting females, and giant pictures of naked, kissing couples.

Prince Charles unveils the Healing Garden, based on ‘sacred geometry’ and ancient religious symbolism. It is designed to help bring together fractured social and religious groups within the UK, and is widely considered a success.

Rebel gardener Diarmuid Gavin wows crowds with an obligatory wacky garden full of giant metal balls and masses of mesh daises. Meanwhile, the Duke of Edinburgh turns his back on a designer after being politely corrected on the identity of a palm.

There is much speculation about ‘credit crunch Chelsea’, with sponsors pulling out and organisers clipping back budgets. But while the show may not prove quite as extravagant as previous years, additions such as a garden painstakingly crafted from plasticine will surely please the crowds for another year.

Fascinating facts

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. It used to be Britain’s largest flower show (it has now been overtaken by Hampton Court), but is still the most prestigious. From the beginning it has contained both nursery exhibits and model gardens. Every year there have been exhibits from foreign countries as well as from Britain. It is the flower show most associated with the Royal family, who attend the opening day every year.

Did you know?

• The RHS Great Spring Show was first held in the now vanished RHS garden in Kensington in 1862. Between 1888 and 1911 it was held in the Temple Gardens. It moved to its current site at Chelsea Hospital in 1913.

• The Chelsea rules forbid the use of coloured sculptures. So garden gnomes have been forbidden throughout its history. One frequent exhibitor, Jekka McVicar, used to smuggle a gnome into her exhibits…

• Of the firms that exhibited at the first Show in 1913, three are still showing: Kelways, McBean’s Orchids, and Blackmore and Langdon.

• In 1912 the Great Spring Show was cancelled in order to hold the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, which was held at Chelsea Hospital. It was the success of this event that made the RHS move the Great Spring Show to Chelsea next year.

• The Great Marquee, which was first put up in 1951, was named in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent (3½ acres). It was replaced by the current modular structure in 2000. The remains of the old tent were cut up and used to make 7000 bags, aprons, and jackets.

• 1979 was the first year in which the turnstiles had to be closed to prevent overcrowding. Since then a ceiling has been put on the number of tickets sold, with a cap on visitors being introduced in 1988.

• Exhibits of flower arranging have appeared every year since 1948, and by 1956 there were so many as to require a separate tent.

Preview 2017

Take a look at some of the Chelsea Flower Show 2017 garden previews which are already making us excited for what this year’s show will bring.

The SEEDLIP Garden
SEEDLIP, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits brand, has announced its selection by the RHS for the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show with The Seedlip Garden. Inspired by the story of SEEDLIP with its 17th-century apothecary origins and modern day pioneering approach to distillation, The Seedlip Garden is a conceptual Artisan garden that illustrates this 350-year-old journey. A significant proportion of The Seedlip Garden plant list is informed by a 17th century book, ‘The Art of Distillation’. This very book inspired Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip Drinks, on his journey to create the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits in order to solve the dilemma of Œwhat to drink when you’re not drinking and continue his family’s 300-year legacy of farming. Key design features include a lightweight metal and oak structure with copper detailing, laboratory style benches and pipe-work, the symbolic copper centre piece will detail SEEDLIP’s story from book to bottle. SEEDLIP’s Founder, Ben Branson, says: ‘It’s a dream to be selected for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. With design by Dr Catherine MacDonald, build by Landform Consultants and plants from Hortus Loci we have a world class team and the perfect platform to showcase our story!’

The Wild Horse Welfare Garden
A moving tale of horse rescue will feature at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2017 with an artisan garden inspired by and celebrating charity World Horse Welfare’s 90 year legacy of helping horses. The concept, brought to life by design duo Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith, will tell the story of a horse rescued from a small, derelict stable in a dark corner of the garden and nursed back to health under World Horse Welfare’s care – now living in a bright, open meadow where he can thrive and continue his journey to rehoming. World Horse Welfare Director of Fundraising, Emma Williams, said: “We are delighted that the World Horse Welfare Garden will feature at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2017. Exhibiting at RHS Chelsea provides an invaluable opportunity to engage with both new and existing supporters, as well as showcasing our work, to a new audience in a way which is completely unique to anything we have ever done before.” Following the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, elements of the World Horse Welfare garden will be used as part of individual ‘In Memory’ gardens at each of the charity’s four Rescue and Rehoming Centres around the UK – creating a legacy which can be enjoyed by visitors to the centres for many years to come and highlighting how important gifts in wills are to the charity.

(Article source: Various)

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